Stateless Society - Prologue Fought mainly in Europe and the Middle East, World War III lasted four years and sapped whatever wealth was left from an already indebted United States. Natural resources were decimated by fiat government spending, so the dollar ultimately collapsed. Major corporations fell by the wayside and global trade and transportation came to a screeching halt. Conscription stole the youth and strength of the country to waste them on the battlefield and, by the time it was all over, the citizens were fed up with the federal government and forced their states to secede from the Union. The last official act of the military was an endeavor to return the few surviving soldiers to their homes or, at the very least, as close as they could get them. The states resisted the effort, closed their borders and demanded proof that the returning men were residents. The citizen-states - which had no currency or resources to steal from - collapsed shortly afterwards, but a few states managed to hold on for a while longer by selling-off federally held lands in exchange for precious metals and other goods. Eventually, even state employees realized the attempt was “too little, too late” and stopped showing up for work. Stateless Society - Chapter 1 Eighteen-year-old Evan Newton held his discharge papers firmly in his left hand while he slung his rucksack over his right shoulder and stepped out the door of the troop transport plane. He stood six feet tall, was one hundred and eighty pounds of lean muscle and his square jaw gave him the look of a fighter, but in reality, Evan was as gentle as a kitten. The summer sun bounced off the tarmac and reflected off the windows of the small airport terminal building, so while he let his eyes adjust to the harsh glare, Evan sighed and thought, I wish I still had my sunglasses. But it’s my own fault, I hadn’t eaten a thing since I started the long journey home three days ago and I was starving by the time I traded them for a half a loaf of stale bread yesterday. He kept in line with his fellow travelers as they worked their way to the demarcation checkpoint where the clerk carefully looked over Evan’s identification documents, verified that he was a legally sponsored resident of the state and stamped his papers officiously. As soon as he was outside the terminal, Evan breathed a sigh of relief while he watched the Pedicab drivers frantically vie for passengers and thought about the radio telegram he’d received just before he got on the plane heading home. It was from his brother, James, and read, “OUTSIDE GATE.” The two-word, frugality of the message told him volumes about the conditions his family must be dealing with in a ravaged and depleted state and gave him a reason to not scan the faces of the people on the sidewalk outside the terminal building. While Evan, moved through the crowd, he studied the large, congested group of anxious travelers looking for their sponsors or relatives and mused, Now, I get why James didn’t want to bring our truck inside the airport. It’s one of the few motorized vehicles left that doesn’t need fossil fuel, but because supply is so scarce, it’s unaffordable for most folks and the amount of biofuel it’d take to push through this sea of humanity would be cost prohibitive for our family. When he reached the end of the road he spotted his younger brother standing in front of the truck holding a handmade sign which read, “PLACERTON - 10 OZ SILVER OR 1 OZ GOLD”. He observed his fifteen-year-old cousin, Ted, standing up in the bed of the truck next to the wood-gasification burner readjusting the firewood in the box on the roof of the truck and Evan reflected, Without Ted, our family never would’ve survived. After his mom ran off, Ted and Uncle Tim came to stay with us, but both of our dads were drafted and killed while they tried to take back Brussels. Ted was only twelve-years-old then and, when fuel was no longer available, we struggled to survive, but he took it upon himself to save us. As he got closer, he noticed other barrels in the bed of the truck and two people sitting behind the burner. He gestured toward the passengers with a nod of his head, smiled at his brother as they shook hands and chuckled, “Just like you to turn a buck at every opportunity! It’s a good thing you were only thirteen when they started the draft ’cause it would have been a shame to waste your talents on the frontlines.” “Good to see you too, bro, but it was mom’s idea,” James replied, took his brother’s pack and tossed it on the hood of the truck. Then he held his sign high as a new wave of pedestrians started to flood out of the airport and advised his brother, “Let’s give it a little bit longer, we still have room for two more.” When they had two more passengers loaded-up, the brothers climbed in the cab, Evan counted the silver and gold coins, James slipped a CD into the player to set a relaxing mood and, when Ted rapped twice on the roof of the cab, James put the truck into gear and they started out on the three-hour drive to Placerton. *** Along the route, James kept the truck in the middle of the road while pushcarts, bicyclists, and pedestrians stayed off to the side of the highway and explained to Evan, “This baby’s capable of highway speeds, but thirty miles an hour is the best we can hope for because of traffic congestion and road surface conditions.” Occasionally, they met another vehicle headed in the opposite direction, so James pulled into a gap to allow the other to pass