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Original Work After The Fall (working title for now)

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by bassic, Jan 1, 2014.

  1. bassic

    bassic Monkey+

    OK, just to let everyone know, I don't use spell-check, and tend to edit as I go. This is my first attempt at fiction, so I'd appreciate any feedback that can be given. I know there is already at least one other book by this title, as I found out after I'd started it, but that's the least of my worries right now. Finding the time to actually write is a challenge for me right now...so for better or worse here is Chapter 1, hope you like it...

    Chapter 1

    He stood on the upper deck of the firewatch tower looking out over the lush, verdant green panorama that surrounded him. Snow-capped moun tain tops ringed the horizon, the sun was a huge orange disk that hung low over the peaks to his right, bathing the valley in a pinkish golden light, replete with blue-grey shadows from the surrounding peaks. A large eagle circled above the valley, perhaps a couple miles from him, looking for his breakfast. With a shriek, it tucked in its wings and plummeted earthward with astonishing speed. At the last second, it spread its wings to brake itself before splashing into the river and hauling out a large fish. Nice catch, he thought. At least one of us would be eating well today, he mused.

    Off to the left, near the bottom of the treeline, a grey loop of roadway snaked its way along the valley perimeter, weaving in and out of the trees like a giant grey python. Further out, maybe eight or ten miles, lay today’s recon target. The small hamlet of Mountain Glen stood glistening in the morning dew, looking like some peaceful little village straight out of the mind of the American painter Thomas Kincade. But he knew that death and danger abounded there, as it had fallen to the Blue Occupiers last October. The villagers had fought valiantly, but the airstrikes from the drones proved to be too much. Their small-arms fire had brought down two of the drones, one a recon drone, the second a couple days later was one of the attack drones. The infantry had flanked the village and killed off many of the citizens, taking the rest prisoner and shipping them off in convoys to one of the “camps” in the desert some ninety-odd miles east. Only after a few of the Resistance fighters had managed to escape had the word gotten out what atrocities were being perpetrated against the prisoners.

    Shaking off a sudden chill, he took one last look around the beautiful vista laid out before him, and prepared the last of his rations. He poured the snowmelt from his canteen into the mylar pouch, sealed it, and massaged it gently. In better times, he would not have even considered freeze-dried teriyaki chicken and rice a breakfast food, let alone eaten it cold, but he was glad that it had enough calories to keep him going just one more day. Just one more day, he repeated in his mind, that’s all I can ask for. He thought about all the challenges facing him this day, worrying over his plans. The “what ifs” ranged from simple navigation mistakes to discovery of his team before the mission was complete. It made his head spin. Instead of worrying, he said a quick prayer and devoured his meal.

    The sun had shrunk and brightened to a blinding white orb. Clouds were visible to the west, forming near the peaks of the mountains, but still wispy. No rain today, he thought. Probably a good thing, as his team wasn’t equipped for it, and the temperatures should only reach the high fifties, even with the sun. It’ll be a good day today, he assured himself. A really good day. A successful mission would make it a great day, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, he thought.

    As he slurped down the last bit of his chicken and rice, he heard the creak of his relief climbing up the tower. After the requisite knock and counter-knock, he unlatched the lock, slid the heavy bar from its brackets, and lifted the door open.

    “Morning, Tom. Anyone moving down there?” he greeted his relief.

    “Just the usual early risers- the kitchen crew and the maid” he joked in reply.

    This mountain camp had come to be known as “Hotel Sierra” due to the series of three small caves, actually more like fissures, that afforded some sense of privacy, as well as protection from the elements. Warm it was not, but out of the rain and the sometimes bitter cold. The women had their own little space, between the men’s caves.

    They wouldn’t have even known about the middle cave had it not been for little Anna’s penchant for exploring. Only nine years old, he had initially resisted taking their family with them, but they had proved to be very valuable to the group. Anna may have been little, but she was wise beyond her years, having been born after The Fall, and growing up in the aftermath. She was also fearless, and quite strong for her size. Her mother, a nurse, had taught her skills, and she was quite accomplished with things like sewing, cooking, and even first aid. Her father, an ex-military man, had taught her as much as he knew about hand-to-hand combat, and how to protect herself against the Occupiers if they should try to get hold of her. How to break free from their grip, where to kick them if they grabbed her, how to kill them if they didn’t let go. She had her very own survival knife strapped to her thigh, just beneath the camo T-shirt she wore as a sort of tunic over her jeans. She had become quite good at using it, and could field-dress small game in the blink of an eye, her blade running effortlessly through and around the carcasses. It was because of this ability that she earned the nickname of “The Butcher”. He couldn’t help but think that there was a deeper, more sinister connotation to that moniker as well, but time would tell. Jeez, she was only nine, after all! For now, though, she would stay back in camp, with most of the women and the men that weren’t on the mission. They would pack up, and break camp as the mission took place, ready to either scatter and run if it went bad, or to meet the team at town’s edge if it went well. With any luck at all, they’d be sleeping in a real bed tonight, perhaps at a motel in town.

    He briefed his relief on his observations from the night watch, the night interrupted by only two vehicles. The first was a truck that rattled and belched its way into Mountain Glen around 11pm, and a motorcycle that left out the back gate at 2am sharp- more than likely the weekly dispatch of the courier to the Regional Command Center. What was in the truck was not known, it looked to be an old Navistar flatbed, but with a canvas cover over the front half of the bed, roughly forming a cube about eight feet tall and wide. He had been unable to see much more detail than that, but it was odd that a truck would be making its way into the town at 11 at night. Most cargo was shipped in via convoys, almost always on Tuesdays at 11am, with second shipments only every other week, arriving like clockwork at 3:45pm. This was now Thursday morning, not a usual time nor day. He felt a slight sense of foreboding about it, but what could they do now? Was it worth calling off the mission, after all their careful planning? What was in the truck, and why was it driving at night, without an armed escort? Hell, it wasn't even one of the Chinese-made hard-sided trucks...it looked more like a farmer's truck that was used to bring crops to market than a supply truck, or troop transport. Baffled, he confided in Tom about his unsettled feeling about it.

    "We've seen vehicles go into town late at night before, usually state cars carrying diplomats from the Federal Congress going to monthly meetings. They usually have an escort, too, one of the armored personnel carriers. Awfully dangerous being out on the road solo, that late, with the marauders out there."

    Tom nodded in agreement.

    Could it be something military in nature, a weapon, perhaps? Or was it something less sinister, machine parts, or even medical supplies? The truck hadn't left, he was sure of that. Whatever it was, they'd have to find out tonight, it would be put on the agenda at the pre-mission briefing later on this morning.

    "I'll keep a sharp eye out for the truck today," said Tom, "and signal if it leaves. Now get outta here, you need some shuteye."

    As he descended the worn steel steps of the old fire tower, he heard Tom slide the heavy bar into its bracket. Fatigue was making itself known, his legs were feeling a bit rubbery by the time he reached the last landing. He walked quickly down the trail in the relative safety of the woods, out of direct view from the valley. Nearly a mile and a half away was his bedroll, calling to him from the dark confines of the cave. He could hardly wait to drift off to sleep. He decided to pick up the pace a bit, and broke into a light jog.

    A few hundred yards later, he stopped and checked his surroundings. Satisfied that there was nobody around, he resumed his jog, stopping just before the bend in the trail where there was a piece of faded red plaid flannel stuck to a bush. He pulled it free, and pocketed it. Reaching into the inner pocket of his camo jacket, he pulled out a small bit of worn, ragged denim. This he affixed to another bush on the opposite side of the trail. He continued down the rock-strewn path, this time at a walk. The perimeter guard would have him in view now, from high up in the pine trees.

    They had taken notice of the habits of the Blue Bastards moving along the trails, running and hiding from the troops that were hunting down pockets of resistance, the small groups such as theirs. The troops were foreign, and took no notice of anything much above eye level, accustomed as they had become in the Middle East conflicts of looking for IED’s and roadside bombs. His group had leveraged the troops’ ignorance of the terrain, the flora and fauna in the area, and adapted their own methods of operation to capitalize on this. Even now, after nearly a year of patrols, the soldiers tended to keep their heads down. So, with the troops keeping their attention on the trails, the guards had simply done the opposite- they went up. Not a little bit up, but far up in the tall trees, building observation nests that blended well with the foliage. From the ground, unless you knew exactly where to look, you’d see nothing out of the ordinary.

    As he passed near the guard’s position, he touched the brim of his cap, adjusting it slightly. From high up in the trees, seemingly from everywhere all at once, he heard the chirping of a chickadee. He smiled and continued on. He knew that particular birdcall, it was his sign that he had been spotted, identified, and was clear to pass. Another two hundred yards and he was in the camp. Several of the group were doing chores, tidying up from breakfast. One of the men stopped what he was doing long enough to greet him.

    “Hey Scott, want some breakfast? How was the watch?”

    “Nah, had a delicious meal just a little bit ago. Cold chicken and rice, who would’ve thought that freeze-dried would ever taste so good?” he chuckled, deliberately avoiding the second question. “Really looking forward to a nap about now. Seen Billy anywhere, or is he sleeping in again?”

    “He went out a couple hours ago to try to find some fresh veggies. Should be back in a little bit. Want me to have him wake you?”

    “No, I’ll only sleep a couple hours anyway, might as well use every minute of it. I should be up by around lunch, if I’m not, come get me.” Scott headed toward the bushes in front of the rock face, sliding behind them and slipping into the cave. He felt along the right wall and eased on back, moving slowly and letting his eyes adjust to the dim light. His foot bumped against someone’s pack, and he instinctively reached down to catch it before it fell. He heard a muffled “Thanks”, and kept moving a little further back in the cave. He felt the wall lean in a little, signifying the narrowing of the fissure, as he got to the back of the usable part of the cave, where he kept his own bedroll. Laying down and stretching out felt incredibly good, and he wasted no time in laying claim to his forty winks. The cool darkness enveloped him, and he put aside his worries, at least for the next two or three hours.
    STANGF150, goinpostal, oldawg and 3 others like this.
  2. Tyler Danann

    Tyler Danann Monkey

  3. VikingRaider

    VikingRaider Praetorian

    I like it! Really digging the scouts in the trees idea. Now you get to hear the age old "more please!" :D
  4. bassic

    bassic Monkey+

    Chapter 2

    The Fall, as it had come to be called, had happened quite suddenly. The United States was in times of turmoil as it was, with the politics of the day being particularly vicious and the economy on a roller-coaster ride- up one week, tanking the next. There were signs, but few people had heeded them. First, fuel prices skyrocketed, then food prices. Those who were derisively called “preppers” had been laying in stocks of food, guns, and bullets. Some bought so-called “Junk Silver”, pre-1965 American coins with 90% Silver content. All in preparation for The Fall.

