Original Work Year 12 (sequel to Half Past Midnight)

Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by Jeff Brackett, Oct 12, 2016.


  1. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    For those of you who read my first novel (Half Past Midnight) and it's companion novella (The Road To Rejas), I'm finally getting around to writing a sequel novel. It takes place twelve years after the Doomsday War that occurred in the previous titles, and has some of the same characters. I'm currently working on plowing through notes from my beta readers, and the novel goes to the editor in five days. But if you want to read the rough draft, I'll start posting here, a few chapters at a time.

    As with my previous stuff, if you find something that I messed up, PLEASE don't hesitate to point it out to me. The more mistakes I can correct before it gets published, the longer it will take the rest of the world to realize that I haven't really got a clue about how to write. ;)
     
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  2. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    PART 1
    LEAVING



    Chapter 1
    Thief​


    I was almost to the barn when I heard the back door of the house open. Dropping to the ground, I tried to blend into the darkness, hoping the lamplight from the back porch wouldn't reach this far into the night. The old man leaned against the back railing. He looked lost in thought, and more than a little tired, and I wondered for a moment what was going through his head.

    Several voices in the house rose in argument, and the man cursed as he turned and went back inside. They'd been going at it for more than an hour already, and showed no signs of slowing anytime soon. Slipping around to the back of the barn, I set my pack on the ground before I swung the door open, freezing for a second, as an extraordinarily loud burst of shouting came from the house. And though I could make out a few distinct words, they might as well have been spoken in a foreign language for all the meaning they held for me.

    Solar-synchronous orbit? I had no idea what that meant, but it really didn't matter. As long as they kept quarrelling, I didn't have to worry about being discovered. As long as the drone of old men and women carried through the night air, no one was going to be paying any attention to the horses.

    It was a warm summer night, and the full moon illuminated my way as I slid through the shadows into the barn. I left the door open, needing the moonlight as I slowly stepped inside, smelling the rich scents of horse and fresh hay. Moving to the nearest of six stalls, I pulled a slice of fresh apple from the pouch on my belt and held it out to the horse before me.

    "There's a good girl." I spoke quietly to her. I cupped my hand around her nose, letting her catch my scent, keeping her calm with my words and attitude. "And there's more where that came from once we get down the road a ways." I stroked her nose as I slipped the bridle over her head, then led her out of the stall.

    As I turned toward the barn door, I saw the silhouette of two dogs approaching from across the yard. Great! All I need is for a bunch of barking to attract someone's attention. I was at least partially prepared for this. I pulled several bits of jerky from my pocket and coaxed the dogs to me. They scarfed the meat down in a matter of seconds and sniffed my hands for more. "Greedy little things aren't you?" I reached into my pouch. "Want some more? Come on." There were leashes hanging on the wall by the door and I grabbed two as I led the dogs back into the mare’s stall. I handed them each another piece of jerky and they munched happily as I slipped the leashes around their necks and secured them in the stall. "You're good dogs, aren't you?" I emptied the rest of the jerky into a pile and slipped out of the barn.

    Saddling the mare outside the barn, I grabbed my pack from where it lay, and secured it behind the saddle. More shouting from the house across the yard told me that I still had time before anyone missed the horse. I grinned again, swung my leg up, and quietly rode away from the lights of home.


    ***​


    I rode through the night, armed with some old folding maps I had stolen from the Rejas Library. I felt a bit guilty about that. No one had yet devised a way to make paper as fine and crisp as the Old Days paper in the books and magazines preserved in the Library. That meant every bit preserved was precious. I justified it mentally, telling myself I would return them in a few months, when I returned from my trip. Besides, there had been dozens of the Texas and Oklahoma maps, and at least ten other copies of the Easy-Fold Map of The United States. And while there was some question as to whether or not the United States still existed, the roads and cities were still there.

    Mostly.

    Mother Nature had reclaimed sidewalks, as well as most of the smaller roads in the area within a few years of D-day. But she was still working on the larger highways and interstates, so it was easy enough to see the wide, barely-covered, flat pathways that meandered across the landscape. They were recognizable enough to use as guide markers for a journey, anyway.

    In less than two hours, I was riding north beside Highway 96. The light of the full moon illuminated the road well enough, but a decade of unmaintained blacktop still made travelling it at night a dangerous endeavor. Grass runners and shrubs grew through crumbling concrete and potholes. The overall path was still mostly flat and the uneven ground was easy enough to navigate during the day, but concrete, whether covered in grass or not, was still unforgiving. Not wanting to risk injury to my horse, I stuck to the softer grass that grew to the side of the roadway.

