MacArthur's Freehold
by Enak Nomolos
Copyright 2021 by Enak Nomolos
    This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places  
    and incidents either are products of the author’s  
    imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance  
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    is entirely coincidental.  
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Copyright 2021 by Enak Nomolos
Part 1
The Gathering Storm
   You cannot forever escape from the storm;  
   you must learn to stand up to it.  
    Mehmet Murat Ildan  
   The world will not be destroyed by those  
   who do evil, but by those who watch them  
   them without doing anything  
    Albert Einstein  


Lying on his bunk, Darrell Carter stared at the bottom of his cellmate's bed.
Over two thousand days, he thought. More like twenty-five hundred he knew,
as he used to do the calculation, but eventually stopped. There were two leap
years in the seven of his imprisonment, so there were two more days, he

It wasn't important anyway, as the days were almost up. His release date was
a week away. Next Thursday, he thought, and wondered what would become of him
after that. Forty-eight years old, nearly forty-nine. No job or any
prospects for getting one, even if he wanted to. There would be no time
between now and old age to earn and save money, no employer pension.

There had been, once. Seventeen years on the Saint Louis police department,
retirement looked pretty good. Always a thrifty sort, and not given to wasteful
habits even as a young man, he had had a fair amount of money in the bank, much
more than the average working man, and the pension plan was decent.

Now it was all gone. The money spent on lawyers, the house repossessed, and
the pension forfeited. He was about to be an ex-con without a dime to his
name, nowhere to go and no idea what to do. He had attended and largely
ignored the counseling sessions about how to reenter society. As he had
refused to apply for parole, he had no interest in going to a halfway
house in order to get out of the cell a few months early. He was going
to do the full seven years, and then...

So he had sat through the reentry sessions and spent most of the time
analyzing the demeanor of the other inmates - he had no interest in what
was going on. His post-prison plans were set.

The thoughts he had dwelt on since his first day here came back. It was
almost time.

He heard the cell door open and looked over to see a guard. His cellmate
was already at the visitors center, it could only be for him.

"Come on, you got a visitor," the guard said.

Carter had not had many visitors during his incarceration. His two siblings
had never visited, and he had told his parents not to. He did not want any
of his family seeing him in prison. He was glad he hadn't married - not just
because so many cops' marriages didn't work but - having a wife and going to
prison would have been that much worse. A handful of friends had come during
the first months, but that soon stopped. He might as well have died.

The guard led him to a visitor booth and he sat down and looked at the man on
the other side of the glass, not immediately recognizing him. Then he picked
up the phone.

"Hello, Tommy, long time no see."

"Not that long," Tommy grinned. "Just seems that way in here. I've only been
out a little over two years."

"That is a long time in here, as you know."

"Yeah," Tommy Lancaster replied, closing his eyes for a few seconds as if
remembering. "So how've you been lately. You're just about done."


"You got any plans?"

"Same as always," Carter replied. "It's just a matter of how and when."

"You really are a hardcase, I guess. You probably could have saved yourself
a year, maybe more, if you'd tried for parole."

"Yeah, well, you know me. I'm not begging for anything. When I walk out of
here I'm free. And and my life is mine, what's left of it. The world can go
to hell. It's already most of the way there."

"Look," Tommy said, "if you don't have anything lined up, I've got a proposition
for you. It'll keep a roof over your head and food on the table. If it doesn't
work for you you can walk away, no commitment. What do you say I pick you up when
you get out, I'll take you up to my place and give you some time to adjust."

"Sure, why not? Like you said, what else am I going to do?"

"Good. I'll give you a little teaser - prepare to be surprised. See you in a
week. I'll be here to pick you up."

Tommy hung up the phone, grinned and made an OK sign, then got up to leave.


Damn Tommy, Carter thought as he was returned to his cell. He was a bit of a
joker, and would enjoy leaving him in suspense for a week.

When Tommy had been released he had written about once a month or so but they were
never more than a 'how are you doing, I'm all right, let's get together when you
get out,' and so on.

He had only known Tommy for the three years he had been in, after they struck
up a conversation one day while working out together. Neither was a fitness
fanatic, but they shared a determination to not let their physical condition
deteriorate due to inactivity. And it it didn't hurt to be built up in here.
Carter was already big enough to discourage attacks by other inmates, but the
additional muscle was both intimidating and useful if a potential attacker
didn't get the idea right away. In any case he had few problems - the prison
was a medium security facility, and most of the inmates were guys like Tommy,
low-level first-timers who caused little trouble.

Tommy was the sort of person people naturally liked at first meeting, and did
not all seem like someone who would be in prison, and perhaps he wasn't. He
had gotten three years for receiving stolen property. Just helping a friend
out of a jam, he said. Just doesn't pay to be nice.

Carter looked at the dark patches of skin on his forearms. He had gotten those
pulling kids out of an overturned van when the spilled gasoline went up, weeks
of pain that he thought would never end. And then your life is destroyed
because you allegedly mishandled the arrest of a dangerous, violent, drug-crazed
felon who had already knifed his partner. But the only available video showed
him with the cretin face down on the roadside with Carter's knee on his back.

Of course, the drug-crazed felon was the wrong color. The usual agitators showed
up and conducted the usual riots, and the rest was, for Carter, history. He knew
what was going to happen, and should have gone on the run. He had seen enough cops
go to prison over similar incidents with the dregs of humanity.

He had said afterwards, when asked about his injuries, that he would not do it again.
That there was no place in his thinking for other the people's problems.

Tommy had told him he couldn't mean it. "What would you do now - let a bunch of
kids burn up because of what happened to you?"

He knew he didn't mean it, but the anger which prompted it would never leave him,
could only be assuaged by retribution. He refused to think of it as vengeance, but
a necessary and just retribution.

His cellmate had returned and was reading. He was a quiet sort who had made the
mistake of succumbing to the desire to make some big money the easy way, and got
unlucky. Normally the sort of drug deal he did was small enough to go unnoticed, but
one of the guys he was dealing with was a big enough fish that he got dragged in
with him. Carter liked him better than his previous cellmate - he was literate and
quite intelligent. Just not smart, Carter thought. But then, he was in for an
actual crime, and I'm not, he thought. Unlucky or dumb, either could screw up
your life.

"You awake?" asked Jackson. Jackson Miller was the cellmate.

"Yeah," Carter replied. "What are you reading?"

"Dune," Miller replied.

"That's an old book," Carter said. "You read much science fiction?"

"I didn't until lately. A little before I got in here, one of my college buddies was
into it. He has a huge collection, sends some of them to me. He says the old
stuff is pretty good, and most of what's written these days is trash."

"Like everything else," Carter said. "Including people. Especially people."

"Yeah, I guess you have some experience with that. Being a cop you probably see the
worst of it."

"Unfortunately some of the worst isn't on the streets. It's in the government and
the ones who run it."

"I guess you have a reason to feel that way. I got here by my own stupidity. You
try to do your job and something goes wrong, they throw you under the bus."

"Yeah, well, it's happened to a lot of cops in recent years. Don't be surprised if,
when you go back, the only cops left are the rejects. No man in his right mind would
be a cop. Not only do you risk getting killed every time you go to work, you also
risk being used as a sacrifice for some politician."

"Well," said Miller, "You'll soon be out. Any idea what you'll do?"

"One thing is certain," Carter replied. "What's left of my life is mine and mine
alone. The world can go straight to hell, which is where it's headed anyway. I'm
just going to watch, and maybe laugh once in a while."

"Good luck," Miller said. "I guess I'll probably end up on the street when I
get out. Everything I had is gone, and I don't see any way I can ever start over."

"You can," said Carter. "You will probably have to abandon conventional thinking.
Outside the box, as they say. Concentrate on survival, nothing else, and keep
whatever you can get and try to make a life independent of society. It's only
going to get worse."

"Is that your plan?" Miller asked.

"Pretty much. Stay away from the cities, disappear. Go off the grid, find a way to
survive with some level of comfort."

"It sounds like you expect the place to turn into Communist Russia, or Nazi Germany."

"Probably some of the worst of both," Carter replied. "The rule of law is almost
totally gone in the big cities, except in a handful of states, and I'd be surprised
to see them hold out for long. The only question is how long it will take the
government to subdue the resistance in the smaller towns and rural areas. There are
a lot of people out there who aren't going to go quietly, and are armed. But without
being united and organized, they'll eventually be eliminated, a few at a time."

"You seem to think it's hopeless," said Miller.