    Not many anticipated the Saudis becoming bold enough to actually cut off deliveries of crude oil to the US due to non-payment. Fuel had suddenly become a commodity that was worth killing for. The initial run up in prices were brutal- it was not uncommon for the price at the pump to increase $0.25/gal several times a day. It started causing long lines at the stations that could get it at all, the government sending National Guard troops with tankers, out of fear of hijackings. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was surprisingly NOT tapped, despite public outcry. The dollar was quickly losing value, and the Federal Reserve printed still more, to the tune of $3.3 trillion, which it dumped into the banking system. The media reported that the “quantitative easing” of the money supply had worked, and that inflation was being held at bay. This, of course, was a bold-faced lie, and everyone knew it. Unease grew to anger, and like a pot of water on the stove, it boiled over.

    On a particularly hot summer day on the outskirts of Detroit, one of the lines at a gas station erupted into violence. A man had apparently been cut off at the pump by another car, and had taken out a pistol and killed the driver and his passenger. The crowd had quickly disarmed him, tackled him, dragged him to a pump and doused him with gasoline. They beat him with their fists, kicked him, and with him begging for his life, they had tied him to one of the uprights of the overhead and tossed lit cigarettes matches at him. His burning body was all over the airwaves within minutes. Mob rule, with its own brand of justice, had arrived, and it had spread like wildfire.

    By the end of that week, store lootings and fuel truck hijackings had become common. Cities were becoming war zones. Death tolls reached into the hundreds, if not thousands, as armed gangs started prowling the streets, robbing citizens and stores at will. The President had come on TV that Thursday night, pleading for calm, for an end to the violence, to no avail. The next morning, he came on again to declare that martial law was in effect, with a dusk-to-dawn curfew to be enforced by more than 300,000 U.N. troops from more than 20 nations. He also suspended the Constitution by Executive Order, had Congress and the Senate assemble for emergency sessions, and announced that all guns must be surrendered by the citizens. In the interest of national security, he said, anyone found keeping or hiding their weapons would be detained indefinitely. The major cities’ police chiefs were summoned to the Capitol, and in a televised ceremony, were deputized as Federal Commanders of their respective cities. They were ordered to begin the their service by rounding up weapons within their cities, and given full authority to do house-to-house searches.

    Some came back to their cities and deputized their entire departments, and a few had even tried conducting raids on neighborhoods starting at sunset. Some officers, upon complaining or refusing to go along with such an unlawful order, were disarmed themselves and thrown into the jails, in uniform. Predictably, and probably to set an example, inmates tore some of them, especially the older ones approaching retirement, to pieces. Many of those who went on the raids to confiscate weapons died of "acute lead poisoning". The whole idea of the militarization and nationalization of the police was proven conclusively to be a failure. The police were up against an armed citizenry who were loathe to give up their only sure form of protection, and were horrendously outnumbered and outgunned. They knew it, too. Defections were rampant after the attempted raids, and most large departments were down to just bare minimums of patrol staff.

    Suppliers of grocery stores at first delayed deliveries of goods to markets, citing “safety concerns” in some areas, fuel costs in others. In the end, the entire “just-in-time” ordering system that relied on the 3-day delivery of inventory fell apart. People gathered into angry mobs at stores, fighting over the meager scraps that were left. Sometimes a truck would pull in with a load of meat or vegetables, and be surrounded and stripped clean, with none of the goods having ever made it into the store at all. As fuel became scarcer, the deliveries became more and more unreliable. People who lived too far from their jobs were forced to either quit, or to live at their jobs, only going home on weekends. Friday afternoon robberies were taking place during rush hour, right on the freeways. People on their way home after a long week of work were being attacked in their cars for their money, but more importantly, for their gas. The lawlessness increased in both intensity and in frequency. The banks stopped loaning money, credit card limits were curtailed, and people quit spending money. The economy, weakened as it already was, started into the final death throes. Jobs dried up, layoffs were epidemic, and companies, some having been in business for a hundred years or more, simply ceased to exist.

    Hospitals were overrun with all the injured from the near-constant rioting. Many closed their doors, turning away all but the most gravely injured. Even then, cash became king, with some triages decided by whether the patient had enough money to buy a tank or two of gas, by that time at least $500 for an average sedan. As the cost of getting to work got too high for workers to actually make it in, the nation was gripped by a massive sick-out lasting nearly a week, crippling the hospitals and resulting in many patients dying. This event had been organized on the internet by citizens in a last-ditch effort to get the government to actually do something about the fuel prices. When the response came in the form of U.N. "peacekeeper" military patrols, people in the cities started panicking, and the massive exodus started.

    People were broke, scared, hungry, and angry. They started streaming out of the cities and into the suburbs like a river of army ants, destroying and consuming what they perceived as theirs by entitlement. Some of the wealthier, corporate-type suburbanites had hired private security guards to try to keep what was theirs, but the guards were either overpowered, or upon seeing the river of humanity’s dregs heading toward them, suddenly “got a better offer”, leaving their clients to fend for themselves. The hordes stripped the wealthy of everything they could carry off, and usually killed them as well. Those who were the well-connected elite simply left before the masses reached them, flying off in private jets to destinations unknown.

    The President had ordered “rolling blackouts”, ostensibly to preserve energy resources. At first, they were two hours of interruption in different quadrants of the major cities. Then, in the days that followed, they became 6 hours, city-wide. The riots got worse, more people were killed, and then reports started to surface that the coal-fired plants were running out of fuel, their trains not running. Natural gas could take up some of the slack, but the base load that coal provided was irreplaceable. Electricity, once the backbone of the modern world, was becoming unreliable at best. Food spoilage was now a concern, as refrigeration was powered by electricity. So were the fuel pumps at the gas stations, not to mention the pumps that delivered the natural gas that powered the gas plants. Wild swings in capacity, sudden blackouts of entire states, plant malfunctions, all became the new normal. The National Guard, already stretched thin, was deployed to help keep order, but the unrest grew.

    The internet was chaotic, with routers dropping and servers going offline almost by the hour. Messaging by cell phone was barely acceptable; most of the towers had battery backups, but many of those batteries were being raided by people desperate for power. Soon, data was a hot commodity, with people willing to part with 1500 calories’ worth of food for 15 minutes of internet time. This was rarely a good deal, as the internet was becoming more and more useless. Unless you knew of someone running their own service, you stood little to no chance of finding the information you were seeking. “Geeks” were able to get around the government censors that were monitoring everything and redirecting traffic to government-run sites by forming a loose coalition of proxies, using software to “trick” the DNS servers. They used every means at their disposal to keep some semblance of order. Even so, some of the “data lounges”, or illegal internet cafés, were being raided in the bigger cities. Less obvious were the mobile “bridge games”, as they were called, where a membership was required, and a very limited number of clients would temporarily set up shop in someone’s home or basement, and connect via a truck parked outside, somewhere nearby. These sessions were limited to a dozen connections, and no more than 30 minutes, due to the U.N. patrols that would try to triangulate their signals.

    Television stations were disappearing, too. Even the big networks could no longer sustain the load. The 24-hour news cycle, once a staple of the American day, had shrunk to six, maybe eight hours of reports. Then everything would change, and the news cycle would restart. Local stations couldn’t keep up, they simply didn’t have enough camera crews, and after a while, riots all started to look the same anyway. The ones that remained on the air kept showing canned riot footage from weeks ago, and canned footage of the President speaking to Congress.

    The only time this changed was a few weeks into The Fall, when the Chinese called the US debt in, effectively destroying the dollar. There was “round the clock” coverage of that, with the news channels showing angry mobs storming banks, and some intrepid camera crew just happened to catch the firebombing of the NYSE, just after the bell. What happened next, though, was what was most peculiar. A drone had been spotted overhead just before the explosions, and just a few minutes had passed when a huge contingent of UN “peacekeeper” troops stormed the scene, arresting the people that were fleeing the burning wreckage of the Stock Exchange and herding them into several semi trailers that had suddenly appeared on the street. They also appeared outside the major banks, and people running from those buildings were also corralled and funneled into the waiting trailers. Passersby were being shot at by the troops, adding to the terror of the scene. Many were killed, and New York City’s financial district was a sea of blue helmets, as the round-up continued for over an hour. Most of this was shown on television for almost a whole day. Then the story suddenly disappeared, along with most of the people that had been rounded up.

    The President came on TV that night with an unscheduled address to the nation. He looked as if he had been in a car wreck, his hair and clothing were disheveled, he wore no tie, and there were noticeable bags under his eyes.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, the events of the past month have truly been unprecedented in the history of this nation. In light of all the tragic riots, the economic collapse, the Saudi oil embargo, and the food shortages that have reached criticality, I called a special session of Congress and Senate to determine the best course of action in this emergency. It is with a heavy heart, and sadness in my soul that I announce the following…

    The outcome of this special joint session is that, effective today, the United States of America hereby cedes its sovereignty and territory to the UN, and ceases to exist as a nation. Martial law is now in effect in perpetuity, and all travel beyond the former national borders is expressly prohibited. The former states will be divided into regions, and I have tasked the director of FEMA to assist the Secretary General of the UN with determining the number and boundaries of these new entities.

    Any further instructions or communications from the US government are heretofore not to be considered valid, all governance and regulatory authority is now coming from the new Federal Capitol in New York City, formerly known as the United Nations. There will be no further communication on this matter, and I wish to thank the Congress and Senate for their service during this transitional time, you are hereby released from your duties, and both bodies are hereby disbanded. I wish you all well in the days ahead. There have been discussions ongoing with the UN Security council, a transitional government will be forming in the days ahead, and command and control of all branches of the US Armed Forces has now been transferred to the UN, to be headquartered in Brussels, Belgium.

    Anyone that is returning home from traveling abroad will need to turn in their US passports at the nearest UN Embassy. They will be given a special biometric card that will allow them one-time entry into their home region. At the point of entry, your card will then be scanned, and you will be issued a new Regional ID, that will contain a biometric ID, as well as a credit pass that will be used for banking transactions. All US Dollar-denominated accounts will be converted to the new International Credits, and all banks are now unified under the jurisdiction of the IMF.

    I wish you all good luck in the days ahead, and I am, effective as of now, stepping down from the office of President. The United States of America is hereby terminated as a nation.”