    I rode for about three more hours, keeping Tallulah to a slow trot in the darkness. I estimated we'd gone about ten miles by the time I decided to stop. The young appaloosa was in good shape, but I didn't want to push her too hard, especially so early in the journey. Riding a short distance into the forest, I quickly found a good spot near a little stream. A few minutes later, I had Tallulah tethered to a tree where she would be able to drink, and was climbing one of the trees I'd picked out as a support for my hammock tent.

    It was basically a hammock with a fine mesh mosquito net over it. It took a little work to hang it as high as I liked, but I had gotten good at it over the last few years, and within a matter of fifteen minutes my pack and I were settled into it, almost twenty feet above the ground.

    I listened to the sounds of the forest as I tried to get to sleep, telling myself that they were the reason for my insomnia. But I knew better. It wasn't the forest, or the crickets or bullfrogs keeping me awake. It was the excitement, and perhaps a bit of fear at the sheer audacity of my undertaking. The truth was that the whole thing was more than a little intimidating. I mean, what did I know about travelling and the world? Me, who had lived most of my life in a town of less than three thousand people.

    But the message had been clear, and while the Rejas City Council sat and argued about who to send as ambassador, I wasn't going to wait. It had taken them two days to decide to send anyone at all. There was no telling how long it would take to figure out who to send. "And there was no way they would have chosen me, anyway," I thought bitterly.

    I was well known in town, but not for anything I had really done. It was more a matter of what had been done to me, and for me. And I was tired of that. I needed to make my own mark on the world. Needed to earn a place in my community for something that I actually did on my own. But none of the Council would have agreed, not even my own father. Even though I was the one who had first seen it.

    Well, me and Donna.
     
  3. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    Chapter 2
    The Beginning​




    I peered through the rapidly darkening forest. Donna's hand in my own was warm in the cool nighttime air as I led her through the trees.

    "Where are we going?" she asked quietly.

    "You'll see." I looked back at her and smiled teasingly.

    "Come on, Zach. Tell me, please?"

    "Nope. It's a surprise."

    I could hear the pout in her voice as she complained. "Not fair."

    "Whoever told you life was fair?" I grinned evilly.

    She slapped my arm. "You're mean, you know that?"

    "Don't worry, we're almost there." I knew this patch of the Texas Big Thicket as if it were my own back yard. I should. Having lived here for more than a decade, for all intents and purposes it was my back yard.

    We pushed through the trees and stepped into the clearing from the eastern edge. I stepped aside, waving my hand in a grand gesture, as if presenting her with a special gift and she gasped at the sight before us.

    The clearing was about thirty yards across, an almost perfectly round hole in the huge pines of the Texas Big Thicket that gave an unobstructed view of the stars and Milky Way. That, in and of itself, made it one of my favorite places to go even on cold winter nights. But in the late spring, for a period of a few weeks or so, there was a special magic to the place.

    "Oh my god, Zach. It's beautiful!" She stepped past me, into the clearing. Into the gently flowing clouds of fireflies, flickering lazily through the air. This clearing was a breeding ground for them, and every spring it came alive with what appeared to be millions of the lazily drifting lightning bugs. Males flew about, frantically flashing their signal in an attempt to attract a mate. The females, who held all the power, just as in the world of humans, stayed on the limbs of trees or tall blades of grass flashing their replies.

    Donna held her arms out to her sides, slowly spinning around to see the wonder of tiny flashing orbs all around her. Her expression of wonder brought a smile to my face, and I noticed, not for the first time, that she was really quite a pretty girl. She was a year younger than I was, and we'd known each other for several years. Her father had died during the Rough Times after the Doomsday War, when Crazy Larry had rolled into town at the head of a small army. I'd met her a year later when she and her mother had started training with Megan.

    We'd always been good friends, but lately she acted like she was trying to push the relationship a bit farther, and I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about that.

    Other girls had tried to get close to me, but they had always turned out to be more interested in my story than in me. Unlike them, Donna had never pushed me for anything more than friendship. She'd never pressured me to "tell her the story". She had respected my privacy, and as a result of her discretion we'd become close friends.

    I followed her into the clearing and laid back in the grass, looking up at the light show. I'd seen the fireflies on many occasions, but the joy on her face brought a smile to mine. She finally realized I was watching her, and dropped beside me, a self-conscious grin still plastered to her face. For several minutes we laid there in comfortable silence.