by. While they waited, Evan asked, “Are most of the cars and trucks that run on fossil fuel driven by wealthy owners?” James answered, “Yeah, but there are a few other wood-gas trucks like ours and their numbers are increasing.” Occasionally, a shantytown broke the monotony of the seemingly unending stream of roadside stands. The local residents took advantage of the fact that the going was slow and travelers stopped often. The downside for the Newton’s was that scavenging for fuel along the way was no longer an option, so fuel had to be purchased and, halfway home, they stopped at a roadside stand to take a break as well as work out a trade for some wood so they could finish the trip. While James haggled with the wood vendor, Ted drained the condensation from the gas tank, refilled the hopper of the burner and checked his pressure gauges. He was proud of his design and felt that he was the most qualified to operate it, Even though James does the driving, I have the more important job of maintaining the pressure and gas-to-air mixture from the bed of the truck. Meanwhile Evan walked over to a stand which offered beer and jerky, but when he saw the prices, he did a quick about-face. Ted saw the look on Evan’s face and nudged his cousin toward him, “Go cheer Evan up, I’ll finish loading up here, James.” James turned Evan back toward the beer stand, put his arm around his big brother’s shoulder and said, “Hey! Let me buy you a beer to celebrate your homecoming.” “No thanks, little bro. The price is ridiculous and we can’t afford it,” Evan declined. James pulled Evan right up to the stand and insisted, “No worries! I got this!” He carefully set four ounces of silver onto the counter and ordered, “Two pints of the good stuff, Barkeep.” “Hey, Mr. High Roller, what do you think mom would think of your reckless spending?” Evan challenged weakly before he took a long pull on his ice cold beer. “Mom will never find out because you’re not a snitch and neither is Ted. Besides, who’s to say we had three passengers or four?” James insisted and gulped down his beer. When the brothers finished their beers, James called for his passengers, “We’re pulling out now, so get in the truck or stay here!” *** Once they reached the small village square in the center of the sleepy, rural community of Placerton, James stopped the truck in front of the abandoned courthouse to let his passengers out. One of the men offered, “I’ll give you a half an ounce of silver if you’ll drop me off at my front gate.” “Sorry, mister, but it’s in the opposite direction of where we’re headed and we’re almost out of wood,” James reluctantly declined. The man hopped out of the truck, hefted his backpack onto his shoulders and started off with a sigh, “That’s okay, son. I’m in no real hurry to get to what’s left of my home and the walk will probably do me good.” *** The trio pulled into their own dooryard on fumes. Evan and James left Ted to shut down the burner, empty the hopper and drain the condensation off, while they headed to the house. Annabelle Newton met them on the back porch and greeted Evan warmly with an overly generous hug followed by several kisses. Then a stern look shrouded her face as she stepped back, looked from face to face and accused, “You two have been drinking!” Evan couldn’t lie to his mother, so he kept silent and directed a sheepish gaze toward James who lowered his head in embarrassment. Annabelle abruptly slapped Evan across his broad shoulder and scolded, “The answer isn’t written on your shoes boy. You know we can’t afford to waste money on frivolities!” “But, why’d you hit me mom?” Evan demanded. “Because you’re the oldest and you can take your brother in a fair fight if he disobeyed you, so the way I see it, it was all your fault.” Annabelle explained as she held out her hand for what was left of the gold and silver she knew they’d have. As soon as the boys handed over the coins, Annabelle chided, “Now, get on inside and wash up for supper.” The extended, family of four sat at the kitchen table while Evan said “Grace”. Almost in the same breath, he glanced at the bowl which sat in the middle of the otherwise empty table and asked, “James, will you please pass me the potatoes?” Evan took a small scoop from the bowl and made sure that he took less than one fourth of its meager contents before he passed the bowl back with the thought, Mom’s only gonna eat what’s left after we take what we want first and, every time, without exception Ted, James and I make sure that the bowl contains more than one forth when she gets it. While Evan stared at his plate, a sudden rush of guilt overcame him, I shouldn’t have let James waste money and buy me that beer! Things are worse than I imagined! Food was scarce before I got drafted a year ago, but it was never this bad! Feeling too ashamed of himself to eat, he pushed his plate away and walked out the back door. He came back into the kitchen an hour later and saw that the table had been cleared and everyone else’s dishes sat in the dish drainer, but his plate still sat on the table. Evan sat down, picked up the fork, divided the lump of cold, mashed potatoes into two lumps, ate them in two big bites and sighed, Just like when I was a kid. I’d better clean my plate before mom comes in here to tell me, “That plate’s gonna sit there until you eat it ALL, son!” Evan took his plate and fork to the kitchen sink, used the dishwater left in the sink to wash them, rinsed them off, put them in the dish drainer and went to his room.