    With that, the President retreated from the podium, and suited men quickly took down the US flag, tossing it unceremoniously into a plastic bin, not bothering to even fold it. Another man brought in the flag of the UN, and put it in the place of Old Glory. The Presidential Seal was removed from the podium and the UN logo was affixed to it. The camera shot panned out, and the President could be seen near the edge of the screen being led out of the room by what appeared to be UN soldiers. The picture went black, leaving viewers to try to absorb the enormity of the situation on their own, absolutely shocked, with no political analysis, no news commentary, just a black screen to reflect the mood of the moment.

    Within minutes, in some cases seconds, the entire nation descended into explosive rioting. Without a government to protect them, without the Constitutional protections that had been afforded them, many people stood little chance of defending themselves. The government support system, the monetary system, even all the rules, had just been thrown away. Generations of people who had been completely dependent upon the government for their way of life, for their livelihood, even for their basic food needs, had suddenly seen the whole house of cards fall right on their heads. Without a government, there were no laws, except the law of the jungle. The strong preyed upon the weak, with predictable results. In the course of ten or eleven days, the population of what had once been the most powerful nation on earth had reduced itself by almost half.

    The once-proud cities rapidly became stinking cesspools of depravity, sickness, and garbage, with rotting corpses laying everywhere- in the streets, in the buildings, in the factories. As their own gangs suffered great attrition, some of the gang leaders had started to make pacts with each other, combining forces to avoid being overwhelmed by the other gangs. Often, in those days, there were rivalries within the gangs, power struggles as those who survived fought viciously amongst themselves for the increasingly limited resources. Some even tried ratting out their own cabals to the UN troops, which usually resulted in the capture and killing of their gangs. Thugs were rarely sent to the camps, as they were seen as fomenting unrest, and were usually lined up at the UN police stations and either shot, or were “interrogated” and tortured to death by the foreign troops. Pleas for mercy fell on deaf ears, the only relief for the victims being in the form of a 9mm bullet to the head. Those “lucky” few who were allowed to survive their interrogations were put to work digging large pits that bodies were either dragged into, or bulldozed into, for burial. The diggers, once they had completed their task, were sent back into the pits to check the bodies for valuables and jewelry, and were quite surprised to see the snakes of flames emanating from the flamethrowers being aimed directly at them by the laughing troops.

    The more law-abiding citizens in neighborhoods and out in the suburbs had already exited the scene, for the most part. However, there were a few pockets of like-minded individuals who had banded together for protection from the gangs. A few had even taken back some ground, mostly through the use of superior weapons and by using military-style tactics against their inner-city, street-wise counterparts. Their successes were short-lived, though. U.N. troops soon were deployed into cities. They rounded up anyone they could find left alive, and shipped them off to internment camps set up all across the continent. Civilians who were taken on the East Coast cities were put on trains and sent to camps in the Northwest Region, which encompassed Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and part of North California. People who were captured in the Northwest seemed to be shipped off to camps in the northern Mid-Con region. Wherever they were captured, civilians seemed to be sent well outside their native zones, presumably to reduce opportunities to escape from the camps.

    Resistance to the UN troops was met with force, and many civilians were outright killed on the spot. Drones would be spotted overhead, then the troops would come through, rounding up the last of the resisting civilians. Midnight raids on suspected gathering points were common, and small-arms fire was usually followed by the shriek of a missile, terminating with a thunderous explosion and a brilliant fireball that signified another pocket of resistance being eliminated, en masse. Cities were definitely NOT the place to be if you wanted to survive. Those that had left, those that had prepared ahead of time, were scattered through the countryside, hiding in abject terror as they watched the carnage unfold. Some were caught, others had formed into small groups. Those groups that had former military personnel in them tended to evade capture more successfully than the city folk that found themselves suddenly transplanted into a world they knew precious little about.

    Out in the countryside, some of the small groups that had run into each other had started to form into larger units. Some of these units had former military men leading them, and had started to open lines of communication with other groups. Communication was quite difficult, especially over longer distances, as drones would pick up on cell phone communications and troops would appear. Alternate means of communications were developed, with small repeaters being mounted to buildings, trees, and even vehicles. Transmissions were kept short, and encryption was used to try to keep the invaders from hearing messages in real-time. Sometimes this worked, sometimes not.

    Communications had become a patchwork of electronics and “sneakernet”, an old geek term for runners with messages. The nightly news was no longer the way most people got their information. Contacts within other groups, the occasional traveling groups relaying their stories and observations, pirate radio stations popping up here and there, and runners delivering encoded messages were now the only means of gathering information on what was really happening in the regions. Rumors were commonplace, and disinformation by the government was being pushed out all the time. The new government that the UN was setting up was hardly a representative democracy, and their form of rule was tyrannical, to say the least.

    News of resistance members getting appointed to positions in regional governments had filtered out, and some were even gaining some small measure of power. The infiltration of the government started, and within a couple years, had grown. Local elections were called, and though some were obviously rigged, enough former Americans had won positions in government that policy decisions were no longer unanimous. The people had started resisting overly draconian measures being imposed from within the government. Their influence was minor, to be sure, but it was a sign that the UN government was not impregnable. The opposition was vocal, but frequently ignored.

    When an opposition member opened with a speech at the Federal UN assembly, advocating the lifting of travel restrictions between regions, he was met with icy stares and only a smattering of applause. His speech had been televised live, but sudden “technical difficulties” on the government-run station ensured that the last part of his speech went unheard. Reports the next evening indicated that he had been found dead in his car near Unification Park, a gun found in his hand. The propaganda was that he had been facing censure and ejection from the Federal Council for his speech against the government’s policy, and in despondence, had taken his own life. Pictures that emerged in the following days from passersby vividly showed the body slumped over the center console, bloodstains from a chest wound running down the front of his shirt, a bullet hole in his left temple, and a Beretta M-9 clutched in his outstretched right hand. This was a political murder, it was clear, and retribution was quick to follow.

    Two weeks later, there was a UN Policy Convention held in St. Louis, with delegates from all five regions in attendance. The convention had been scheduled for three days. On the morning of the third day, it was discovered that someone had used the hotel AC system to deploy homemade poison gas in the middle of the night. The fifteen opposition delegates had been spirited away, leaving the fifty-six UN delegates to meet their deaths as they slept. The UN immediately declared this an ”unprovoked, cowardly attack on the government” and started clamping down even harder on the civilian population. They reported that the “perpetrators would be found and brought to justice”. No less than three different militia groups, as well as two other groups that nobody had ever heard of, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Many regarded this incident as the first salvo of the New Revolutionary War.

    And with that, The Fall had become the long winter of discontent.
    STANGF150, goinpostal and Sapper John like this.
  5. bassic

    bassic Monkey+

    Chapter 2 is up now. Chapter 3 going up shortly.
    goinpostal likes this.
  6. Sapper John

    Sapper John Analog Monkey in a Digital World

  7. bassic

    bassic Monkey+

    Chapter 3

    Scott had heard Anna moving quietly through the cave, even before she had grabbed his foot and shaken it gently to wake him.

    “Mr. Scott, time to get up. We made stew for lunch, and it’s pretty good. Come on, or it’s all gonna be gone!” her little voice piped cheerfully.

    Scott groaned and stretched one last time before sitting up. He could have easily used another six hours of sleep, but time was growing short.

    “Thanks, little one, I’ll be out there in a minute.” He watched Anna scamper from the cave, then pulled on his clothes. Making his way out of the cave into the daylight, he stood up and squinted against the brightness. Over in the clearing, which served as the group’s main living room and dining area, some of the people were lined up by the old Coleman stove, bowls in hand. Others were seated on rocks and deadfall trees, eating. The air felt warm to him, and the scent of the stew made his mouth water. He got in line, and someone passed him a bowl. When he got to the front of the line, he got his portion of stew, a piece of bread, and found a seat on one of the deadfall logs.

    He gave his stew a stir and reveled in the thick, savory smell that emanated from his bowl.

    “It’s definitely edible,” said Billy, who had moved from near the other end of the log. “Fresh onion, fresh peas, and fresh potatoes. Couldn’t score any carrots, though. Also got some leeks, they look like giant green onions, heard they roast well. Also found some apples, got a couple dozen. The farmers market is small, but seems to be growing.”

    “What’s the meat? It’s pretty good…” asked Scott between bites.

    “There’s venison from the deer three days ago, had to use it as a base meat. There’s also some goat from the market. Was going to try to get some mutton as well, but I wasn’t sure how long it keeps.”

    Scott let the flavors of the stew roll around in his mouth. The thick, almost gravy-like brown sauce was accented with a bit of red wine. They had long ago decided as a group not to drink alcoholic beverages for their “medicinal and social effects”, preferring to use what little they had for barter. They had a few bottles of wine, a few cases of beer, and a dozen or more unopened bottles of bourbon, vodka, and rum stashed back at the cache on the farm, two mountains back. He was glad they had opened the red wine a week or so ago, when they had made spaghetti with meat sauce. It really made the sauce pop, and it had reminded him of being a kid, on a Thursday night long ago, after football practice. His mother had worked a lot back then, and his dad was picking up extra shifts at the factory whenever he could. He was no star player, just a beefy kid who liked to play defensive line positions. On that particular night, his mom had gotten off work early, and his dad had shown up to practice unannounced. Scott had spotted him in the stands, and was surprised to see him. He actually got his first two sacks ever that evening. His mom had dinner ready when they got home, which was rare. She had made her famous spaghetti and meat sauce, pouring a cup of red wine into it, along with a bay leaf. It was the first time in months that the whole family had been present. Odd how that particular dinner had made a memory, but it had.

    Savoring the last of his meal, he took a pull off his canteen and looked around. The group had split into two “crews”, with a “day crew” and a “night crew”. He had been on night watch for almost a week, and was glad to be up with the day crew today. Most of the night crew was still asleep in the caves. They’d all be present in an hour or two, for the 2PM meeting. He was going to take a handful of people into town to do some reconnaissance and hopefully, secure lodging for a few days. If things went well, he hoped the townspeople would welcome them. They had carpenters, electricians, and a plumber among them, they knew there were no free rides. Along with skilled labor, they also had some barter items they would take along. He hoped to reach the town before dark, have enough of a look around to determine if it was safe for them to stay there, and what the general mood of the town was. He also hoped to catch up on news reports.

    They’d heard nothing for the past six months, having been on the farm and in the mountains for the past year or so. The forty-six people comprising the group had come together under difficult circumstances, but he considered them more fortunate than most. Lots of groups had been labeled terrorists, or survivalists, and had been hunted and rounded up by the Blue Bastards in the years following The Fall. This group had people in it that had evaded capture, but been separated from the rest of their groups, it had lone survivors, it had neighbors, it had strangers. All had come together over a period of a year or more, and all had formed strong connections to one another. It had started to become almost like a family.