"Pretty much," Carter replied. "When I got in here seven years ago it was well on the
way. The election process was subverted to the point that from here on every
presidential election will be predetermined, and the few conservative states will be
outnumbered. It's a dark future.

"Luckily, I don't have to live as long as you. How old are you, anyway?"

"Twenty-four. I'll be twenty-seven when I get out, unless I can get paroled."

"You will if you don't give them any trouble. They can't let people out of the
prisons fast enough, at the rate they new ones are coming in. In a way the world
may be better for us criminal types, since we're already part of an underclass, to
to speak. Hang together and stay under the radar. It's the normal, productive,
law-abiding types that are going nasty surprise."

"Well," said Miller, "I've got some time to worry about it. Thanks."

"Maybe we'll run into each other someday. You're smart enough to
survive, with the right help."

The sun was bright but not uncomfortably so as Carter walked outside the walls
for the first time in seven years. The final stop was a sally port in the last wall before
the fence.

In his usual manner, he hadn't exchanged a word with his escorts since the release
processing was done. He had learned early in his incarceration that prison guards
were mostly among the lowest forms of human life. The large woman on one side of
him hadn't said anything, the man had mostly simply limited his conversations to
instructions, but Carter had made it clear that his mood was not the relief, happiness,
or other emotions departing prisoners might exhibit, but a deep simmering rage.

Outside the gate, he saw a man across the road waving. It was Tommy, and a woman
standing beside him. The guards had gone back inside and closed the gate, so Carter
walked across the road to there they were.

Tommy hadn't changed much, except for getting older. He was only a year older than
Carter, but he looked older. Somewhat of a biker, although not a member of any club
as far as Carter knew, he had a look like that of the guys seen in groups of Harleys
on the roads. Long greying hair curling down over his collar, and a generous
mustache extending over the corners of his mouth gave him a slightly sinister
appearance, but the eyes indicated otherwise.

The woman was much younger, probably not even forty. Her athletic build was not
emphasized by her outfit of jeans and sweatshirt, but it was apparent in her
movements and her physical fitness reflected in her face.

He shook Tommy's outstretched hand, and the noticed the woman had also extended hers.

"Before I tell you how good it is to see you, let's get the introductions out of the
way," Tommy said. "This is my sister Jessica. Jessica, this is Darrell. I rode my bike down,
and Jessica came in her car. Since you'll be riding with her, we won't get much
talking in on the way, but that can wait."

"Where are we going?" asked Carter.

"It's a good drive," said Tommy. "As late as it is we'll stop along the way, and you
can wash off the prison junk, get some new clothes and some decent food. Sound good?"

"Sounds good to me."

"OK, then. Let's get on the road."

They were in the parking lot, about half of the spaces occupied. Carter followed
them to where the only motorcycle in the lot was parked. Jessica unlocked a rather
old Ford Taurus. He noticed, however, that from its condition it did not appear to
be the almost thirty years old it had to be. It was a medium blue, as many thousands
of Tauruses must have been in those years.

He walked around to the passenger side and got in, as he heard Tommy start his
bike. Jessica was quiet as they followed Tommy out of the lot and onto the highway.
Carter was silent, letting her concentrate on driving until she was ready to talk.
Before long they were entering a four-lane road that promised a reasonable length
of uneventful driving time.

Jessica turned to look at him for the first time. "We have a little time before we
stop," she said. "How do you feel, aside from wondering what's happening? As in,
being free?"

"Anything is better than where I was," he replied. "Since you and Tommy seem to
have some sort of plan, and I have none, I'm in your hands."

Jessica smiled. "Hopefully you'll like it. Tommy said he gave you only a vague hint.
Actually, trying to explain would take a while, so once we get stopped for the night
we can start to fill you in. But first, we need to get rid of the last of the prison
stuff. We'll stop in while, get hotel rooms, and some clothes for you, and then some
decent food."

"How far are we going?" asked Carter.

"Up north. You know where Chillicothe is?"

"That's way up north."

"We'll stop just the other side of Springfield, spend the night there, and leave
in the morning. Springfield is just ahead."

As she spoke Carter noticed a sign informing them it was in fact, 21 miles ahead.

"Can you give me clothing sizes? Jeans, shirts and shoes. I'm fairly certain you
don't want to be in what the prison gave you any longer than you have to."

They were maintaining a constant distance behind Tommy, and Jessica flashed the
headlights several times, and shortly Tommy slowed and stopped on the side of
the highway.

Jessica dialed his number, and had a brief conversation. She asked him to stop when
he saw an exit for a shopping center that would have what they wanted, and they
moved out again.

"Tommy can't talk while riding, and as for me I scrupulously obey the law. We avoid
even the most minor traffic infractions. Not drawing attention to ourselves is
absolutely essential."

"Hence the thirty year old car that runs like a new one?" Carter asked.

Jessica smiled. "You catch on fast. Tommy said you were unusual. And smart."

Tommy was at the moment signalling a turn onto the upcoming exit. Jessica
followed, and shortly they entered a small shopping center dominated by a Wal-Mart
store, and the usual array or smaller businesses around the large parking lot.

"I won't be long," Jessica said. "What sizes do you need?"

"Pants 34 waist, 35 inseam. Shirts XXL, shoes 10." said Carter.

"Got it," said Jessica. "You guys can talk for a while."

Tommy got into the driver's seat and closed the door.

"I suppose you're wondering what's going on," he said. "I won't get much explained
right now, but I've become involved in something that I hope will interest you, and
it needs you. It also involves having a job, with decent income, right out of the box.

"For now, let me say that there are some other people who share you thoughts about
what is going on in the world, and there are some who have the resources and the
inclination to do something about it.

"As for success, who knows? We can only try, do our best. Tomorrow you'll meet
some more interesting people, and learn more about it."

Tommy paused briefly, then asked. "Are your plans still what you used to say. Going
after the ones who put you away?"

"Does this have anything to do with me being offered another chance at having some
kind of life?"

"Well," Tommy said, "the plans I'm talking about are a little bigger than revenge for
one man."

"What about justice?" Carter asked.

"What if you could help get justice for a lot more people? I mean a big picture
reform, taking down not just one corrupt prosecutor, but the whole rotten crop of
politicians and their enablers. It might even get your prosecutor. He's running for
governor, so he's a big fish now."

"That figures," said Carter. "Wonder how many people he railroaded into prison to
enhance his resume. Maybe a child abuse witch hunt, or are they still doing those?"

"He didn't have much in the way or really big cases, not on a national scale like
yours. Not that we don't still have major crimes. A big one he had just before he
became attorney general was a mass murder, don't know if you heard about it."

"I didn't pay much attention to what was going on outside," Carter said . "Wasn't my
world any more."

"Well," said Tommy , "it was the usual stuff. Political crimes didn't get prosecuted, or
usually even investigated, because there's no opposition. Once they got to one party
controlling everything, they just do as they please."

"Just out of curiosity," said Carter, "what happened with the murder?"

"Just a home invasion and robbery. Except the two young couples in the house
weren't just killed. They were tortured, raped and whatever all else you can do, over
a period of eight hours or so."
"Only problem was the victims were, shall I say, too light in color. The perps weren't.
You can guess how that went. But he got a lot of TV time out of it..

"I can imagine," said Carter. "Nothing changes, except to get worse."

They sat silently for a few minutes, and soon Jessica returned, pushing a shopping
cart. She removed several large bags and placed them in the back seat, while
Tommy got out and mounted his bike and soon they were on their way.

"I got everything you should need for a few days," Jessica said as they reentered
the freeway. "As soon as we're clear of the city we'll stop at one of those
truck stop places that has a motel and restaurant. You can finish cleaning up,
get some food and sleep. Hopefully by tomorrow your past few years
begin to fade."

Carter looked over at her. She was a careful and attentive driver, seldom
looking at anything other than the road and the mirror, and occasionally over
at the other lanes beside the car. He was already beginning to sense that she
was not quite like most women he had been around.

"OK if I ask some questions?" he asked.

Jessica gave him just a quick glance.


"I knew Tommy for a while and we talked, but mostly about our past lives. He
never said anything about this, except for a hint when he visited the last time.
Where do you fit in?"

"I'll explain more later, but for now just say that Tommy and I are both part
of an operation you are likely to have some interest in. We're on our way to,
I guess, our base of operations. It's somewhat complicated, so it may take a

"There are some more people you'll meet later. For now I'm just here to get
you to your destination."

Carter looked at the signs along the highway, mostly indicators locations of
fuel, food, and lodging. Before long Tommy signalled a turn, and they exited
the freeway near what looked like a sizable collection of these facilities.