    "Zach?"

    So much for silence. "Yeah?"

    "Why don't you have a girl?"

    And so much for comfortable. I hesitated, somewhat anxious about where this conversation might be going. "Why don't you have a guy?" I deflected. "I know for a fact that Jerry's been trying to get your attention for weeks now."

    She chuckled. "Jerry's a dick. He thinks more about his reputation with the ladies than about the ladies themselves." She rolled onto her side and raised onto one elbow. I turned my head to meet her eyes. "I'm not interested in becoming a notch on his bedpost. Especially not for—" She stopped and pursed her lips. It was obvious that she'd almost told me something she considered important, but had changed her mind.

    "Not for what?"

    "Wait a minute. You never answered my question." She sat back up. "You always do that."

    "Wait. What? I always do what?"

    "You always avoid answering my questions when you don't want to talk about something. Then you twist the conversation around to distract me." She frowned. "You think I don't know what you're doing, but I see it. I'm not stupid!"

    "Wait a second." I sat up and scooted back on the grass where I could see her better by the flickering light of the fireflies around us. "How did this go from me asking about Jerry, to you saying I think you're stupid?"

    "It didn't. It went from me asking you about a girlfriend, and you avoiding the question, just like you always do." She shifted to where she could better face me. Her lips pursed, and I could tell she was upset. "I just don't like Jerry." She looked down, and her hair fell forward like a dark curtain, blocking my view of her face as she lowered her voice. "I don't want him to be my first."

    At first I didn't understand. Her first? First what? Yeah, I'm slow like that sometimes. When I realized what she was saying, my reply was equally inspired. "Oh. So you... um?"

    "Yeah." She looked up at me, expression inscrutable. "I um. And I don't want some little boy in a big man's britches to un-um me."

    I chuckled at that, until she looked up at me glaring. "Sorry."

    Her expression softened a bit. "S’all right. I guess it's not exactly the discussion you expected to be having tonight."

    "Ah, not exactly." Oh yeah. I was absolutely eloquent tonight. "I mean, you just—"

    But Donna wasn't finished. "I wanted to see if you... might..."

    I swallowed. If I might? Was she asking what it sounded like she was asking? "If I might... um?"

    She giggled. "Or un-um..."

    "Wow, Donna. I, ah... I mean..." There I was, Mr. Articulate yet again.

    She looked at me directly for the first time since she'd broached the subject. "Look, it ain't like a marriage proposal or anything. I don't expect anything more than what we already have. We're friends, right?"

    "Well, yeah. I like to think so."

    "So I don't want my first time to be with some dick like Jerry."

    I snickered at the double entendre, and after a second she must have realized what she'd said. She laughed and slapped my shoulder. "You know what I mean!"

    "Hey! You're the one making bad jokes here." I rubbed my shoulder in mock pain.

    Her smile faded, and she steered the conversation back to the subject. "I also don't really want to be all clumsy and bumbling when I finally do get married, either. I want my first time with my husband to be wonderful, and that won't happen if I'm so worried about the pain of my first time, and bein' all clumsy and wondering what a man likes and don't like."

    What she said made a certain amount of sense. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit that it was all I could do not to roll her onto her back right then and there.

    "And I sure as hell don't want to go hop into bed with someone I don't even care about, or who doesn't care about me. And you do care about me, right?"

    "Well yeah."

    "So then..." Her voice trailed off and she looked at me.

    I didn't know what to do. Was she finished talking? Did she need to talk it through some more? If I let her keep talking, was she going to talk herself out if it? Did I want to do this, to risk what had been a good friendship, all for the sake of sex?

    When I didn't do anything, she took a deep breath and leaned in to me. Her lips were soft and warm as she kissed me. Stunned for a second, I didn't react. But she didn't stop, and after a few interminably long seconds I reached up, cupping her cheek as I kissed her back. Her tongue brushed my lips and I opened, reaching forward with my own. She moaned, or maybe it was me. I wasn't sure. All I knew at that point was that this situation had gone from trot to gallop in a matter of seconds, and I wasn't entirely sure what to do about it.

    I felt like a clumsy child, not knowing what to do with my hands, with my lips or tongue. Should I bite her lip? I'd heard some girls liked that. Could I get away with touching her breasts? Or her butt? Or even her… um ? Was it too soon? Would I disgust her by rushing things? Did she really want this? Was she going to change her mind? Was there some game going on here I didn't know the rules to? Did she really want to go all the way, or did she just want to neck for a while? If I pushed it too far, would I get slapped? If I did something wrong, would I anger her, and ruin the opportunity. Would I ruin our friendship?