    With lunch cleaned up, the clock nearing 2PM, the night crew was roused, and with all except those on guard duty gathered in the clearing, the meeting was started. Scott, being the unelected leader of the group, cleared his throat and stood near the center.

    “We’ve been observing the town of Mountain Glen for two weeks now, and none of us have anyone inside the town, so it’s time to make contact. We know there is a contingent of Blues there, but we don’t know how many. We also know that their population took an immense hit a couple years ago when the UN troops invaded the town. Why they invaded a small mountain town like this, with no major industry, is also not known. It was probably to set up a political presence, I’m thinking. But we just don’t know. The regional UN government is over 90 miles east of here, in the desert. We know they have a courier dispatch, and that there are a few farms surrounding the town, but with a population of only 6,000 to start with, we don’t know who is left. My hope is that we’ll make some friends, get some supplies, and learn more about why this little town still has troops in it. Most of the small towns that I’ve heard of had a small detachment of troops left behind as a police force, with the majority of invaders sweeping through pretty quick, then moving on.

    We’ve all been living on the run for a long time, and we’re good at it, but I, for one, could use a real bed once in a while, how about you? Also, we’re low on supplies. We do know there’s at least one decent-sized store there, and there may be a hospital or clinic. There are three main routes into the town- the back road leads north, by the river, then heads east through the pass and eventually to a major highway that goes out to the desert. From the southwest, the road that we can see winding through the treeline descends into the valley, then crosses the bridge and on into town. It seems to be the one the locals use. The road from the southeast is almost never used, it seems to be in decent shape, but it may be controlled by marauders once it gets up the mountain a ways, we just don’t know.

    So the plan is this- we take four people into the town to try doing a combination of on-the-ground recon and trading, so I’ll need a carpenter, a plumber, and an electrician. That means Billy, you’re going. Frank, we could use your plumbing expertise. Paul, need you as well. I’m also going to take a runner with us as well. Chad, that’ll be your job. We’ll make contact with the town, do a quick assessment, and see if we can do some work there. If we are successful, we’ll inquire about lodging for the rest of the group. If anyone asks, we’re out of a small town about 30 miles away, and marauders took over. If there is one thing the Blue Bastards hate more than freedom, it’s marauders.

    We’ll take one truck and three bikes, that’ll give us something to carry stuff in, and give us the best chance for escape if things go bad. We’ll loop around the back side of the mountain, use the fire road and pick up the southwest road above the treeline. Hopefully, that will be enough out of the way to conceal Hotel Sierra’s location and if it goes bad, the rest of you will scatter in groups of no more than five and we’ll meet up in two days at the farm. If we get into trouble, we’ll pop a flare, and send the runner. If we’re all held, you’ll know if at least one of us isn’t back by midnight. If the watch sees us all leave through the north gate, we’ll circle back around the mountain, and meet up here again. We’ll just be “passing through”. We have enough fuel to make the circle, we’ll try to pick up more so that we have a reserve, but I don’t know what’s available down there. Any questions?”

    Nobody raised their hand, so Scott dismissed the meeting and preparations commenced. The camp was packed up so as to be ready to bug out if need be, tools were distributed, and the group started the walk out to the park ranger’s old headquarters, about a mile past the old firewatch tower. There they kept their pickup, an old diesel Ford crewcab, and several motorcycles.

    The bikes were Russian Urals, captured in the first battle with a detachment of some Belorussian UN troops that had gotten seriously drunk one night after taking a small town in Colorado. They had fancied themselves to be real cowboys, and after a hard day of “establishing order”, had bellied up to the bar in the local saloon and drank most of the town’s supply of vodka before turning out into the streets for a little “fun”. Their idea of fun was to ogle the barmaids leaving for the night, and to grab a handful, expecting their advances to be met with a certain yielding submission. When the first barmaid slapped the face of the offensive soldier, he slapped her back, threw her to the ground, and started to unzip his pants. Four of his drunken friends each grabbed a hand or foot of the girl, who was screaming and writhing, trying desperately to get away. Her skirt was ripped from her, her blouse torn open, and her eyes wide with fear and desperation as the first soldier grabbed her waist and slammed into her nether region, violently. His leering face had dissolved into a pink and grey mist when the hollowpoint had exited just above his right eye, traveling in a very different direction from where it had entered his body at the base of his neck. The bullet had tumbled and fragmented upon hitting the top of his C1 vertebra, tearing its way through his sinus cavity and caroming off through his brain, finding its main exit point at the top of the man’s eye socket. The main mass of the bullet continued on its altered trajectory, hitting the soldier holding the woman’s left hand. It struck him high on the cheek with a wet thwack, breaking his cheekbone and sliding up under the skin, taking out his left eye. He released his grip on the girl’s hand in just enough time for her to block her falling attacker’s now shapeless face from landing on hers. The soldier who had been hit in the cheek fell backwards, howling in pain and clutching at his face, his enucleated eyeball rolling into the gutter to sightlessly observe the rest of the fight.

    Within just a few seconds, the remaining three attackers had also been felled by a combination of gunshots and billy club strikes, as two of the local police officers who had been walking home had rounded the corner to see the girl struggling against her rapists, and had leapt into action. The local townspeople had risen up against the rest of the detachment, and had eliminated all but two, the unit commander and a young private. These two were seized by the townspeople, and been thrown into a cell in the jail. They weren’t in very good shape when they got there, though, having been beaten to a bloody pulp by the enraged citizens. In all, fourteen UN occupiers had been killed that night, and two civilians had lost their lives.

    One of the locals had taken the keys to the command car and had moved it to a local garage, locking it inside one of the bays. He had quickly gathered up enough other folks to secure the six motorcycles as well, storing them in various homes' garages around town.

    A few months later, after the Blue Bastards had pulled out of the town, several of the locals had decided to trade a few of the aging Russian beasts. They had almost no access to diesel, the delivery of gasoline was erratic, but still showing up at least once a week. Combined with the fact that they were not planning on leaving their homes any time soon, it made more sense to them to have gas-powered rides. Scott and his group had been passing through the area, and happened to luck into a “right place at the right time” deal. They had stayed in the campground for several days, and had enjoyed the rest after months of wandering. At the time, they had three trucks, two small Chinese-made sedans, and two Kawasaki dirt bikes, with thirty-three people to fit into them.

    At the restaurant where they had lunch, there was an old-fashioned bulletin board in the little hallway leading to the restrooms. It seemed to be one of the main ways people were keeping up with the goings-on around the area. Notes were left on it, classified-ad style, and some replies. Many were missing persons inquiries. Billy had noticed it on the way back to wash up after a morning of replacing some doors for one of the shopkeepers.

    One had struck him as potentially useful, it appeared to be a “For Sale/Trade” note, hawking some used diesel motorcycles. “Gas powered vehicles considered for trade”, it read. “These are real good bikes, but not much diesel up here. Will also sell, 200 oz. silver, or 3 oz. gold each, or best offer. NO International Credits accepted!” Back at the table, Billy quietly mentioned to Scott that he had seen something useful on the board, and that he thought maybe Scott could wheedle a deal with it. Scott went back to the bathroom, pausing briefly at the board, and when he returned, he took his leave from the group, as he set out to contact the person over at the local garage. Billy returned to the shop he had visited earlier to complete the small project he was working on for the shopkeeper.

    The merchant had been robbed weeks earlier by four young men in masks who blew through the commercial glass and metal door and bum-rushed him, beating him with their fists and sections of garden hose filled with sand. The glass he had replaced with some thin plywood, but it wasn't very secure, nor was it inviting to prospective shoppers. His store looked closed, and if it weren't for the small piece of cardboard with OPEN scrawled on it, shoved in the corner of the spider-webbed front window, Billy would have passed on by. Instead, he tried the door, and found himself in a second-hand emporium filled with all kinds of useful items, from clothing to tools.

    He'd struck up a conversation with the owner, an older gentleman with a white mustache and a wild shock of white hair. Billy chuckled to himself, noting his passing resemblance to Albert Einstein. When he had inquired as to the door, the shopkeeper had told him, in great detail about the attack, giving a blow-by-blow account of where the intruders had entered, how they had split up down the aisles, converging on him and stripping him of his pistol. They had gotten away with some stuff, but the feisty old gent had survived the beating that had ensued. Luckily for him, he had no broken bones.

    Billy had suggested he replace the door with a narrower, solid core door. The old man agreed, so Billy suggested that he improve his chances the next time by building an entryway vestibule for him, ducting potential attackers or thieves into a short hallway with a second door at a 90-degree angle to the left. This would at least slow them down, he reasoned, as the former entryway was just a simple door that, once through, placed a bad guy in his open showroom. This way, anyone with ill intent could easily enough charge in through the front door, but would have to decide whether to breach the door directly in front of him, a fake, or to the left, which led into the store.

    Billy and the shopkeeper had rearranged his fixtures to provide at least some cover for him while maintaining a decent field of fire. It also precluded more than one person at a time coming through, which improved his odds as well. For all his hard work that day, including his security consultation, the shopkeeper had paid him in silver, two 10-ounce bars and three single one-ounce rounds. He also slipped him a 1/10-ounce gold nugget, “for insurance”, he said, “just in case you need it on a trade, and carrying all that silver wouldn’t be wise. It’s worth around twenty ounces of silver today, who knows what it’ll be worth later?” Billy had pocketed his “pay” and thanked the oldster, then took his leave and walked back to the campground. The group had set off in their newly acquired vehicles for points west not long after that, leading to their current hiding place up on the mountain, overlooking the valley and the little town they were headed for.


    As they left the view of the guards high up in their hidden nests, they started to get into single-file, and spaced themselves out. Chad took the lead, increasing his stride length, and quickly put twenty yards between himself and Frank. Without saying a word, Paul slowed his pace just a tad, dropping back about twenty yards or so. Billy took a few seconds to stop and readjust his pack, it was fairly heavy, with tools in it. As he cinched the strap down a little more, Scott paused to speak with him.

    “What do you think about this town?”

    “Don’t have a clue. Never been there, from everything I’ve seen from the firewatch tower, it’s a Blue Bastard-held town with not a lot going for it. Only reason it’s even there is because of the river, and being the only town here for miles in any direction. Kind of a ‘last-chance for gas for the next hundred miles’ type of town. No industry that I noticed, except the truck stop. They might have a mechanic shop, that type of thing, but that’s about it. Other than that, I think it’s the last chance for supplies before the mountains. Or the desert, depending on which way you’re going.”