They followed Tommy to a relatively new-looking motel and parked. The parking
log was not yet crowded - that usually would be the case in a couple of hours
as more travellers stopped for the night.

There were fuel stations with accommodations for large trucks, several
fast food restaurants, and a reasonably attractive restaurant next door to the

"This is a good place to stay," said Jessica. "We always look for a big place
like this, with a fairly new motel. Let's get checked in."

Inside Jessica got them three rooms and they went to get their luggage.
Jessica and Tommy got theirs from the trunk and Carter brought in the shopping
bags with his clothes.

"We'll wait while you get cleaned up and changed," Jessica said. "There's no
need to hurry."

In his room, Carter dropped the bags on the bed and stood, silently, in the
quiet room, experiencing solitude, if only for a while, for the first time in
years. He walked into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. Having for so
long had nothing more than a small mirror for shaving, he found a complete
image of himself unfamiliar, as if he were looking at a stranger.

In a way, he thought, I am a stranger. To myself and to the world. If Tommy
hadn't showed up, I would have had no idea what to do, where to go.

But he did show up, and he apparently has some sort of plan that involves me,
he thought. Since there is in any case nothing else to do, I might as well
get on with it.

Jessica had brought the necessary toiletries for him to shave and brush his
teeth, which he immediately began to do. Each stroke of the razor, the
toothbrush, removed a little of the prison residue. A shower and fresh
clothes completed the process. As he tossed the prison clothing into a corner
of the closet for the motel staff to clean up, then washed his hands again.
Leaving his room he knocked on Jessica's door. When he entered he saw Tommy
was there as well.

"Ready?" Tommy asked.

Carter nodded, moved to let them take the lead. Jessica took a moment to look
him over.

"You look better already," she said. "Not let's get you some real food."

They went out and walked across the parking lot to the restaurant. The sign
announced it as just Libby's. It looked like a reasonably quality place, with
a hostess seating the patrons. It wasn't extremely busy so they
were able to get a table without any other diners close by.

Carter wasn't worried about an adjustment to food outside the prison. Most
prisons provided essentially the same sort of food as a school or other
institutional dining facility. Following his hosts' lead he had a ribeye
steak with a salad. The tea was strong and sweet, the way he remembered the
mother of one of his girlfriends made it.

The food was one more reminder of what had been taken from him. Those years
should have been some of his best, and now they were gone. The anger inside
him, briefly pushed aside by the day's activities, came back, evidently
visible to the Tommy and Jessica.

"Hey man, it's over," said Tommy. "Whatever happens now, the bad stuff ain't
ever coming back. Time to start living again."

Jessica was quiet, but his manner seemed to have darkened the mood.

"Were you ever around a newly released prisoner?" Carter asked.

"Just Tommy," she replied. "I suppose it's different for everyone."

"Maybe so," Carter said. "Look, I'm all right. Thanks for coming to get me. I
don't know what's going on, but I trust you. Not just because it's my only
choice. Time may not heal, but maybe it will stop the bleeding."

"It will," said Tommy. "I know it was worse for you, getting railroaded that
way. But once you get into your new life things will improve fast."

The salads arrived and provided an activity in place of conversation. The
remainder of the meal involved talk about events in the world outside, which
Carter had ignored for the entire time he was in prison. He had long since
written off not only his remaining life, but the entire world as well.

So his perception of what Tommy and Jessica said was a blank slate. It seemed
that the only developments were that things were continuing as they had been.
In the cities the decay continued - ever-increasing crime, corruption and
incompetence in the governments, and a continued exodus of the productive

The growth of the underclass - both of the criminal elements and those too
poor to go anywhere - had turned many of the cities into veritable jungles
with islands, or more often suburbs, of gated communities where the wealthy
who remained paid exorbitant prices for their comfort and safety, seemingly
oblivious to their hellish environment.

"Most of those who stay are themselves corrupt," said Jessica. "They're in the
government, or they own the politicians. They feel safe, as long as they
never have to actually walk the streets. You've got, literally, close to a
hundred shootings per week in some of these place, with multiple fatalities,
and absolutely nothing is being done."

"It's getting worse due to the lack of law enforcement," said Tommy. "As you
learned, it doesn't pay to be a cop these days. There were a lot of guys who
had the same thing happen to them as you did, and they just started leaving.
Not only are the departments way undermanned, many of the cops they do have
are no good. When the good men won't even consider applying, they take
whatever they can get. And what they can get is often worse than nothing."

"Are there any safe places left?" Carter asked.

"There are those few states where the majority of the population is still
sensible, but those will soon go the way of everything else, with the rigged
elections. The problem is that the decent people left, while still in the
majority, are not united. And it's all they can do to survive.

"Having to work for a living, care for a family, try to have some kind of
decent life - they don't have any time left. The mobs they use to intimidate
politicians, and the law-abiding citizens, don't have jobs. They're paid, by
the organizers, transportation and weapons are supplied, all they have to do
is show up and collect the money, drugs, and whatever else they're paid with."

"You must have noticed, even before you..." Jessica paused. "...went away,
that these mobs were well financed and organized. The riots before, and
during you trial. They were brought in in busses, from other cities even.
And a lot of money was from big corporations, extorted with threats of being
attacked, or in some cases given by misguided management."

Tommy snorted. "Misguided, more like stupid. And corrupt. You don't get to
be a CEO of these companies any more by being smart or hard work. It's all
politics." Of course Carter knew that was true. Even the lower levels or
business, and certainly government, were thoroughly infested with corruption.
Which was why his department threw him under the bus - to save their own skins,
and in some cases perhaps advance their careers. They were as guilty as the
prosecutor and the rioters.

"Sorry," said Jessica, seeing his expression. "I didn't mean to..."

"It's all right," said Carter. "It happened. It just seems that there's
nothing to be done."

Jessica took the statement as a question.

"Maybe tomorrow I can enlighten you, away from walls with ears. I hate to
make you wait, but it's only a little while, and it's important. Let's try to
enjoy this time."

The steaks arrived, giving them something to do instead of talk. Carter had
learned, both in police work and in prison, to observe people at close
quarters without seeming to. He tried to figure out the relationship between
Tommy and Jessica, but neither had given him any useful clues. Initially he
had thought Jessica was just an acquaintance Tommy had recruited to drive him,
perhaps because he didn't have a car. However, she seemed to be involved as a
partner in whatever he was up to.

He noticed that while he had immediately thought her attractive, she became
even more so the longer he was with her. Not in a magazine cover or actress
way, but more the girl-next-door type. She appeared to wear very little in
the way of makeup, and didn't really need it, as far as he was concerned.
She was one of those women who had somehow naturally, effortlessly, the
look most women would die for. Or kill for he supposed, perhaps literally.

Eventually the meal was finished, and they walked back to the motel. Carter
suddenly realized he was quite tired, and thought he could fall asleep as soon
as he made it to his bed. He did.

Carter was awake early the next morning, dressed and ready when Jessica knocked
on his door.

"We're ready to go," she said. "Glad you're up early, we can get out ahead of
the traffic."

He took his bags to the car and tossed them into the back seat, while Jessica
and Tommy loaded theirs in the trunk. After a stop for fuel at a gas station
across the road they were on their way, with Tommy again in the lead.

After a few minutes on the freeway, Jessica said "We've got a long quiet drive
ahead, so we can talk some.

"To get some of your questions out of the way up front, I'll tell you who we
are and where we're going. You already know Tommy, but I doubt he told you
much. So let me get a few essentials out of the way. My last name, by the way,
is Campbell. Nice old Scottish name. My grandmother did an ancestry trace
that shows our family origins in the eighteenth century. I'm twenty-seven
years old, five seven, and I'm not going to tell you my weight."

She looked over and smiled for what he suddenly realized must have been the
first time since they had met. The previous day had been all business.

"We're on our way to my grandfather's farm. He owns a section and a half of
land up there, and several other small properties in the area. He's the
reason Tommy wanted you to come."

"Is Tommy related to you?" asked Carter.

"No. He's become something like family, though. He and my brother were
friends, they were in the army together."

Jessica paused, looking straight ahead. After a few moments that seemed much
longer, she continued.

"Jerry, my brother, and Tommy were pretty close.
He came to visit with Jerry once when they were on leave. Shortly after that
they were deployed again, to Afghanistan, and Jerry was killed by one of those
damned bombs, IEDs, they were using. Tommy was wounded too, but he survived.
He even recovered, for the most part. But he wasn't the same.