    My mind spun with the typical insecurities and questions of a twenty-year old and I was almost paralyzed with indecision.

    Donna seemed pretty sure, though. She pulled back for a second, and by the dim yellow light of the fireflies, I saw her pull the loose dress over her head. I swallowed. She saw my hesitation and smiled reassuringly as she slid the straps of her bra over her shoulders. Her breasts drew my eyes like magnets. She twisted the bra around to where she could get to the clasp.

    "Donna?"

    My eyes refused to pull away from her breasts as I spoke. Distracted, I realized that my hands had somehow become attached to them. Wasn't I about to say something? Tell her something? Ask her something?

    "What?" she murmured.

    "Hmm?"

    She pressed my hands tighter on her breasts and moaned. The sound broke the spell her breasts held on me and I looked up at her face. Eyes half closed, she licked her lips. We were both panting as she spoke. "You said my name?"

    But those amazing breasts called to me again, and I leaned up, taking a nipple into my mouth, licking it, then pulling gently with my teeth, afraid of hurting her. More afraid of not pleasing her. She gasped again, pressing the back of my head to her, then pulling me away. She pushed me onto my back and straddled me and once again those lovely breasts were in my hands. She grinned. "You had something you wanted to say?"

    I remembered. "Yeah. I..."

    She ground back against me. She still had on her panties, and I was still fully clothed. But her center was hot enough that I could feel it against my hard length, even through our clothing. Once more, I couldn't tell which of us moaned.

    "I... um..."

    She ground harder against me. "You what?" she teased.

    I gripped her hips, pulling them forward, then back, increasing the friction between us. Then I forced myself to stop. I couldn't think while she was doing that. While we were doing that. And I needed her to know. "I um." I swallowed, unsure how she would react.

    She looked alert again, maybe a little irritated. "What?" she panted. "Oh god, what is so important right now?"

    I looked her in the eye.

    "I," I said plainly, "um."

    She blinked, then smiled as she caught on. "Really? You too?"

    My face flushed at the admission. "Yeah."

    "But I thought you... I mean, there are always girls throwing themselves at you. I sorta assumed you had... umm."

    We both chuckled at the term now. Then I shook my head.

    Donna raised an eyebrow, then smiled tenderly. "Then we can both un-um each other." And she leaned forward to kiss me again. There was no hesitation now. We laughed together as my shirt got tangled over my head. When we finally got it, I pulled her back to me, wanting to feel those gorgeous breasts against my bare chest. Our skin was hot as we ground against each other again, and I reached down to her hips, pulling her tightly against me, then reached around, sliding my hands inside her panties to grasp her cheeks. This time, I knew it was her who moaned, and I smiled to think that I could cause such a reaction in her.

    She sat back, reaching for my belt, and my hands yet again were drawn to her breasts. I pinched her nipples lightly as she fumbled the buttons on my pants. Her hand grasped my length, bending me painfully as she tried to separate me from my pants. "Ow!"

    Reflexively, I pinched her nipples harder, which caused her to also hiss.

    "I'm sorry!" We both said at the same time. Then we laughed.

    I rolled her gently off me, onto her back. She grinned at me. "We're a mess, aren't we?"

    I nodded, also smiling. "But practice makes perfect." I stood, sliding my pants down, and my erection sprang comically up. The cool night air made me realize that I'd been sweating.

    "What's that?"

    I wasn't sure how to answer her. Surely she knew what it was. It was sort of the point to what we were doing, wasn't it? What was I supposed to say? My pecker? No, too crude. My penis? Too clinical. My love pole? Just plain ridiculous. But she pointed past my head, and I turned to see what had interrupted our moment.

    At first I thought it was just another firefly, but it didn't flicker. It didn't change direction. It was a steady shining light in the sky, travelling from one side of the clearing toward the other. I stood there like an idiot, penis wilting, pants around my ankles, as I realized what I was seeing. I'd read about them in the library, and never thought to see one. "It's a satellite!"

    Donna stood, still clad only in her panties as she grabbed my elbow. "There haven't been any satellites for years." The pressure of her bare breast on my arm was distracting, and I looked over at her, once more becoming aroused. She turned her face to me, grinning with excitement.