    Scott’s brow furrowed. “But why pick this remote mountain valley to set up shop? It’s not close to any population centers, it’s a podunk town, with no neighbors…”

    “Which might mean it’s a place for the Blue Bastards to hide out, rest up, and make plans for their next conquest. The only neighbors they can count on is the marauders…” Billy’s voice trailed off.

    “Well, we know there’s at least some of the town’s original residents still there. I’ve seen them moving about town, looking pretty normal. Hell, I even see the mail truck making rounds.”

    “I imagine we’ll find out in an hour or two. Go on ahead of me, I’ll bring up the rear.” Billy fussed with his straps a little more, then looking up at Scott, “Go on, I got it.”

    Scott looked down the trail and saw Paul’s pack disappearing around the bend in the trail. “See you at the ranger station” he said, then started down the trail.

    As the group passed the tower, they chirped their bird calls to let Tom know they were passing. Tom had chirped back, and then it was down the rocky incline that led to the station. Scott was picking up his pace, trying to get Paul back in his view. The hard, rocky trail was definitely harder on his feet than the relatively soft pine needles of the forested mountainside. There were still trees, but this part of the trail also cut down through fields of rocks and boulders. As he got to the bottom of the steepest part of the descent, he saw the glint of the sun on the metal roof of the station’s garage. “Almost there” he told himself. The sense of relief was short-lived, however, as the sudden chatter of a squirrel call jolted him to attention. Chad and Frank were crouched behind a boulder, Paul was on the ground behind some bushes. All were signaling for cover. Scott slipped behind a tree, dropped to his belly, and then crawled up to them. “What is it?” he asked via hand signal. Chad peered around the boulder, looking upslope of the ranger station. Slowly pulling back, he turned to Scott, eyes wide. His hands flew- “Drone. Small. Stay.”
  8. bassic

    bassic Monkey+

    Chapter 4

    Scott’s heart hammered in his chest, and his skin felt like there was an electrical charge running across it. He had let his guard down, and now there was a chance they would be spotted. He slowly eased his way back and a little to the left, where he could peek around the edge of the boulder. He spotted the little quadricopter about six hundred yards up the opposing slope, moving slowly along the cut in the trees that served as the ranger station’s access road. It was obviously a low-tech camera drone, not the high-tech, weapons-laden kind that the Blue Bastards were known to use. What was it looking for? And who was behind it? Whoever was controlling it was being slow and methodical, that was for sure. He edged his way into a shadow, then back behind the tree he had used for cover seconds ago, coming down off the trail. He didn’t know for sure how far back Billy was trailing, but the last thing they needed was him to come barreling down the rocky incline trying to catch up. Threading his way back through the sparse bushes and trees alongside the trail, he kept checking over his shoulder, fearing that the quadricopter would suddenly see his motion and come to check it out. He heard the slight clink of Billy’s tools in his pack as he strode toward them, and Scott let out a squirrel chatter. The noise stopped, and Scott could barely make out a slight rustle in the brush far above him as Billy took cover off the path.

    With the threat of Billy attracting unwanted attention gone, Scott watched the drone. It was small, and nearly silent. Straining his ears, he could barely make out the whine of the tiny electric motors as they accelerated. The small craft lifted up, did a 180, and headed back upslope at a good clip. It had to be low on power, he thought, because it was electric. And if it was low on power, whoever was controlling it had to be nearby. He watched it carefully as it crested the ridge on the other side, headed just slightly to the left, and disappeared behind the tree line.

    Scott moved quickly to Chad’s side and Paul got up from his cover, doing a quick 360-degree scan of the area. Satisfied that there were no more drones, he crossed the trail to the boulder that provided cover for Scott and Chad.

    In a hushed voice, Scott asked “How did you spot that, and where was it when you saw it?”

    “We were about ten yards back up the trail, fairly exposed, and I saw a movement near the top of the ridge. We took cover as quick as we could, and watched the drone come down the other hillside, the one facing us. When I saw it was a camera drone, and it was the kind you could get a few years back in a hobby store, I was a little more relieved. We just watched it come down the hill, then it seemed to spot the ranger station, and it came in a little closer for a better look. That’s when you came down the trail. I don’t think it spotted you, or us, but I think we better be prepared for visitors. That kind is battery powered, and I can’t imagine that the batteries in that thing would last as long as a new set.”

    Scott nodded in agreement, peeked around the boulder to confirm they were clear, and let out a chickadee warble. Billy appeared seconds later, head on a swivel, keeping low, and moving quickly to join them. Scott briefed him quickly, and Billy’s eyes grew wide.

    “We need to saddle up and move out pretty quick!” he said, wiping his brow.

    “No,” said Scott, “I think we need to get to the station and scope it out- judging from the relatively short range of that drone, they didn’t get a good look at the place, they were looking for threats, it looked like to me. Someone is well-equipped, and we don’t have a clue if they’re friend or foe. I say we get close, make sure nobody has been poking around our vehicles, and then take up defensive positions. I think we’re about to find out who was flying that little drone.”

    “But what if it was the Blue Bastards looking for holdouts like us?” asked Chad, voice rife with uncertainty and fear.

    “If they were truly looking for us, they’d have our positions already, and with all their equipment, they’d surely have called in airstrikes to wipe us out by now…” Scott looked up and scanned the skies, mainly for effect. Chad swallowed hard, and looked up as well.

    “OK, let’s get down close, hold inside the treeline, and I’ll go look real quick. If it’s clear, I’ll signal. If not, give me 5 minutes to get back and we’ll hatch a plan at that point”, said Paul quietly.

    They hastily made their way down the last of the rocky part of the trail, and took up stations, well-concealed by trees and brush. Paul took off his pack, checked his old pistol, and signaled to the others as he left.

    Paul arrived a couple minutes later, after a quick jog to the base of the hill. Slipping up to the back wall of the station, he peered through the windows in the back door. Nobody in sight, he checked around the side of the building, and seeing no one, ran across to the garage building. Once there, he slowly and carefully opened the back door just a crack, and slipped inside. In the dim, gloomy interior, he paused and let his eyes adjust. Scanning the interior, he saw all the motorcycles and sidecars lined up in the middle bay as they’d left them. The old truck was over by the far left wall, backed into the left bay. The ATV and snowmobile were in the right bay. Satisfied that their rides were safe, he let himself out the door, quietly closing it. Crouching, he once more checked the side of the building and hustled across the open grass back to the ranger station building.

    He carefully and quietly took a peek through the back door once again, and started to open it. As the door opened, the hinge let forth a creak. He yanked the door quickly open, stifling the metallic complaint. Mental note, he thought, get some lubricant on the hinges! He was inside. Quickly he pulled the door closed, and this time he did it fast enough that the hinge didn’t creak. He was in the mudroom, the boot rack along the left wall. He crept forward, stopped, and listened. Silence was a good thing. He slipped around the half-wall separating him from the open office space, getting behind the nearest desk. Looking out the front windows, he checked the hillside. His blood suddenly ran cold as a shadow passed by the front window, and he heard footfalls on the porch outside. Ducking under the heavy steel, government-issued desk, his hand went to his side. He pulled out his pistol, an old HK USP that was battered from years of target practice, and not-so-regular cleaning. He crouched, and waited.

    Listening to what was going on outside, he heard at least two men talking in hushed voices. The front doorknob was jiggled. His heart pounding, Paul kept as silent as possible. The doorknob started to turn. A bright shaft of light illuminated the room, and two young men stepped into the entryway, and stopped, looking around.

    “Smells closed-in, dusty. Doesn’t look like anyone has been here in ages. Used to be an old ranger station about 15 years ago, before The Fall…” the voice said to his cohort. The sound of one of the men taking two steps, then plopping on the old leather couch by the front windows punctuated the otherwise silent station.

    “Get up, you ass! That’s not cool…”

    “Shut up, I haven’t laid down on anything but rocks and leaves for two freaking years. I’ll let you have a turn in a minute. This feels too good to get up!”

    “What if there’s someone here?”

    “Relax, this place was abandoned before The Fall when they cut the budgets. I remember this place from when I was a kid. My parents brought us up here to camp one summer.”

    “Get up! We’re supposed to look for evidence of troops being here, then get back ASAP.” The voice sounded annoyed.

    “Look around- there’s a couple desks, a couple phones that don’t work, a kitchenette, and through that door over on the far side, a bathroom. The loft has a bunk bed. That’s it.”

    The voices Paul was listening to sounded youthful, mid-twenties at best. He was outnumbered, two to one. At least one was lying down. This was his best chance at surprise. If they decided to search the place, he was going to be found.

    “Look, let’s just look upstairs, and then get back. The drone cam made this place look like the Taj Mahal. This place won’t fit all of us. Not even close!”

    “What about the other building? That metal garage off to the right? I bet it could fit at least 50 of us, easy. And it should be empty.”

    Paul considered his odds, then decided the element of surprise would be his best chance. He stood up, bringing his pistol to bear on the intruders, and in a loud voice, said “Freeze! Hands up NOW!”

    The man who was standing moved to swing his slung AR-15 from his back to around front. Paul snapped the sights over to him and said “Don’t move!” while keeping his peripheral vision on the other man on the couch. The standing man appeared to be about 25, thin, wearing a digital camo jacket over woodlands pattern pants. His buddy, on the couch, had been caught with his hands clasped behind his head. Paul barked “Keep your hands right there, couch potato, and sit up!” The young man did as he was told. He appeared to be no more than late teens. Both looked shocked and surprised.

    “Both of you on your knees, hands up, feet crossed NOW.” The young men dropped to their knees. Paul advanced, heart pounding. He hadn’t felt a rush like this since he was a rookie cop some 20-odd years ago. “Interlace your fingers on top of your heads. Do it now.” They complied. Paul approached warily from the side, and quickly disarmed the first while keeping the second covered. Once his rifle was unslung and away, he felt his beltline and found no odd bulges. He didn’t see the second man with a rifle, so he checked rapidly for a sidearm, and retrieved a 1911 from the second man’s belt. Paul kicked the rifle over to the desk, and pocketed the 1911.

    “Stand. Keep your hands on top of your head and move to the back door.”

    “Who are you?” asked the first man, as they shuffled towards the back.

    “Nunya,” replied Paul, gruffly. “I should be asking who YOU are. YOU are the trespassers!” He slid behind the two, keeping them covered. “But I imagine someone else will be asking the questions. Now out the back, and if you bolt, I will drop you like a bad habit. That’s NOT a threat, that’s a promise!” he growled. As they passed the desk, he flipped the AR up using his foot and the rifle’s sling, grabbing it with his off hand, slinging it over his left shoulder as he kept the two covered.