"He came to visit again a few months later, after he was discharged. He was
bitter, not just because of Jerry's death but because the whole affair was a
waste of lives for no good purpose. That was when he began to have
problems. Drinking, drugs, hanging out with some rough characters."

"Bikers?" Carter asked.

"Some," replied Jessica. "Not biker gangs, exactly. They guys I saw him with
didn't wear the patches, and he wasn't part of any group as far as I know. He
just liked that lifestyle.

"Anyway, Dad liked him and tried to get him to do something constructive with
his life, but it wasn't easy. He got mixed with something that got him sent
to prison. Luckily it was a short term, and when he got out Dad got him to
have a serious talk."

"Do you have any other family?" Carter asked.

"No. My mother died whey I was a junior in high school. Dad never married
again, and with Jerry gone it's just him and me. He looks at Tommy something
like a son now. Tommy has done pretty well at reforming. He still rides a
bike a lot because it's part of his work."

"What sort of work?"

"I was coming to that. Now that we're away from walls with ears, and I know
this car is clean. I'll tell you what's going on.

"Dad always had strong political opinions, like his father. On the
conservative side. But the last few presidents, of either party, disappointed
and eventually angered and frightened him. From stupid wars to a
society that is not only ruled by corrupt political operators and their
financial backers, but the decent people, the law-abiding ones who work for a
living and pay the taxes that keep those people in power, are too afraid to do
anything and not sufficiently organized to have any effect.

"So, and he was already on this course before Jerry died, he decided to start
looking at ways to actually accomplish something. When Dad introduced him to
his activities, Tommy approved and became part of it."

"What sort of activities?" Carter asked.

Jessica looked silently out at the road for a while, then glanced over at him.
She seemed to be about to take a very serious action.

"Dad and some associates around the country, quite a few actually, are
working on ways to make the changes we need, outside of the political process,
or even the law. We're now at a point at which those avenues are no longer
likely to be effective."

"Are you talking about insurrection? That would seem to require considerable

"Not an all-out war," Jessica replied. "That would, as you said, require more
resources than we have, or are likely to have any time soon. What we are
working on is a way to push back against the bad actors while there is still,
maybe, some time. And since the government is on their side, we have to be
able to resist, forcefully, without them being able to retaliate."

"That would be the outside the law part."

"Eventually it will come to that," Jessica replied. "At this point we are
putting together the resources, the communications setup, everything we need
to operate strike forces that can operate with impunity, even when the enemy
knows of our existence.

"We have already carried out a few small strikes, not significant enough for
our presence to be suspected, but eventually we want to be able to challenge
the enemy openly. Our success will almost certainly inspire others to act
similarly, even if they can't be as effective as us."

"I suppose you must maintain complete secrecy, for your bases, personnel. Can
you continue to do that once you have a larger operation?"

"So far it hasn't been a problem, but obviously if we got really big it would
be eventually. At this point there are only about a hundred or so operators like us,
each with a few trusted people, but we have a lot of money behind us.

"Many of our freeholds, as we call them, are based at fairly large estates
owned by men of considerable wealth, and our operatives are based there. Ours
is a large farm owned by my grandfather, it's a big place with space to hide a
lot of stuff. But our main defense, at this point, is stealth and invisibility."

"I take it this car is part of being invisible."

"Right," said Jessica. "We build, or rebuild, older cars, to use in our
operations. Older cars, neutral colors, but reconditioned to new condition. We
have other types as well - trucks, off-road vehicles. They're all properly
registered and licensed, inconspicuous as possible. As long as we don't do
anything to arouse suspicion, there isn't much to worry about."

Carter looked out at the countryside passing by. There wasn't much to see
from the highway - the plains up here were dotted with small towns, with most
of the population concentrated in St. Louis and Kansas City, with the rest
scattered around the state in small cities and towns, which were fewer in
number as they went further north. Most of the land was covered with fields
of corn and soybeans, which often seemed to extend endlessly on either side of
the highway.

The drive was only about four hours at the speed limit, which Jessica
scrupulously obeyed. "Unless there is some kind of search going on, the cops
pretty much just watch traffic," she said. "Write tickets, work accidents.
Off the main roads, you may see the local police, and sheriff departments
working out of town. But if we happen to run afoul of them, we have ways to
handle them."

Carter looked over at her, silently, but she sensed the question her comment
had evoked. "We have had a couple of run-ins with local law enforcement, unfortunate indicents,
but we have been able to convince them it's not a good
idea to annoy us. Or to appeal to a higher authority like the state police."

Carter didn't pursue the matter. He suspected he was going to be learning a
lot of new things, and he was intrigued by what he had heard. Besides, he had
nothing else to do at the moment.

Before long they were nearing Chillicothe, the town Jessica had mentioned at
the beginning of the trip. She continued on through the small town and took a
state highway north, and about ten minutes later turned onto a side road,
unpaved but covered with gravel and quite smooth.

"Not much traffic here," she said. "This road runs just a mile, which is how
wide my grandfather's farm is. It's a section and a half, a mile by a mile
and a half. The only traffic that has any business here is ours."

A big place, Carter thought. Almost a thousand acres, and from the looks of
it almost entirely covered with corn. But after about a half mile they came
to a cleared spot, with what looked like a small village. A fairly large house,
but not out of character for a prosperous farmer's house, was surrounded by
several smaller ones, all with large yards.

On the other side of the road were a number of large metal buildings which he
guessed housed farm equipment. As Jessica entered the driveway to the one of
the houses, he saw that further down the road was a large complex of grain
storage bins.

Jessica drove up to one of the houses and stopped in the driveway long enough
for Tommy to get his bag from the trunk.
"See you later," he said and walked towards the house. Jessica took out a small,
cheap phone that Carter guessed was probably a burner, given that they were
probably into some sort of activity that required secrecy.

"Hi Dad," she said to someone. "We're home. Where's lunch?" then "OK, we'll be
there shortly."

"We're just in time," she said. "Lunch is at Granddad's. That's the big house
back there."

They got back in the car and drove up the road to the large house he had
noticed when they arrived. It was perhaps an eighth of a mile or so long,
paved with light grey crushed rocks, but well maintained and almost as
smooth as asphalt. The house was large but not so as to attract attention. It
had a two-car garage and a couple of vehicles were parked outside. Jessica
parked on a small area to one side of the driveway and similarly paved.

"OK," Jessica said . "Here's where you meet the rest of the family."

Carter followed her up to a wide porch at the front of the house. As they
approached the door opened and a man who looked to be in his fifties held it
for them.

"Hi Dad," said Jessica, the greeting accompanied by a light kiss on the cheek.
"This is Darrell, Darrell, this is my dad."

Her father extended his hand, and his handshake was appropriately firm and
brief. He was just about Carter's height, a little slimmer, a not quite wiry
build, but with a suggestion of more strength than was apparent, and looked as
if he would be very fast in his movements when warranted.

"Donald Campbell," he said. "Good to meet you. Did you enjoy the scenery on
the way up, or did you already know there's not much out here between St.
Louis and Kansas City?"

"I haven't travelled around the state much," Carter replied, "but I knew just
about all the people lived there. It's pretty empty out here for a city boy."

"You always lived in St. Louis?" Donald asked.

"Yeah, grew up, went to work and never got around to leaving. Looks like I
wasted just about all of my life."

"You mean your work?"

"Yeah, that was definitely a mistake. Didn't feel that way when I was doing it,
for some reason."

"There was a time when it wouldn't have been," said Donald. "But the country
has gone completely insane, with it being literally a case of the inmates
running the asylum. Or more like the prisoners locking up the guards. Sadly,
there doesn't seem to be any way to fix it.."

He paused before continuing " to fix it, properly, by whatever means is
required. But enough of that, that sounds like Tommy."

Jessica stepped over to open the door, and Tommy entered. He had changed
clothes, and was now dressed similarly to Donald and his father.

"Let's go on in," said Donald.

They entered a large room, looking much like the typical living room - a couch
and several chairs around a coffee table near one end, several more chairs
around a large wall-mounted television in the other.

From a doorway across the room another man entered. Carter guessed him to be
in his seventies, guessing that he was the grandfather. He was on the tall
side, probably six feet, and dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved khaki shirt.
His son was dressed the same way, except that he was wearing cowboy boots
while his father was wearing casual lace-up shoes. He walked with a cane but
did not seem to lean on it so much as to use as an aid to maintaining his balance.