    My erection began to return at the sight of her nearly naked body, and I was glad to see her grin. Good, we can get back to—

    "We need to get back! We've gotta tell your dad!"

    "Wait. What?"

    She turned away from me, bending to pick up her clothes. The sight of her backside stretching those panties had me fully distracted again, and I realized my chance was slipping away.

    "We need to let them know there's a satellite in the sky! Don't you realize what that means?" She reclasped her bra, slipping the straps back over her arms, and I nearly groaned with disappointment as her breasts, those gorgeous breasts that I had just had in my hands, in my mouth, disappeared behind plain white cotton. "Someone is rebuilding!"

    She slipped her dress back over her head and I groaned aloud. She looked at me, still standing in the clearing with my pants around my ankles, and she smiled pityingly. She sauntered over to me. Yes, that was the word. She sauntered over to me with a sexy smile. "Oh, Zach. I'm sorry." She reached out and her touch sent a thrill through me once more.

    I moaned.

    "It's not fair to leave you like this is it?"

    Hope beat in my chest as she squeezed lightly. Then she giggled. "Then again, whoever told you life was fair?" She squeezed once more, giggled, and ran out of the clearing towards town.

    I sighed and dropped my head. Looking down at my confused penis, I spoke resignedly. "Guess we stay um for a bit longer."


    ***​


    Dad sent me out with messages at first light. Rejas had a seven-person town council. Dad, as mayor, and six others sat once a month to hear and decide on city business down at City Hall. But on rare occasions someone called a special session. This was one of those occasions, and I spent four hours delivering messages to all six of the other council members.

    That night was the first of several meetings at the Dawcett homestead. The initial meeting was immeasurably complicated by the fact that the two Ham radios reported that they were receiving a signal, apparently from the satellite. Taking full advantage of the fact that I happened to live where the meetings were taking place, I eavesdropped every chance I got. And hearing the content of the message had me more excited than I had been in a long time.

    It was actually two messages. The first was a simple recording that played over and over in a loop.


    To any citizens who are able to receive this message,

    Be advised that the government of the United States of America is advancing down the long road to recovery. With the destruction of Washington DC as well as many of the nation's largest cities, the government has relocated to a secret location. We also have a new military installation that is working to rebuild some of our technological infrastructure. If you are hearing this message, it means that you have either saved or rebuilt to some level of electronic technology. Please send representatives to discuss what is needed for the reconstruction of our great nation.


    That simple message was accompanied by a set of coordinates in Morse code.

    35-20-23N / 99-12-02W

    They pointed to a town in western Oklahoma, and the message was clearly a call to arms, of sorts. And when I heard that the location in Oklahoma was an old abandoned space port, left over from a ten million dollar competition called the Ansari X Prize, I was intrigued enough to visit the library.

    That was where I found a couple of magazine articles. The Ansari X Prize had been a private space race that took place around the turn of the century. Any private individual or business who managed to build and launch a reusable manned spacecraft twice within two weeks would win the ten million dollar prize. From the articles I found, several companies tried, but a company called Scaled Composites won the prize in October of 2004 with the second launch of SpaceShipOne.

    But before their spaceplane roared to victory, several other organizations were also working toward that ten million dollar X Prize. One of them involved a failed and abandoned spaceport in the small town of Burns Flat, Oklahoma. Now, it looked like the US military had taken up residence at that location, and had used it to launch a satellite.

    Who knew what else they were building up there?

    With that question, my imagination refused to let me rest. I had to get away from Rejas, from where I was known as Leeland Dawcett's kid, or the kid that hundreds of people had gone to fight a madman to rescue. I had to make my own mark on the world.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  4. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    Chapter 3
    Caught​


    The smell of eggs and bacon woke me two days later. It was a wonderful scent, eggs with some sort of herbs or spices mixed in as they cooked. At first I drifted in and out of consciousness, content with the senses that wonderful dream sent my way. The whine of dogs shocked me fully awake.

    Keeping as quiet as I could, I reached up and pulled at the side of the hammock so I could peer over it at the ground below. I squinted at the scene below, trying to make sense of the situation. I was supposed to be alone. No one knew where I was. Yet here were Bella and Cricket, sitting below, looking up at me, tails wagging contentedly. Smoke drifted up from a small campfire and I saw a hulking figure kneeling beside it, frying pan resting on a small metal camping grill. I had used such grills many times when I'd camped out.