    The first man opened the door, and stepped out. The second gave away his intention to run by stutter-stepping as he crossed the threshold. Paul recognized his attempt to get his right foot under him and responded with a kick to the back of his calf.

    “OW!” the man cried out. “I’m going!”

    “Up the hill, we’ll stop on the other side of that first boulder.” Paul instructed.

    The two started up the hill, and Paul let out a chickadee warble, followed by a squirrel chatter. As he got above the elevation of the roofline, he chanced a glance behind him. Nothing following, they continued until they passed the rock.

    “Now off to the right, and on your knees. We wait here.”

    The two captured men got on their knees, off to the right of the trail, in the scrubby brush. Paul issued a warble, and received an almost instant reply. From the sides of the trees stepped the other three. Scott looked hard at the two men. They looked young, and he could tell they were scared.

    “Were they armed?” he asked Paul, in a stern voice.

    “Yes, sir. I disarmed them. They had a pistol, and an AR. No knives that I felt, but it was a…” Paul paused briefly, “um, a perfunctory check.”

    “I see.” said Scott, with a touch of growl in his voice. He stared hard into each man’s eyes. They each responded by looking down. “Search them.”

    Chad and Billy quickly gave the two a more thorough pat-down, and finding nothing, backed away.

    “Clean” said Chad.

    “So, who are you, and where are you two from?” Scott asked.

    “I ain’t sayin’ shit!” blurted the younger one. “Who are you guys?”

    Scott stared malevolently at the young man. He got right up to his face, nose to nose, and in a near whisper, said “You are not going back in one piece if you don’t lose the attitude, junior! In case you hadn’t noticed, you two aren’t exactly Billy Badasses or Indian Trail Guides. You need to tell me right now who you are, how many are in your group, where you have been, what you have seen, and how you have managed to stay alive despite having brains the size of gnat shit. DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?”

    The youngster was obviously rattled, and tried backing up as Scott hissed in his face, but Scott pressed him, getting well inside his “personal space”, and grabbing his collar. The youngster froze, eyes getting bigger, and tried to look away from the piercing gaze of his captor. Scott was having none of it, and pulled down on his collar, making him buckle at the knees, and pushed down on his shoulders to force him onto his knees. His older compatriot started to rush over to his defense, but Paul reached out and grabbed his neck, and he stopped.

    “You two have any education at all? Because you obviously suck at math. Four on two. NOT good odds. Now talk before it becomes four on one…”

    The young man looked over at his older friend, and Scott grabbed his jaw and snapped his face over to his. “No sir! You will direct your answer to ME. You will not avert my gaze again. Let’s try this one more time- WHAT is your NAME?”


    “OK, now we’re getting somewhere. How many in your group?”

    Michael tried to look over at his friend, and received a sharp, open-handed slap across his face. “LOOK AT ME, NOT HIM.” Scott’s voice had a definite commanding tone to it. Michael looked as if he was about to cry. “How many in your group?” he repeated.

    “Si...sick...sixteen” the young man stammered.

    “Where are you heading?”

    The older one suddenly spoke up. “Please, sir, we aren’t soldiers or anything. We’re from Boise, Idaho. That’s my cousin Michael, and my name is Randy. We all lost our folks four years ago when the U.N. troops came through and took over the city. They had tanks and armored personnel carriers and helicopters. They had so many troops that all the men in town couldn’t stand up to them. They rounded up those who were left and put the strongest ones in the APCs and took them away. The wounded ones, the weak ones, they took to the high school stadium. They killed all of them. Shot some, then beheaded a few, even tied a few to cars and pulled them apart!!! Our dads were in the APCs, and we are trying to find out where they took them.”

    “Are all of you this young?” asked Scott. “I’d put you at about 25, your cousin here looks like 18 or 19. Am I close?”

    Michael spoke this time. “I’m 19. Randy’s 22. We were friends in high school. We tried to keep things going for our moms and our sisters, but it didn’t work out so well. I was too young to get a work permit, Randy had one, but he couldn’t find any work that would pay worth a shit. We tried to find out where they took our dads, but all we could find out was that there were camps far away. We found one, but it was almost all east coast people.”

    “How did you know that?”

    “We got close to it and asked some of the people in the yard where they were from. They mostly were from New York and Maryland, from what they said. They told us to let their families know where they were, but we didn’t have any way to do that. No money to travel on, we were barely able to eat. Phone calls are all monitored, and we didn’t know who their families were to begin with. No way to do it.”

    Scott looked at the two, and let a sigh. “Where are your moms and sisters now?”

    Randy looked down, then spoke. “We were sent out to look for a safer place to be than Boise. They gave us three weeks to find somewhere that would work. We set out on our bikes, had some canned goods in our packs, and sleeping bags, thought we’d be OK. We didn’t find anyplace that wasn’t crawling with the Blue Bastards, so we went back. Our houses were burned, and we couldn’t find our moms. Michael’s sister, Sarah, we found hiding in the cooler at the meat market down the street. There were a couple other littler kids, she had gathered them up and they all hid there. They’d been there for at least a week when we got to them. They told us that the troops came through at night, and they were dragging out the women and girls, and that the only reason they didn’t get them was that the gunshots woke them up. They got out the back, and hid out in the woods. Most of the troops left that night, but they had to find shelter when it started raining.”

    Michael cut in, “We found out later that our moms were raped on the street, then killed.” A tear rolled down his cheek. “We got the kids who survived and left. We’re looking for a safe town where we can live. Doesn’t look like there really IS such a place. Not any more.”

    Billy cleared his throat. “Scott, a minute of your time, please?”

    “Chad, watch them for a sec…” He and Billy walked away from the group. “I know what you’re thinking. We should take them in. But if their story is just that, a story, what then?”

    “Doesn’t sound like a story to me. Did you happen to notice the look on Michael’s face? Pain. Sorrow.”

    “OK, but we can’t keep them. We’ll have to figure out where we’re going to go next. If they work for the Blue Bastards, or anyone else, that puts our group at risk. They’d know where we were, they’d know how we travel. They’d be able to wipe us out without us ever seeing them coming. We’ve been relatively off the radar since Colorado, and I’d like to at least keep it that way. Even though we all seem to want the same thing, there are some that would sell out their own mothers for some illusion of security.”

    “Scott, they’re just kids! There isn’t THAT many of them, and they’d probably be useful around camp.”

    “Or they’d be a liability. We still don’t know who is in charge of them, who is running the show. We don’t know for sure that they are who they say they are. What they’re armed with. If this is a decoy, if they’re the youngest in their group, the list goes on. The fact that they have lasted this long without adult supervision is suspect. What have they been eating? Where have they been? How are they living? I’d feel a lot better if we arranged a meeting first.”

    “Well, how about the meadow? It’s only a couple miles up the pass, and it’s not near our camp. We could have a few riflemen hidden in the trees if something went bad.”

    “It’s too close to Camp Sierra. I think there’s a better area.”


    “There is a clearing on the left side of the hill that we assume is where they are currently. We can go up the road, it’s a half mile up. Old right-of-way cut through the trees, where the high-tension power lines converge. Good cover, not in our usual route of travel, out of sight of the town. If they are where we think they are, they only have to go across the ridgeline and down a bit to get to it.”

    “Hmm. I think we should do it as soon as possible. I’ll send Chad back to get a few more guys rounded up.”

    “OK. What do you think we should do with their rifle and pistol?”

    “Take their ammo, leave them each one round. Can’t have much of a firefight that way. Also lets them protect themselves if they have to. I think they’ll be OK with that. Watch them until they get across the road and headed up the hill out of range. Then we move.”

    Billy nodded his agreement and they turned and walked back. Scott stopped short of the young men, and crouched down with a stick in his hand. He sketched a crude map in the dirt.

    “Guys, we’re gonna let you go back. We’re going to give you back your guns, but only one round in each. That way, you can protect yourself if you have to, but can’t have a firefight with us. I want your group to meet us in this clearing here,” he pointed to the spot in the dirt, “in two hours. Have the group together, and the leader needs to come forward unarmed, as will ours. They will meet at the base of the big transmission tower, if it goes well, we’ll all meet out in the clearing. Does that sound reasonable? Think you can make it back to your group and give them that message?”

    Randy looked at the map, relief showing on his face. “I know where that is. It’s almost an hour hike for our group. We’ll meet you there.”

    “No ambushes, no surprises, or you’ll get a surprise yourselves. Are we clear?”

    “Yup. Can we go back now?”

    “I need the name of who is leading your group. Wouldn’t be polite not to know their name.”


    “Two hours, then.”

    Paul ejected the magazine of the AR, and started to strip the ammo out. He had three rounds in his hand that he pocketed. Chad took two rounds out of the magazine of the 1911, then put one back. They showed Scott the ammo.

    “Quick question for you, before we give you your weapons back. Why so few rounds?” Scott asked.

    “It’s all we have left,” said Michael. “Most of the meat we’ve taken in the past year or so has been with the AR. The .45 we only had 40 rounds. We’ve been trying to conserve.”

    “We have been looking for more, but most of the dead UN troops we ran across had been picked clean. They also have AKs, and their ammo doesn’t fit,” added Randy. “We took a Beretta 92 from a dead soldier’s body when we first left out of Boise. That was nasty. He went down face-first and was pretty well rotted when we rolled him over. His rifle was long gone, but the pistol was tucked into the front of his belt, cross-draw style. We cleaned the hell out of that one, but nobody wanted it. Ortiz finally took it.”

    “I see. Well, you two better get on, then. Two hours isn’t a lot of time.”

    “Thanks. We’ll see you at the tower.” Paul and Chad slapped the mags into their guns and handed them to the young men, who turned and started back towards the ranger station. They didn’t even give it a second look as they passed it, moving at a fast walk down the gravel driveway, across the road, and up the hill.

    Scott pulled Chad over and told him to run back and have a dozen men meet them at the creek bridge near the right-of-way. Chad nodded, then scampered up the trail, breaking into a jog when he crested the ridge.
  9. Gary_P

    Gary_P Average Joe

    I like it
  10. bassic

    bassic Monkey+

    Chapter 5

    Milosz looked out at the internment camp, noting that the prisoners were noticeably slower-moving than they had been at first. They were also much skinnier now, not really skeletal, for the most part, but definitely lean. The impact of forcing them off their unrealistic, deplorable “American” diet, full of processed foods, fats, and empty calories, not to mention their predilection for that pisswater they called “beer” was having quite the impact. Grains boiled into a thin, watery gruel for breakfast, none of the standard American “sausage, eggs, and biscuits” they constantly rallied for. No more “steak and potatoes” for dinner. And definitely no pork. Such an animal was not fit to eat. Actually, he laughed to himself, not much of the American diet was fit to eat. Turnips, beets, soybeans, occasionally some fish, that was what he fed them these days. Water from the irrigation ditches to drink. His “interns” were working better, though not as quickly as he’d like them to. This small oasis he’d created in the desert, he should get recognition for this, that was certain. He had laid out the fields himself from his helicopter, each one laboriously plowed by teams of prisoners yoked to plows. They had resisted at first, sometimes sitting down, until the guards had started whipping them with their electric lashes. Their screams of agony echoed through his memory. Such a glorious sound!