"Hello, Grandfather," said Jessica, going over to hug him. "We're back,
mission complete. This is Darrell."

"Good to see you," the man replied. "I'm Gordon Campbell. And you've met my son and
granddaughter. And since we're all here and lunch is ready, let's get to it."

They followed Gordon into a dining room with a large table which suggested to
Carter the family might have once been larger. He already knew that Jessica
had lost her mother and brother, and there was no sign of a wife for Gordon.
The meal was just being set by a woman he supposed was a servant, retiring as
the diners entered.

There was not much conversation as they began on the beef ragu, salad and
rolls which seemed to have been made just in time for the meal. Jessica
asked Carter what he wanted to drink, and he requested the iced tea that the
others were having. He had rarely drunk iced tea, as he normally had not
found it appealing. Apparently when it was made the right way, he thought.
Strong and sweet in just the right mix, it was quite good.

Before long the main business of eating wound down, and the talk began.
Gordon began the conversation.

"First," he said, looking at Carter, "let me formally welcome you, and then we'll
try to answer some of the questions you probably have. It will take
quite a while to cover all of it, but if you decide to stay with us we'll
eventually get around to them.

"Very briefly, and I'm guessing Jessica has let you in on some of it, we are
part of, actually the head of, a secret organization. Our purpose is, as you
may have guessed by now, some type of resistance to the destruction of our
republic, which has been well underway for quite a while now.

"As you already know, to most of the population, secret organizations are
viewed with suspicion and, if they happen to visibly possess power, whether
political or financial, fear. Those would be old secret societies like the
Freemasons or some religions. As for the smaller ones that appear
occasionally, notably the ones that oppose the government, are ignored by most
people, unless they attract the attention of the authorities and are become
targets for destruction. So we don't draw attention to ourselves.

"I'm getting old, and not able these days to be active beyond planning and
organization, and providing financial support. That I can do, as my fortune
is considerable. Nothing like the filthy rich who control the country by
their political machinations, economic manipulation, and societal influence,
but I have more money than I could spend no matter how long I live. So this
is how I use some of it."

He paused, took a sip of tea, and continued.

"I'm going to let Don take over, give you some idea of what we're about,
operationally. Before we adjourn for the evening you should have some idea if
you want to join us."

"As my father said," Donald began "we are part of a resistance organization. I
know that that term usually refers to something that exists during a war, or
an occupation of one's homeland by a foreign power. In this case it is a war,
it just isn't yet out in the open. We're laying the groundwork, preparing for
the time when this situation can't be allowed to continue.

"How long that will be, there's no way to know. The present government is
determined to turn this country into a fascist regime, and now that
they seem certain to control elections from here on out. They're likely to
have complete control after the next election, not that there is any serious
opposition now. The only thing saving us so far is their incompetence and
that most of the population is so thoroughly corrupt as to be unpredictable
should they make any major mistakes.

"Most of the major cities, even most of them in conservative states, have
become veritable cesspools of crime populated mostly by parasites. The politicians
who have been buying their votes with the taxpayers' money may not know what
to do when the money runs out. We can certainly expect the usual riots and
destruction, but who knows what the government will do with literally millions
of people who have been dependent for their entire lives.

"They won't be coming out of the cities, not in any great numbers. Most of
them don't have any way to travel, or any idea where to go. It's going to be
one big mess, which is one scenario we hope for. Those of us out here in the
country, mostly well armed, can defend ourselves. We just hope the eruptions in
the cities will be starting before the government gets its plans for the rest
of us underway."

"You mean taking the guns? Locking up political dissidents?" asked Carter.

"To begin with." Donald replied. "There are a lot of other plans, but those
will come first. Which is why we are hoping the cities blow up first. With
about forty cities over a half million population, and most of that is the
underclass, it's going to be wild. And of course by then, it will be in our
interests to be sure it does, and encourage it."

"Infiltrate the bad guys, agents provocateur. Something like that?" Carter asked.

"I like the way you think," said Donald. "If necessary, and other measures may
be needed as well. As I said, given the incompetence, and downright stupidity,
of many in the government, they won't know when we arrive at the breaking point.
The fact that we will be ready for it gives us an advantage. The government
will be reacting to circumstances while we are carrying out already prepared

"You said you're part of an organization. If I may ask, how big is it?."

"It's big," Donald said. "Our organization has about twenty available people,
and we're one of the smaller ones. There are a few with close to a
hundred, but that's getting to the point where security becomes a problem.

"We have operations in, I believe, eighteen states. That may not seem like
much in the way of coverage, but some states are not even worth considering
for our purposes. If we are successful, they won't matter. We have the
entire southern section of the country covered, coast to coast. Along with
much of the northwest."

"You mentioned security," Carter said. "How tight is the operation?"

"I would ask if you've heard anything about us, even rumors. But you've been
out of it for a while. But that's one thing we constantly look for - any
signs that our existence is even suspected. So far, it isn't."

"How did you happen to be interested in me?"

"Tommy believed you would be a good candidate. Aside from the fact that you
seemed to have no goal in life other than revenge, he saw you had potential.
He's been through the mill himself. While we're on the subject, what are your
thoughts on vengeance now?"

"I'd like nothing better than to kill him as I planned. But only if I can
look him in the eye and tell him why. But that would be kind of pointless, no
good as a deterrent to others of his kind. And there are way too many of them.
I like the idea of fighting the entire enemy, not just my personal one."

"As we're doing?" Donald asked.

"Yes. I had no future before, I like the one you're suggesting."

"We're all happy to hear that," Donald said. "There's a lot more for you to
learn - I'm just explaining our basic mission. Jessica and Tommy will
be you guides - you'll be spending a lot of time together the next few days,
and of course for a while you'll always have one of both of them with you on
actual missions. Meanwhile, since it's a while to dinner, they'll show you
around the place, and fill you in some more. Dad and I have some business to
deal with here, so we'll see you about seven."

"Welcome to Sierra Verde," said Tommy. "Thats our call sign."

"There aren't many mountains around here," Carter said.

Jessica smiled.

"We intentionally use misleading code names." she said. "Our security borders
on paranoia. Or probably goes past now and then."

"You must be awful sure of me," he said.

"We are." said Jessica. "Tommy's a pretty good judge of character. But we do
run a risk in recruiting, always. We try to minimize the risk."

Carter left with Jessica and Tommy, who had arrived in a Chevy Trailblazer
that had to be close to twenty years old, but under a light coat of dust it
looked new, much like Jessica's Taurus. He guessed it was one of the
reconditioned vehicles Jessica had described. It was white, which was, like
the blue of Jessica's car a common color, and thus about as inconspicuous as
possible. Jessica got into the back seat, affording Carter a better view from
the front.

"I suppose Jessica told you something about our vehicles," Tommy said.

"A little," Carter replied.

"Since we're part of a pretty big operation, we have a lot of resources beyond
what we can do here. This is a big place, a section and a half of land, but
most of it is rented to other farmers. There are just a few small places that
we use. To outsiders it looks like any other big farm.

"We get most of our vehicles from a couple of other outfits. They have shops
where they recondition older vehicles, essentially returning them to mostly
new condition. The idea is to not attract attention. We've got several of
these, and a few of the Tauruses like Jessica usually drives. They're all
registered to the farm, with proper licenses, insurance and all that.

"By the way, you're an employee of the farm. We have a couple of people in
the office that take care of all the paperwork stuff, keeping everything
legal. We'll get you a vehicle - one like this - and we'll have to get your
driver's license reissued."

"There is a certain amount of interaction with the government, by necessity."
Jessica said. "It's part of our camouflage. You'll look like a regular
working, tax-paying citizen. You'll be paid by your employer, which is
MacArthur Farms, by the way. In case you weren't onto our Scottish ancestry.

"The fact that you aren't going to be driving a tractor or anything like that
is irrelevant. Farming these days is such that little time is spent
actually in the fields. There's the planting in spring, a little fertilizer
and chemical treatment, then the harvest. The equipment is so big these days
that it all gets done fast, and most of the time there's no one around. Which
is a good thing."

Tommy slowed the vehicle a bit as they came to the end of a cornfield, and
turned onto a gravel road. Although well maintained and smooth, it did not
have the look of the driveway obviously more upscale dwelling of grandfather
Campbell. About a quarter of a mile down the road were three small houses,
about the size of the ones found in a typical working-class neighborhood. He
turned into the driveway of the center house and stopped.

"This is where I stay," he said. "Not that I'm here much, and you won't be
home a lot either. I'll show you that later."