    The demeanor of the dogs told me that they knew who this mysterious cook was, even if I hadn't yet figured it out. It wasn't my dad, this guy was way too big. The rifle that lay on the ground beside him caused my heart to thump loudly in my chest. It was a bolt action rifle from the Old Days. There weren't many people who carried those any more, since bullets were becoming scarce. Most folks carried simple black powder rifles, or even more commonly, a bow and arrows, like I did. Anyone who carried an Old Days rifle like this was a person of means and standing.

    He shifted where he squatted beside the fire, drawing my attention from the rifle back to him, and as his size registered, I finally realized who it must be. "I'm not going back."

    Mr. Roesch simply looked up from where the food cooked in his pan to where I peeked over the edge of my hammock.

    "You can't make me. I'll just sneak out again."

    "I know."

    I waited for him to elaborate, but he had nothing more to say. That was pretty normal for him. Mr. Roesch was one of the least talkative people I knew. Dad had once told me it went back to something that happened to him on D-day, but neither of them ever showed any inclination to elaborate.

    Not really sure of what to expect, I slipped my boots on and grabbed the rope I had coiled beside me. I used it to lower my gear, then tied myself off to my upper support line while I dismantled my hammock. Mr. Roesch watched as I swung from tree to tree, and I thought I saw him nod with approval as I finally untied my support lines and lowered myself to the ground beside my pack. But he said nothing as I left everything on the ground and walked over to sit across the fire from the big man. He scooped a pile of eggs and bacon onto a thin shingle of wood and handed it across to me.

    "Thanks."

    He nodded and began eating the rest of the food directly from the small frying pan. As with most things when it came to Mr. Roesch, breakfast was a quiet affair. I ate, all the while wondering what his appearance meant. At first, I was convinced he was going to try to take me back home. But he could have easily just overpowered me and thrown me over his horse if that was the case. I thought about it, and finally figured I had it.

    "They decided to send you, didn't they?"

    He looked up with a twinkle in his eye. He jabbed his fork at me and grinned. "Got it in one."

    "Alone?"

    Mr. Roesch shook his head. "Told 'em I had people I could pick up along the way."

    "You knew I was already out here?"

    "You'd been hounding them for the chance ever since they deciphered the message. Suddenly you get quiet and disappear?" He scooped another fork full of eggs into his mouth. "Your dad checked the barn and found the dogs leashed up in an empty stall. Didn't take a genius to figure it out."

    "But how'd you find me? There's half a dozen ways I could have gone."

    He just pointed to the two Catahoula leopard dogs. My girls nuzzled up to me, tails wagging, unaware of their unwitting betrayal. "Should'a taken them with you."

    I sighed at my own stupidity even as I scratched the dogs behind the ears. We finished the rest of our breakfast in silence. I broke my last piece of bacon in half and tossed a piece to each of the girls, then tossed my shingle into the fire. Shortly thereafter, we were strapping our gear onto our horses, and I was still trying to figure out what was going on. Finally, I gave up working on it on my own and just asked. "So my folks are all right with this? With me going with you to the meet?"

    "We talked about it when we figured out what you had probably done. Figured you were probably gonna go no matter what. Makes more sense for me to go with you than to let you go on your own."

    I couldn't entirely stop the grin. "So I really get to represent Rejas for this?"

    "Nope."

    My grin died.

    "I represent Rejas. Your dad got the rest of the council to agree to let you come along for as long as I can put up with you. Figure it'll be a good experience, you being the son of the mayor and all."

    "But I can..." I let my words trail off at the look Mr. Roesch gave me.

    "I represent Rejas. You're my assistant. Capiche?"

    I swallowed. "I don't know what a capeesh is, but I understand."

    He grunted as he swung into his saddle.
     
  5. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    Chapter 4
    Attitude Adjustment​


    Riding with Mr. Roesch was like riding with a statue. He looked like a person, but he was silent as stone and always seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. Any time I tried to drag him into conversation, I was more often than not answered with grunts, nods, or shrugs. After trying for several hours, I finally gave up. He obviously didn't want to talk, and I didn't need the frustration.

    Bella and Cricket scouted several yards ahead of us, and as the sun approached its zenith, I called out to them, "Bella! Cricket!"

    They stopped and turned to look at me as I rode toward them. "Hunt."

    They scampered off into the forest beside the road, and I finally got a reaction out of Mr. Roesch. He turned to me with a raised eyebrow. "You trained 'em to hunt? That'll come in handy."