    Milosz chuckled to himself- the stupid Americans had actually had the nerve to form a committee to bring their demands to him! The fat, lazy slobs had actually petitioned for better conditions? They wouldn’t have lasted a week back home in his country. The summers there were hot and humid, and the winters were colder than cold. Their growing season was only five months long, and they didn’t have the luxury of mechanized, corporate farming methods.

    He remembered his father lashing him as a child when he forgot to feed the chickens and goats. The blood had soaked his tunic, and when he was done, he had been forced to pull a plow all by himself. He recalled the burning sensation of the salty sweat pouring into the raw stripes across his back and buttocks. The pain was searing, and the dried blood on his tunic pulling the scabs open again and again as he struggled against the weight of the plow, his father screaming at him that he more worthless than a three-legged goat…that was the summer he had become a man.

    That was the summer his mother had become a widow when he, Milosz Janusz, had grown tired of the abuses of his father, and ended it in the barn. He remembered how he had endured that one last whipping, this time tied to a post in the barn. The sting of the whip as it bit into his back, around his ribs, and up to his shoulders, the braided tip sometimes biting into his face, ripping open his cheeks, his nose, even his eyelids. The blessed relief he had finally found as he slumped unconscious, hanging by his bound wrists from the iron ring that his father had tied the oxen to when he yoked them to the plow.

    His father had dumped a bucket of cold water from the well over his head to wake him. Slapping his bruised and bloodied face, calling him a pig, declaring him worthless as a pregnant sow. His father had untied his bindings, kicking him onto the straw floor of the barn. His mother had heard the commotion, the screams, and had come out to stop the flogging, and his father viciously beat her for it. He remembered seeing red, the fury of his anger at the unjustified attack on his precious mother. The sight of her bloodied, battered face, the look of terror in her eyes, it was all too much for him to bear. In a flash of unbridled rage, he had grabbed a split of firewood and bashed the fucker’s head in. Over and over, the first shot having a sound not unlike the hollow thunk of a gourd being smashed, like when he and his friends had snuck about town during the fall harvest festival, bashing the gourds that had been placed outside front doors as festive decorations. His father had dropped like a rock, turning on his way down, landing face up. He had continued, bashing and smashing what was left of his father’s head until it was just a bloody smear across the floor.

    His mother had grabbed him by the arm, shouting at him to stop, hadn’t he done enough? The tears flowing down his face burned with shame. He ran out of the barn, across the pasture, and into the woods. Hours later, he heard sirens approaching the house, and the police were there for at least an hour, he thought. Not long after the police left, he heard the dogs coming for him. He ran to the nearby river, clambered over the rocks that formed a small waterfall, and jumped into the pool at its base, drenching himself, washing away as much of the blood as he could. The dogs’ barking grew louder, and he began to hear their handlers’ labored breathing and heavy, clumsy footfalls, breaking branches and occasionally curses rang out as they stumbled on rocks and deadfall. The water was getting deeper, and he laid on his back, allowing the water to carry him downstream. He knew the river would eventually carry him into town, and he planned to climb out just before the bridge, walking the last mile so that his clothes would be dry enough to the casual glance. He’d go to the tavern next to the farmer’s market, where he’d doubtless find his Uncle Erno. Perhaps he could borrow enough money to get bus fare to another city, far away from this mess.

    He hadn’t expected the bank to be as muddy as it was, his feet sank deep into it. The sticky, wet earth pulled one of his shoes off, and he fell face first into the mud as he tried to retrieve it. As he plucked it out of the mire, he wiped his face off and tried to find a rock, a clump of grass, a branch, anything he could sit on to put it back on. Failing to find anyplace to sit, he decided to get back in the water and ride further downstream. Perhaps he’d find a better place to get out nearer to the town bridge. Pulling his shoe back on in the water, he saw a tree on the bank not far from him, and aimed for it. Grabbing a low branch, he pulled himself up, then maneuvered himself to the edge of the bank. Satisfied that he wasn’t in another mudbank, he pulled himself up onto the bank, and began walking towards town. His clothes should dry by the time he got there, he figured.

    The little town dated back to around 400AD, its streets narrow and twisting. The old, timbered buildings with their clay tiled roofs were on a national registry of historic places. Milosz couldn’t understand the fascination with the age of them, the reverence they seemed to inspire in the smattering of tourists that happened upon the little town. They were old, they should be torn down and a new city erected in its place, a modern city like New York, with lots of glass and metal. Wide streets that could accommodate two-way traffic, with cars and buses, and taxis, not the worn-out cobblestones that made up the nearly sidewalk-sized streets and alleys. A siren sounded in the distance, Milosz tensed up. Were they looking for him? He watched the police car heading out over the bridge and up the hill, away from him. “I have to get to Uncle Erno” he thought, “and get him to loan me enough to get a bus to the coast”.

    Once in town, Milosz wound his way through the narrow streets, passing up the farmers market, the butcher shop, and a tailor shop. The tattered green awning of the tavern seemed to be reaching out to shelter him, and he broke into a jog. He grabbed the door handle and barreled into the dim, cool interior, slamming it shut behind him.

    “Hey, you little bastard, what’s with the door slamming?” a gravelly voice boomed from behind the bar.

    “I’m looking for my Uncle Erno, where is he?”

    “I’d imagine he’s at the market, finishing up. He doesn’t usually come in here until the afternoon.”

    “What time is it? I thought it was at least one-thirty.”

    “I don’t know who taught you to tell time, it’s only eleven, or a few minutes past.”

    “Oh. I was out hiking in the woods and didn’t have my watch on. Sorry for the intrusion.”

    “Are you Erno’s nephew, Milosz?”

    “Yes, of course I am. Why do you ask?”

    “Ah. OK, then I have something for you…I was asked to give it to you. Come over here, by the register…” The bartender walked over and took out a sheaf of papers and envelopes, and started going through them. Milosz sat on a barstool next to the register to watch the man sort through the stack. A pair of large arms wrapped around him from behind. They grabbed his hands and twisted them behind his back, cuffing him.

    “Hey! What the hell? What’s going on? Stop it! Let me go!” Milosz cried out. “I’ll tell my uncle! Uncle Erno! HELP!” he screamed, as the policeman dragged him off the barstool and toward the door.

    The policeman had held his neck with one hand, and his wrists with the other. “Shut up, you little thug! You’re under arrest for murdering your own father.”

    Two days later, the trial was underway. The judge peered down from his perch and called out his name.

    “Milosz Janusz, you stand accused of the murder of your father, and assault with intent to kill your mother. How do you plead?”

    Milosz stood up, as his lawyer had elbowed him in the ribs. He glared at the judge, then set his jaw and spoke loudly to the judge.

    “I don’t plead. It’s a sign of weakness. I’m a man now, almost fifteen, and I’ll tell you right now, I didn’t murder him. He beat me, he whipped me with a leather whip after tying me up in the barn. I was unconscious. I came to when he tried to drown me with a bucket of water. He beat my mother as well!”

    “Milosz Janusz, where is your mother?”

    Milosz whipped his head around the courtroom, desperately looking for his mother. He didn’t see her.

    “I don’t know. She must be at home. Can you send for her? She’ll tell you!”

    A policeman stood. “Your honor, the defendant’s mother is in hospital, she is still unconscious from the beating she received at the hands of her son, here…”

    “WHAT? NO! I didn’t beat her! I was PROTECTING her from my father! HE beat her, not me!”

    The judge looked down at the papers on his podium. He cleared his throat.

    “Is this your mother, Milosz?” He held up a photo of a woman whose face was almost unrecognizable from the bruising and swelling. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun, and she appeared to be laying on a pillow. The whiteness of the backdrop served to make the colors of her bruises look more vibrant than they should, he thought.

    “It doesn’t look my mother. She doesn’t wear her hair that way. And she wasn’t beat up like that when I last saw her.”

    “Is your mother Lyudmilla Janusz?”

    “Yes, that’s her name. But, she…”

    “The record will now reflect that Milosz Janusz has identified Lyudmilla Janusz as his mother.”

    “I didn’t DO that, though!” he protested.

    The judge looked at his papers again, then at Milosz.

    “You DID murder your father, though. The evidence supports that.”

    Milosz fired an icy stare at the judge. He unbuttoned his shirt, and let it drop to the floor, then turned around.

    “Do you see the stripes I bear? The ripped flesh on my shoulder, the fresh scars on my face? They are from the whipping I received at the hand of my father! He doesn’t even treat his oxen that badly!” He looked at the judge, who displayed a look of revulsion as he inspected the wounds from his podium.

    “Nevertheless, you have committed murder. Is this your father?” He held up a picture of his father as a young man, in his Army uniform, dashingly handsome.

    “Yes, though that’s not how I remember him. I never knew him like that, he was a monster to me, and to my mother.”

    “Then I would assume that THIS picture is more along the lines of your last memory of him?” He held up a large picture of his father’s corpse, the torso giving way to what looked not like a head, but rather like bloody ground meat. The dark pool of blood around where his father’s head had been provided a stark contrast to the bits of white jaw bone that remained.

    Milosz’s knees gave way on him, and he retched. The last thing he remembered was the judge’s voice-

    “In light of the defendant’s young age, and the abuses he appears to have received at the hands of the victim, I hereby declare him guilty as charged. Due to his age, he is now a ward of the State, and I sentence him to conscription in the Army, for a period of seven years, until the age of twenty-one. If there have been no further offenses by the convict, he shall be given discharge at that time, and his record sealed. Take him away!” And with that, Milosz Janusz’ childhood, brief and violent as it was, ended. The court bailiffs grabbed him roughly by the arms and shoved him down the hall to the holding cell. By sundown that day, he was transported to the Army’s primary training grounds, where he was inducted.

    A voice from behind him snapped him from his reverie.

    “Sir,” the voice started.

    “It’s Colonel, you dolt!” Milosz snarled. “Perhaps a week of pulling the plow, or peeling turnips in the kitchen, will enhance your memory of how to address me!”

    The soldier in the blue helmet genuflected, “A thousand pardons, Colonel” he proffered. “I am truly sorry, Colonel. It won’t happen again, I assure you!”