The houses and the road leading to them was surrounded by cornfields. It was
perhaps a couple of hundred feet from the back of the houses to the field.

"It's easy to go out the back door of the house and disappear into the corn in
just a couple of minutes," said Tommy. "In case there's a need to disappear
quickly when unwelcome visitors arrive. Not much chance of that now, but in
the future it might be, should this place be compromised. We have some other
places around, for hiding things."

He backed out of the driveway and headed back the way they had come. They
soon turned onto another road.

"It may take you a while to learn your way around." Tommy said. "But there
aren't that many roads. Once you know how to get from you place to mine and
Jessica's, there are only a couple of other places. Like those houses. We're
going to your place now."

Shortly they arrived at a small clearing in the fields, about two or three
acres in size. It was dotted with large trees, evidently very old. A small
house sat near the road, somewhat older than the ones they had just seen. It
looked like it had been built in the early part of the preceding century, with
what looked like rough sawn wood and a roof covered with green shingles. Some
distance behind it was an old mobile home, with faded paint but seemingly in
good condition. A large covered porch, enclosed with screen panels,
was in front of the door.

A short driveway led to the house, but there was none to the mobile home.
Tommy drove off the driveway onto the grass, stopping in front of the mobile
home. Here's where you'll be staying, at least for a while. I've got
something like it not far away. We'll get you set up tonight."

He drove around back, and Carter saw a couple of small buildings that seemed
to be suitable for housing equipment or for storage.

"There's a pumphouse for the well, and a generator shed, and a gas tank. In
case of a power outage, you can get by for quite a while here. Winters can be
bad up here sometimes."

Carter saw a tank beside the shed which appeared to have a capacity of several
hundred gallons, while another tank of the type used for propane storage, sat

Back on the road, they drove until a crossroads, and Tommy turned again.
Shortly they came to another small open space, this one with an old barn and
like the previous lot a large number of old trees. A large barn, looking
about the same age as the house they had see, was accompanied by another old
mobile home, apparently provisioned like the one assigned to Carter. In
addition there was a newer metal building, about the size of the average house.
A common sight on farms, it was of a type used for storing supplies and equipment.

"This is my place," Tommy said. "Plenty of room for one guy, and anyway we're
not home a lot."

"I'll give you a map of the place," Jessica said. "You eventually won't need
it to get around the farm, but it also shows the area around here, some other
places you need to know about. We've been needing another set of eyes and
hands around here. You'll be helping us with security, more and more as
things begin to heat up."

"You mean on the larger stage?" Carter asked.

"Yes. Until now we've been preparing, providing money for various projects
that are being worked on. But the way things look, bad things may be coming
sooner than we expect. You'll learn more as you hang around with us. Until
you know your way around, you'll be with one of us all the time.

"One more place to show you," Tommy said, "and we'll get back for dinner."

Returning to the crossroads they had just left, Tommy turned in the opposite
direction. They travelled for some distance, perhaps a half mile, before
arriving at a large complex of buildings, grain storage bins, and other farm
equipment. It looked like anything that might be seen on a large midwestern
farm. There were several large metal buildings, probably a hundred feet or so
in length and with the usual wide sliding doors at the ends. There were two
large groups of grain bins, one larger and newer than the other, which was
itself fairly large. A handful of trucks and tractors were parked here and

"All of this," said Jessica, "is completely unrelated to agriculture. The
farmers who rent the land have their equipment and buildings somewhere else.
But this looks like it belongs here, so it raise any suspicions. We don't
use anywhere near all the space at this point, but at some point in the future
it might prove useful.

"So, that's some of the main attractions. Tomorrow we'll start to actually
work. For now, it's close to time for dinner. Afterward we'll get you moved
into your new place."

Carter finished packing and sat down to wait for Jessica to arrive. Almost three
weeks earlier Jessica and Tommy had installed him in the old mobile home, and
he was beginning to think of it as home. It was typical of its era, probably
twenty to thirty years old, but having been remodeled at some point. It
seemed to be an example of the most common type of the time, probably about
sixteen by eighty feet. Designed for at most a small family,
there was a large master bedroom and bathroom at one end, two smaller bedrooms
and a bathroom at the other end, with kitchen and living area in between. The
furnishings were minimal - a couch and chair, a good-sized bed in the master
bedroom, and not much else.

He was sitting on the couch now, his bags on the floor in front of him. He had
not yet completely absorbed the implications of the recent events. He had
been exposed to something he never suspected existed - could exist - given his general
disdain for the character of most of his countrymen. Yet it seemed serious
enough, that there really was a network of organizations with both the ability
and the will to actually challenge a tyrannical government with force, if it
came to that. Such an operation would require incredible discipline and
control. Especially with the ability of the government to spy on everyone,
everywhere, all the time.

He remembered the book his cellmate had been reading. In the story, a planet
was ruled by an all-powerful, tyrannical monarch. Yet large tribes of the
indigenous population were able to live untouched by the government, in part
by learning to live in an impassable, for the rulers, desert and by being
indomitable fighters. In the short term, at least, camouflage might serve as
the desert - the question was how tough would they be in a fight. He might
get some ideas, he thought. Jessica would be driving him to an enclave in the
south for some acclimation. He would meet members of several other groups for
orientation and training.

He heard a car outside and picked up his bags and carried them to the door.
Jessica was standing behind a Trailblazer which he first thought was the one
Tommy had been driving, but it was a slightly different shade, more like
beige. The rear hatch was open. Carrying his bags out and closing the
door he went out to meet her.

"Morning," she said. "Ready?"

"Ready," he replied, putting his bags in and closing the door. They got in
and were on their way. Jessica was dressed in what he had learned was their
most common attire - jeans and a khaki shirt like the ones everyone seemed to
wear. Leaving the farm they headed south.

"We'll stop in Chillicothe for breakfast," Jessica said. She had advised him
to be ready to leave early, and it wasn't yet seven o'clock. The town was
just a few miles away, and before long they were eating at one of the small
town's homegrown restaurants. Carter knew their destination was somewhere
south of Springfield, over in the Arkansas Ozarks.

"Are we going off-road?" he asked.

"Not quite," Jessica answered, "but there are some unpaved roads down there,
especially where we're going."

She had told him they were going to visit an enclave in the Arkansas Ozarks, a
large mountainous area mostly in south Missouri and north Arkansas. While the
mountains were not especially high - the highest being around 2,500 feet - the
area was mostly forested and provided cover for those seeking privacy. Their
destination was in those deep forests.

They didn't discuss any business during breakfast - security was the most
important rule in any public interactions, and even conversations at a
restaurant table were risky. Since they didn't much in the way of small talk
there was not much to say. Back on the road, Jessica filled him in on some of
the details. He knew he would be meeting the members of a fairly large
operation, as well as some from others. Back on the road again, Jessica

"The place we're going to is, ostensibly, a hunters camp. A small group of
patriots own it, and all of them live there most of the time, although they
have homes outside in various places. There only nine men in the group, and
several of their adult children operate the place. There are about thirty or
so of what are called associates, people like you who've joined, and for the same
reasons. Most of them are around your age and younger, and a lot of them have
military or law enforcement experience. To all appearances they maintain the
premises and do other work - actually they are, like you and Tommy and me,
operatives. The owners are men who have become wealthy and as they got older
decided, like my father grandfather, to put their money to good use."

"Do these nine men have families?" he asked. "Not all widowed like your father,
or single or divorced."

"Most of them are married, I believe none of them have young children - and
some of them have adult children who, like me, are involved in the operations.

"Dad says sometimes that it's kind of like being in the Mafia. Most of the
men, and it's mostly men, either have wives who know nothing about the actual
activities, or are actually involved. It's some of both. But always, secrecy
is our most important defense."

"I would think at some point, if the operation is big enough, secrecy would be
difficult," said Carter, "unless you are prepared to take some extreme measures
to preserve it."

"You mean the most extreme?" Jessica said, not completely a question.


"I suppose that, when everything blows up and all bets are off, we will. As
for killing infiltrators - at this point we're just making sure there aren't
any. And that at the lower levels individuals don't know enough to do much
damage. Maybe damage one part, but no way to get to all of us. But at this
point, we are mostly dependent of thorough vetting of members, secure
communications, and camouflage."

"I haven't been south that much," Carter said. "You said we're going to the
Ozarks. I know they're mountains in the south part of the state, but not much

"They're mostly in Missouri, but also cover a large part of north Arkansas"
Jessica said. "And small parts of Kansas and Oklahoma. The highest mountains
are actually over in Arkansas."