    I grunted at him, happy to finally be able to turn the tables on the taciturn old man. As I pulled my horse past him, I had to fight hard to suppress a grin.

    It wasn't long before the two came back with a pair of rabbits. I dismounted and praised them. "That's my good girls. Put it down." They did, and I scratched them both behind the ears for a moment. But they wanted more, and I needed to oblige them. I grabbed the coneys, pulled my knife, and quickly gutted them, dropping the heads and entrails for the girls.

    I looked up at where Mr. Roesch was watching me. "Ready for lunch?"

    He smiled and dismounted. "Need help?" He jutted his chin at the rabbit carcasses.

    "Nah. I got it." I grinned, pleased to have impressed the older man. "I'm the assistant, right?"

    He nodded. "That you are." He took Tallulah's reins and left me cleaning the rabbits as he took care of the horses. "Looks like you're learning pretty fast, too."

    He put a quick fire together, starting it with a tinder kit he pulled from his pocket. By the time I had the rabbits cleaned and skewered, he had a good fire going, and it was my turn to be impressed. It usually took me twice as long to get a decent fire, and I made a mental note to pay more attention next time to see how he did it so quickly.

    We ate in silence, of course. Everything with Mr. Roesch was in silence. I thought for a bit about my plan... my former plan. When it had been just me, I had known my intent. I would travel to the space center, announce myself as a representative of Rejas, and see what the price of admission might be. By the time anyone from Rejas caught up with me, it would be too late to contradict me.

    Of course, all that changed as soon as Mr. Roesch entered the picture. And despite the fact that my own plan was pretty much in shambles now—not that it had been such a great idea to begin with—I was genuinely curious as to what the council had decided to do. But I knew enough about Mr. Roesch to know that he wasn't going to volunteer any information. I was going to have to drag it out of him. So as we neared the last of our meal I gathered up my courage and asked him.

    "Mr. Roesch?"

    He looked up at me over the fire. The fact that he stopped chewing and raised an eyebrow were the only indications that he had heard me. "So what's the plan? I mean, what are you gonna... or I guess, what did the council decide to do?"

    He went back to chewing for a moment, and I wasn't sure at first if he was going to answer. But he swallowed the last bit of meat from the bone in his hand and tossed it to the dogs. Bella snatched it out of the air and growled at Cricket, warning her away from the tidbit. "Depends," Mr. Roesch said without looking at me. He stood as if the conversation was over, but I wasn't willing to let it go that easily.

    "Depends on what?"

    "On what they're after."

    "What do you mean? The message said what they were after. They want to rebuild the country."

    He began kicking dirt onto the camp fire. "Yep. That's what they said."

    I swallowed the last bit of my food and absently tossed the bone to Cricket. I wiped my hands in the grass and hurried to help bury the fire. "Ain't that a good thing?"

    "Isn't."

    "Why not?"

    He shook his head. "I'm not saying it isn't a good thing. I'm correcting your grammar."

    I was dumbfounded. "My grammar?"

    He shrugged. "I'm the ambassador. You're my assistant. Can't have my assistant come across like an ignorant hick." He climbed back into his saddle without looking at me. "You have responsibilities now. Even as my assistant, you still represent Rejas."

    I thought about that as I climbed into my own saddle. The idea that I had a responsibility to the town hadn't really hit me until that point. As I thought about it, I realized I'd been approaching this whole thing from a pretty selfish point of view. I'd been so intent on making my mark that I hadn't considered the impact of my actions on other people. A quick moment of soul searching told me something about myself, and I didn't much care for the message.

    "If you want to be treated like an adult," it said, "then stop acting like a kid."

    We rode in silence as I thought about that. Everything I had done had been for selfish reasons. Ever since I'd been kidnapped ten years ago, I'd spent nearly every day resenting the fact that I'd had to be rescued… that people had fought and died to save me.

    I'd spent my days since then trying to overcome that feeling of inadequacy, trying to make sure it would never happen again. I'd studied hard in the school, when they'd finally gotten one running, and had excelled in reading and history. I'd done all right in math, but history was my real interest.

    I'd trained hard with Dad when he still taught the self-defense classes, and harder with Megan when Dad had gotten too busy with town politics and she'd taken over the classes. I trained the dogs, learned to hunt with a bow, and take care of myself in the wilderness. I was one of the best around with the throwing knives my dad had given me as a kid. Basically, I'd pretty much lived my life to ensure that I would never have to depend on anyone else, ever again.