    “No, it won’t. I have an assignment for you.” Milosz pointed out across Field 4, where the turnips grew. “Those prisoners are not working fast enough. See to it that you withhold water at the mid-day meal. And cut their rations in half. If production doesn’t pick up by mid-afternoon, take the slowest and make an example of him. Those Americans are lazy. They’re stupid as well.”

    “Yes, Colonel. As you command.” The soldier snapped a salute, spun on his heel, and walked quickly away.

    Milosz watched him for a moment, then turned and walked back to his hut. The desert heat was still an hour or two from being severe, and the humidity, or rather the lack of any humidity, made his lips burn and sting. His skin itched all the time, and his hands were cracked. He’d take a bath tonight, he thought, then he’d get that cute little 13-year-old girl to rub him down with lotion. He’d feel better after that, especially after having a tumble with her in his bed. He smiled to himself. It was good to be the king in the region. Once the official announcement arrived from the U.N. that he was promoted, as his friend in the Governance Committee had assured him was in process, he’d be out of this camp and up to the mountains. He’d be the Dominar of the Western Province. He could set up his command wherever he wanted, build his manse, and rarely think of this labor farm again. He’d take the profits of his oasis in the desert, after all, nobody had expected his camp to be anything other than a detention center. It was in the desert, after all. The river had long ago meandered away from the base of the mountains. It was only after his little experiment, his own vegetable patch, had actually thrived that he realized just how much difference the irrigation canals would make. The soils that lay just a few inches below the parched and sandy topsoil were actually quite rich in nutrients, he’d discovered. The river that snaked across the desert floor, miles from here these days, had laid down a nice, mineral-rich silt as it had come down from the mountains. Some minor soil amendments, some irrigation, and the desert had simply burst forth with life. He’d hated the U.N. Governance Committee for giving him this post at the time. Now, he was seen as a visionary. Bringing agriculture to the desert wasteland was certainly NOT what they had expected. If not for the sheer boredom he’d experienced his first year here, he’d not have found the secret himself.

    The warm breeze at his back, coupled with the glare from the sun conspired to bring a stifled yawn to Milosz’ mouth. He headed off to his quarters for a luncheon of fresh vegetables, some warm, yeasty bread, a large glass of water, and a nap. Perhaps he’d have a taste of some cheese from his homeland, a nice piece of fruit for dessert. But the laborers in Field 4 were certainly not going to be pleased with his latest punishment for their sloth, he expected that they’d either have a sit-down strike, or send a representative with their latest complaints. Either way, they’d be at least one hand short of a full crew by dinner, he thought. Their lunch of curdled soy and wilted lettuce would just have to do. Water was too precious to spare on slaves that were too slow.

    He fished the key to his cabin out of his shirt, and jiggled the lock. The handle turned, he opened it to the welcoming hum of his air conditioner. The dim interior smelled vaguely musty, he’d have to send for the former HVAC specialist to come clean the coils and change his filter again. That man had taken a discarded, rusted window unit apart using only a few small hand tools, and repaired it using parts from another unit. Leon was his name, and he said he had owned his own company in Desert Springs before The Fall. He had been captured in a different town, some 90 miles away up in the mountains, when the drone strikes came. He said he had been doing a job on an air handler for the mine, and had been struck by a beam that had fallen on him near the entrance, knocking him out cold. When he finally came to, he’d staggered into town seeking help, only to be caught up in one of the sweeps they had done after they had softened the town with their airstrikes. When he was inventoried, the guards at the camp had noticed his beltpack had tools in it. They had brought him before Milosz, thinking he was perhaps a saboteur. When he explained that he was simply a tradesman, working an A/C job in New Rothburg, Milosz pointed out the rusty hulk over by the warehouse building and told him to make it work. He did, and was quick about it, too. Milosz had let him stay in the camp, and didn’t put him to work in the fields.

    Leon proved to be much more than just an A/C man, though. He also possessed skills in carpentry. He was no craftsman at it, to be sure, but he had fixed the door to Milosz’ cabin, as well as replaced the floor. He’d created tables for the mess hall from old pallets, and even fashioned a roll-top desk out of scrap wood. Milosz had taken that piece as his own. It now sat along the north wall of his office, overlooking the fields. Such a tranquil place to sign warrants, transfer orders, and other official documents from the U.N. He picked up his phone from his bedside stand and picked the watch commander’s number from the list.

    “Send the handyman to me now. And get my lunch here to my quarters.”

    “Yes, Colonel” came the snappy reply.

    “Any news from patrols?”

    “Nothing of any import, Colonel Janusz. The truck you ordered from the Pacific zone reached its destination, the cargo was unloaded. It is in storage now as you specified. Patrols have not seen anyone on the road across the valley. In fact, they said it was quiet all the way from the air base.”

    “Good. That’s how I like it. The resistance movement seems to have lost its momentum.”

    “It would seem so, sir. The General Council has sent its agenda for its monthly meeting. Have you received it yet?”

    “No, have it brought to me with my lunch.”

    “Yes, Colonel. I’m sending the handyman and two privates with your meal and your mail. Expect them in ten minutes.”

    Milosz hung up, then started to pace. Perhaps this agenda would have word of his impending promotion? An invitation to the General Council meeting would be welcome news, indeed.

    Milosz took his shirt off and hung it over the back of his chair. The salt stains under the armpits served as a reminder to him of how hot and dry it really was. He hadn’t even noticed that he was sweating, and it was still technically morning. He sat at his roll-top desk and opened it, carefully placing his hand on the left side of the top section as he lifted the cover up its track. Rustling through his papers, he found the one he was looking for- the communiqué from his contact assuring him that his promotion was in process. A single drop of sweat dropped from the tip of his nose and landed with an audible splat on the paper, where it spread out and nearly instantaneously evaporated. He couldn’t wait to go up to the mountains and get out of this hell-hole.

    The knock at his door was expected, but even so, he jumped just little.

    A pair of privates stood at attention, flanking the handyman and his canvas bucket of hand tools. One carried a covered plate, the other was clutching a small bundle of mail, and a large manila envelope. Milosz took his mail, turning away from them to put it on his desk.

    “Set the plate on the table. Handyman, get this A/C fixed. It’s not cool enough, and it smells like an old woman’s breath!”

    “As you command, Colonel” replied the food-bearing soldier. The two soldiers shoved the handyman roughly into the room, following him in and letting the door slam shut. The dome-covered plate was put on the table, and Milosz sat down and uncovered the plate. The handyman started to take the filter out, and Milosz watched him work as he ate his salad and steamed vegetables.

    “Filter is dirty as hell, sir, and the coils need cleaned. May I remove the unit and take it outside to rinse the coils, sir?”

    Milosz grunted his reply between bites. “Be quick about it. It’s too hot out, I don’t like sweating while I eat.”

    Leon quickly removed the screws holding it in, hoisted the unit out of its wall mount, and turned towards the door. One of the soldiers stepped in front of him and opened the door, and he hurried out with the A/C. Milosz put his fork down,

    and listened to the sound of the water hissing through the outside spigot. Two or three minutes later, it stopped, and Leon reappeared, with the unit dripping water on the floor.

    “What are you doing? Get that filthy thing outside and let it dry in the sun!” bellowed Milosz.

    “Sir, you told me to be quick about it…”

    “Not at the expense of creating hazards! And not at the expense of dirtying my floors!”

    Leon hesitated, then turned toward the door to head back out. “I’ll be back in a few minutes to finish this” he called over his shoulder.

    Milosz finished his meal, then got up and strode to his desk. He sat, then began to inspect the envelope. It was from the U.N. Secretary General’s office. He started to open the figure-8 string, then stopped. He’d open this in a few minutes, when the soldiers and the handyman had left.

    Leon appeared with a mop, and cleaned up the thin trail of silt that the A/C unit had dripped on the floor. The A/C unit was humming along, blowing tiny ice crystals out in a little fog near the vent.

    “It’s working better now, yes?” Leon inquired of the Colonel.

    “Yes, it seems so.”

    Leon sniffed at the airflow coming from the unit. It smelled pretty neutral, now. Before the cleaning, it was musty and had an odor of mildew mixed with sweat. Now the only thing that smelled sweaty was him. Oh, how he longed for the days before The Fall, when he’d have been able to take a long, hot shower. The work being completed, he asked the Colonel’s permission to leave. Milosz, thoroughly engrossed in his meal, waved him out. The soldiers saluted, spun on their heels, and left.

    Milosz finished his meal, got up, and stretched a bit. He meandered over to the desk, sat down, and started to undo the bit of cord. Flipping open the flap, he reached in and pulled out the two sheets. His eyes flew down the page.

    Col. Milosz Janusz,

    This letter is to inform you that you have been assigned a new post. Your work and dedication to the U.N. has been recognized, and you are hereby promoted to Commander, District 2, Region 4. A further communication will be provided detailing your new duties.

    You will be reporting to the Dominar’s office, Western Province, in Las Vegas, on the first of the month to attend a meeting of the General Council. General Singh will be your contact there. You will be issued civilian clothes at that time, please forward your measurements to the office there. Expect to provide three candidates for promotion to your current position, others will also be selected.

    Please travel according to U.N. Security Protocol, we look forward to congratulating you in person.

    Warm regards,

    Sophia DiCarlo,

    Secretary, U.N. General Council

    North American Provinces

    Milosz sat the paper down, absorbing the kick in the balls that he’d just been handed. Reporting to General Singh? Civilian attire? What the hell is this about? He’d been promoted, all right…not to the level that he deserved, and serving under a man who he knew couldn’t strategize his way out of a paper bag! A man who had lost an entire brigade of troops in the Middle East! He shamed his nation, shamed the U.N., and nearly lost the oilfields due to incompetence. And now he was going to be his what, his lackey? His assistant? What an embarrassment! A sudden thought entered Milosz’ mind.

    A malevolent grin crept across Milosz’ face. I see what you did there, Sophia, he thought. I see, and I know what you’re up to.
    STANGF150 and goinpostal like this.
  11. bagpiper

    bagpiper Heretic

    Excellent read sir. Kinda like I envision the true ending of the USA... taken down by globalist traitors.
    Kinda why I wonder why we haven't declared open season on 'em before they do us.
    If my daddy was still alive...
    Tyler Danann likes this.
  12. rockriver

    rockriver Monkey

    john316 likes this.
  13. rockriver

    rockriver Monkey

    oops. folks. author, I'm trying to post a thank you.
    and when I hit reply it brought up a page that included text?
    I hope I haven't altered the story... so here's my apology.
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