"Mountains?" Carter inquired. "I hadn't thought of that area that way."

"They're not that high, as mountains go," said Jessica. "Maybe a little over
two thousand feet. But like the Appalachians, they have something or a
reputation for being backwoodsy. You hear some of the same jokes about them.
But there are a lot of tourist attractions and resorts. Still, there are a
lot of heavily forested areas, and they provide places to hide, discreetly,
operations like ours."

"I guess living in the city all my life I didn't think about how much of the
country is mostly empty."

"Even Missouri is dense compared to some areas, out west. Most of the
population is on the coasts and in the north. If it ever comes to it, it will
take a long time for the government to hunt down all the outliers. Which is
why they're working to get more people into the cities, make it harder to
travel outside them. I suspect if we're forced to it, we can wage a long
guerilla war before they get us all. But we hope for a different outcome."

"You mean for a final solution... excuse me, a more decisive outcome."

"Essentially," replied Jessica. "The general agreement among the leaders is
that we don't let it come to that, going down without a fight or becoming
hunted fugitives."

"The alternative would seem to be a preemptive strike at some point, I would

Jessica turned to look at him briefly, something she seldom did even while

"It's the only viable solution, particularly in terms of being humane," she
said. The other options leave the majority of the population living miserable
lives, if they live at all, under a tyrannical rule that would make China and
the old Soviet Union seem mild. And while you can rightly say that most
people deserve exactly that, for their indolent, selfish way of living, there
are many who don't.

"It would be wrong for us to have the means to prevent that sort of
catastrophe and not try, even if it means losing our own lives in the process."

"So does it end that way? Or is there any hope for a different solution?"

"Unlikely," she replied, looking over at him again, looking more serious
than he had seen her before. "With the entire government in
enemy hands, president and congress, with the supreme court simply being
ignored it it disagrees, they've got it all. Every election is now pre-decided,
so there's no going back."

"How long do we have?" Carter asked.

"We're probably looking at a few years until it's all over. They can, but won't,
go out confiscating weapons right away. Most likely it will be done with
some pretense of legality. They will pass laws, let them be challenged and
upheld by the rubber stamp courts. The only thing preventing that now is the
handful of states that seem to present a real threat of armed resistance when
that happens."

"Will any of them actually do that?"

"There are some, Texas for example, that will refuse to enforce the laws. They're
already doing that with some of them. So if the government wants to disarm
the population, they won't get any help from the local authorities. And at
the same time the locals probably won't stop the people from resisting."

"It would seem that if that happens, there would be actual warfare, the states
would have to have militias for defense. I'm afraid I don't see them doing it,
or even being able to," Carter said.

"We believe that's why the government will take some time, given that society
continues to deteriorate on its own. In time even those states will fall. That's why we
have to act."
She looked out the windshield, silent. Carter sensed she was
preparing to say something critical, and was uncertain if the time was right.

"We don't know when," she continued, "but we're certain of it. It's a matter
of being prepared in time, which we can do, but the actual execution is the
hard part. There's a reason you were recruited. Tommy believed you were a
good candidate, and we investigated you. You were always a straight shooter,
and you got thrown overboard by those you loyally served, and trusted. You
learned the hard way how rotten our society is, and you're not the first cop
to do so. As you know."

"But what got Tommy's attention? My single-minded determination for revenge?"

"Do you think of it as revenge?"

"I suppose most people would think of it that way. Justice is more like it."

"Exactly," Jessica said. "The fact that you think of it as justice, even
though you would be committing a crime if you did it. What we propose to do
will also be a crime. Did you ever read 'Shogun'?"

"If that was about a sailor shipwrecked in Japan, I saw the movie."

"You might remember when he was being questioned by the Japanese warlord
about affairs in Europe. He tells him that there are no mitigating
circumstances when it comes to rebellion against a sovereign lord.
Blackthorne replies 'unless you win'. If we don't win it will not matter - we
will be dead. We must win, or it will be the end of what the founders
established, what so many men have given their lives for, all these years.
Including my brother, even if it was in a misbegotten affair. I was angry,
and still am, but there is no dishonor for the men who served.

"So, we are committed to win or die in the attempt. And I believe we can and
will. There is only one obstacle to overcome."

"What is that?" Carter asked. "And why does it seem that you are very high in
the operation?"

"I am," she replied. "My father and grandfather were in it at the beginning.
It was a group of wealthy farmers and ranchers who started it, and together
they are easily wealthy enough to pull it off.

"As to the problem with actually doing what has to be done, we must overcome
our doubts, when it comes to actually killing people. Because that is the
only way. And people like us, who only want our freedom and to be left alone,
are not the sort to resort to violence. For our enemies it's the first thing
they do when they don't get their way. Do you know who Michael Collins was?"

"Sounds familiar. Who was he?"

"He was the man chiefly responsible for freeing Ireland from British rule. Of
course the situation was a little different - Ireland had been occupied, and
generally brutalized, by the British for literally centuries. And for
hundreds of years there had been rebellions, dozens of them, always ending in
failure. And usually with the killing of a lot of Irishmen. The next to last
one was in 1916, and it ended as usual.

"But one of the participants was a man named Michael Collins. He escaped
being executed with some of the other participants, and returned to Ireland
after being released from prison. He then became involved in what would be
the final rebellion. Realizing that raising an army to drive them out would
never be possible, he organized an assassination squad to kill the British
agents and the Irish collaborators who were enabling them. He was ruthless,
and effective. The British eventually realized that they could only remain
in control by imposing martial law, which was impossible to maintain for even
a little while - much less permanently - they agreed to negotiate a treaty
that freed Ireland."

"Sounds like a real hardcase," said Carter. "My kind of guy."

"He wasn't, from all accounts he was rather easygoing, and fairly religious.
It is likely that the senseless executions of his comrades after the earlier
insurrection that made it possible for him to make the leap to ordering the
assassinations. And the fact that Irishmen were being murdered by the British,
with no consequences.As he said, of British were killing them without due
process, that he had had paid them back in their own coin. In other words,
the brutality of the British pushed him over the line."

"Where is the line for us?" Carter asked.

"It has already been crossed," Jessica replied. "Many times. Waco and Ruby
Ridge were only two of the more celebrated cases, a few years back. The
negative reaction caused the government to conduct its attacks on people more
quietly, but they continue. These days people are arrested on charges of
insurrection for being present at a demonstration, or accused of being 'white
supremacists', among other things."

"I always just thought they settled down for a while after the Oklahoma City
affair," said Carter. "Wasn't that supposed to be revenge for Waco?"

"That was part of the plan. McVeigh was planning to blow up the building, but
as anyone with sufficient knowledge would notice, his truck bomb would never
have done the job. So the government operatives decided to kill two birds, as
they say. Put some explosives in the right place, steal his truck and put it
in position, and you have an event to blame on right-wing terrorists, which was
a high priority for that administration."

Jessica looked over at him again, Carter said nothing and waited.

"Now I sound like a nut job, right?"

"No," Carter replied. "I don't how you know it, or if it can be proven, at least
to most people's satisfaction. But it doesn't matter because you and anyone
who knows or suspects the truth is going to be accused of being a conspiracy
theorist. That seems to be one of the main attacks these days on dissenters,
even when the facts are known. I know now how rotten everything is - I was
too busy with my life to think about it much."

"Most people are," said Jessica. "That's the problem."

A couple of hours into the drive Jessica stopped and topped off the fuel in the
TrailBlazer, and they bought some snacks and drinks. They were provided with
pre-paid debit cards to use for their various expenses, and it provided a
certain amount of anonymity, like the burner phones they carried. They were
not doing anything illegal, except conspiring to commit insurrection, Carter
thought wryly. But it was prudent to be careful well before it became
necessary. So he was listed as an employee of the farm, and money was
deposited in a bank account in his name and he spent money from it regularly
for appearances.

"We're about halfway there," Jessica told him as they continued on their way.
"We won't need to stop again until we arrive, so we can drive through
Springfield before we go off the beaten path. We'll be going into some
undeveloped areas, you might say wild if you haven't been out of the city much."

"I haven't," Carter replied. "I'd say I missed quite a lot, from the looks of it."

"You've still got a lot of time left, and you've signed up for a very
interesting life. What are you, not quite fifty?"

"Close enough. I used to think fifty was old. I thought forty was old when
it came. Having most of my last good decade taken away, not to mention
everything else I had, or could have had. There's no word to describe the
kind of evil that gets done to people by those who can do it, for their own
greed and narcissism. There's not punishment enough for people like that, no
matter how long you try."