    But I realized now that while independence was a fine thing to strive for, my desire to make a mark for myself wasn't the only thing at stake. It wasn't even the most important thing at stake. That realization put a new spin on all the things whirling through my mind, and I began to feel the tiniest bit of shame and guilt at the way I'd gone about this whole endeavor.

    It wasn't until we were several miles down the road that I realized that Mr. Roesch had never actually answered my question. Wasn't the government trying to rebuild the country a good thing? He had implied that it might not be. But all the history books I'd read had extolled the virtues of the founding fathers of the United States. They had taught us in school that the government had been built to be of the people, and for the people, and that seemed like a pretty even-handed way to do things.

    I considered asking him what he'd meant again, but strongly suspected I wouldn't get an answer. We rode the rest of the afternoon in silence.
     
  6. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Thank you. Very interesting take on character development, observing the main character develop, and wondering where it will lead to next. Good details on survival in a post SHTF world and an interesting touch of both the world of the Hobbit and the world of man. Also interesting in the almost endless directions it may go. Not to far out, but it isn't a routine story where you kind of know the ending of the story by the end of the first chapter. Enjoyed the shifts from one character to the next and keeping it related to the story as it develops.
     
  7. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    Agreed! Most definitely looking forward to future installments :)
     
  8. Pax Mentis

    Pax Mentis Philosopher King Site Supporter

    I enjoyed your first 2 a lot. Unfortunately I am proof of the theory that we don't retain what we read on a backlit screen so I will have to wait until it comes out on Kindle (unless you would like to send me a .pdf for proofing when you finish the draft ;))...
     
  9. techsar

    techsar Monkey+++

    Nice follow up!

    ...and Semper Fi ;)
     
  10. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    And that's it. The barely polished, first draft of Year 12. The manuscript is off to the editors as of about an hour ago, but if any of you finds any screw-ups I missed, please let me know. There will still be a little back & forth during the editing process, and the more eyes on this thing, the better off I'll be.

    And once I get ready to publish, I'll probably have to remove it from the board, since Kindle Select requires exclusivity.

    I hope you enjoy it. [coo]
     
    Srchdawg-again, 3cyl and duane like this.
  11. duane

    duane Monkey+++

    Excellent as usual with all kinds of twists and a lot of things to think about. Thank you for your effort and sharing your great talent with us. Different approach to EMP day, but thought provoking.
     
    Jeff Brackett likes this.
  12. Pax Mentis

    Pax Mentis Philosopher King Site Supporter

    Once it comes down, you will notify us that it is on Amazon, correct? For those of us who don't like to read on the computer...
    [peep]
     
    Jeff Brackett likes this.
  13. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    Absolutely. Just finished the first round of edits. Next round should only take another week or so (of course, you never know how the holidays will impact schedules), then it's off for formatting. Also, I have the cover already done. So hopefully, I'll have the thing published around Christmas time. Audiobook will likely be another few months away, but I can't start taking auditions on that until I have a finished manuscript.
     
  14. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    I don't know if you read it or not, but I posted another book on here a few months back. It was called "Chucklers", and it just came out last month. If you're interested in post-apocalyptic / horror, it might be something you'd like. The Survival Monkey Amazon affiliate link is here.
     
  15. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    Y12 is through its second round of edits, and is now on the schedule for a final proofread by a freelancer who hasn't been involved in the editing process. (This gets fresh, uncompromised eyes on the manuscript.)

    When the proofreader is finished, we'll go through a final round of corrections (if needed) before sending it off for final formatting for ebook and print. Bottom line, it looks pretty certain at this point that the book will be out before the end of the year.

    That also means that, once the book goes to formatting, I'll probably have to delete all but the first few chapters from here, so Amazon doesn't have a fit. ;)
     
    techsar likes this.
  16. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    And for what it's worth, it looks like the book won't be out until early January now. Turns out that the formatter is running short handed for the holidays. (sigh)
     
  17. Jeff Brackett

    Jeff Brackett Monkey++

    If any of you noticed, I've had to remove all but the first few chapters of Year 12. The reason? It's published!! Woohoo!

    If you want to pick it up, click the link here so the monkey tree might get a few shekels. [coo]
     
    Tully Mars, Pax Mentis and techsar like this.
  18. Pax Mentis

    Pax Mentis Philosopher King Site Supporter

    Of course now I must go back and run through HPM to refresh what I jokingly call my memory ;)
     
    Jeff Brackett likes this.
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