Jessica remained silent, looking straight ahead.

"Sorry about that," he said. "Didn't mean to rant. But I know now, it wasn't
just what was done to me. It's happening to people all over. Cops being sent
to prison for political expediency, because they had to shoot a criminal of
the wrong color. I wasn't paying much attention before, but I know things
have been getting worse. People in prison for the words they say - how did we
get here?"

"Who can say? There are a lot of reasons. People have had it too easy for
too long, they don't pay attention to the important things any more. People
want more money, bigger houses, new cars. So I suppose greed has something to
do with it, even though most people don't think of themselves that way. Still,
they allow their materialistic proclivities to rule their lives. We haven't
really had any hard times since the Depression and the last world war - people
just can't envision how bad it can be.

"And of course the people who are working and paying the taxes don't have time
to be out in the streets burning things down. The massive size of pool for
rent-a-mobs is staggering - of the fifty to sixty million people on welfare,
how many of them are stuffed into the cesspools of the inner cities? More
than enough to destroy this society and make it into something - well, I don't
want to think about it."

She looked over at him, he waited.

"Sorry, now I'm the one ranting. But if you knew only a little of what I know,
and you will learn it as we go along, you'd understand. The position my
family is in, is deep inside the organization. My grandfather was one of the
founders, though he has delegated is position to my dad due to his age. But
as I said, you'll learn before long why, if in the end we lose, the only thing
I'll care about is how many of the enemy I can take with me. But it's the
ones at the top we want most. The mobs, the misguided agitators who often
think they are doing good - they're a low priority. The ones at the top, are
really and truly unspeakably evil."

"Seems I'm going to be learning a lot about a lot of things," Carter said.

Jessica smiled, he suddenly realized, for the first time since they had begun
their trip.

"It's hard not to be serious all the time," she said. "As you will learn.
Our suspicions about where this is going are fairly firm, but there is always
a chance we can avoid the worst case. That's another reason for what we're
doing, with these preparations."

They travelled in silence for a while, shortly after passing through
Springfield they left the freeway and followed two-lane roads deeper into a
region of forested hills. Eventually they entered a private road, identified
as such by a pair of discreet but impossible to miss signs. A short distance,
perhaps fifty yards or so was a closed gate. Alongside the road was a
surfaced spot wide enough for a vehicle to turn around, presumably to make it
easy for unintentional intruders to leave. Immediately past the gate the road
was lined with forest on both sides, large old trees that limited visibility
to the road.

Jessica drove up to the gate and stopped, and within seconds a pair of men
came out of the trees and opened the gate. As soon as they were through the
gate it was closed behind them. About a quarter of a mile down the road they
emerged into a large cleared area. Carter wasn't good at estimating areas in
terms of acres, the way it seemed to be done in the country, but it was quite
large. A large fenced area at the center contained several larger buildings,
most of them of the sheet metal construction Carter had observed on farms and
other rural areas. Around it was a large circular road with what looked like
small guest cabins. Vehicles were parked here and there, one or two at some
of the smaller buildings, none at some, and perhaps two dozen inside the
fenced area. A gate in the fence was open and Jessica drove through it, as if
she knew her way around. She parked in front of one buildings.
"We've arrived," she said.
The got out and he followed her to a pair of doors like those found on most
office buildings. She opened a door and they went in. It had an
institutional look, but nothing to indicate its purpose. It could housed any
of a number of small businesses, there were a couple of desks and not much
else in the area they were standing in, but there were several doors and a
long hallway going further back into the interior.

He had just had time to survey his surroundings when a door opened and a young
woman came out. She was dressed much as he and Jessica were. She came over
and greeted them, embracing Jessica like a friend or family member.

"Glad you got here safely," she said. "You didn't forget where we were, did

"It would be easy enough to get lost," Jessica said. "But I've been here
enough it's not hard to find."

Carter had noticed that she wasn't using her phone to navigate. In fact she
and Tommy used their burner phones for almost all of their communications, and
he did the same. They might be carrying security to the point of paranoia,
but considering what they were doing it made sense. In any case, being able
to navigate from memory or using a road map was useful as well. The less they
interacted with the world of data the better off they were. They were
probably as close to invisible as possible without going completely off the grid.

"And this is Darrell," Jessica said to the woman. "Darrell, this is Tracy. She'll
be showing you around, get us settled in. We've got a busy week ahead."

"Welcome to Cripple Creek," Tracy said, holding out her hand. She was a very
attractive woman, about Jessica's age or a little younger - it was hard to tell.
He noticed, however, that both women's hands looked the same - no fingernail
polish, in fact their nails were trimmed relatively short, or perhaps they got
broken a lot. Calluses revealed that they worked with them more
than most women did. Both wore little makeup, not that either of them needed
much. And like Jessica, Tracy had her shoulder-length hair in a ponytail.

"Cripple Creek is the name of the club," Jessica said. "The freehold code
name is Charlie Niner. Tracy and her brother run the place, along with some
other family members of the Nine." You'll meet them as we go
along, the ones that are here. Where is Chris, by the way?"

"He's on patrol," Tracy replied. "Perimeter inspection, they've only been gone
an hour or so, so he'll be gone for a while."

"It's about six miles around," Jessica said. "So it takes a while, since it's
wooded and uneven terrain most of the way. We'll be doing some patrols while
we're here."

"We try to keep it low-key, be as inconspicuous as we can," Tracy said. "To all appearances
this is just a private hunting camp, so the only visible security on the perimeter is
signs and paint marking the property lines. People can wander in, we make
sure they don't get in very far before we turn them around and send them on
their way. Normally we don't have any problems, but we like to know what's
going on around us.

"Let's get you unloaded and into your quarters, and we'll see about lunch. I'm
guessing you're ready. It's the usual cabin, Jess."

It had been about a five hour drive, and Carter was ready when lunch was, but
he wasn't normally bothered by a late meal. They got back in their vehicle,
joined by Tracy, and drove out of the enclosure, along the road to one of the
cabins. They got out and began removing their luggage. Tracy helped them
carry their luggage up to the the covered porch and she opened the door and
they went in.

The place contained two small suites, each with a bedroom and a bathroom, with
a large open area extending the width of the cabin. It had a couch and a
couple of chairs, with a small table and chairs that looked to be intended for
dining. A television and a few other items completed the furnishings. It
looked like something to be found in an upscale hunting club.

"All right," Tracy said when they had their gear inside. "Let's get some lunch."

They went back to the central area, which Carter guessed was the
administrative center of the facility. Tracy led them to another building, as
nondescript as the others. It was a somewhat smaller, and proved to be a
dining facility. There were a few small tables, each with four chairs, and
and a modest buffet table. A couple doors in the wall behind them suggested
the location of the food preparation area.

"It's self-service," Tracy said. "There aren't many here yet, but our guests
will be coming in over the next couple of days. We'll have a briefing on
Friday, so we have a couple of days for you to get acquainted with the place."

This for Carter's benefit - he knew Jessica had been here several times.

"You're one of only two who are completely new here, Darrell. Everyone else
has been here at least once or twice."

Serving themselves at the buffet, Carter found the fare somewhat more than he
had expected at a hunting camp miles from even a small town. He followed
Jessica's lead and ended up with a good-looking salad, some baked beans, what
looked like chopped and haphazardly fried potatoes, and a very large pork chop,
with the bone. There were canned soft drinks but he took a glass of the tea
as Jessica did.

As they began he took a drink of the tea. "This has character," he said.

"Do you like tea?" Tracy asked.

"Yes, but the stuff you get in restaurants is usually pretty bland."

"That's true," she said, "but in the south most like it fairly strong and sweet."

"It certainly is that," Carter said. "What else do we have? I recognize the
beans and salad."

Jessica smiled. "That's the way we fry potatoes down here. And the way we
do pork chops."

"It's the biggest one I've ever seen," he said.

"You can do that when you raise your own livestock and have custom processing."

"From a freehold farm?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said. "Some of the freeholders have large farms, like us. Some
others have ranches - some large and others smaller - and we keep the best for
ourselves and sell the surplus.

"Several of the freeholds in the south and southwest have large farm and ranch
operations. Several big farmers over in Arkansas, just a few miles away," Tracy
said. "There are a couple of places like this on the Arkansas side. Some of
them will sending people here."

"So are these affairs always for training?" Carter asked.

"That, and meeting others from around the country. The idea is to learn to work well
together, sometimes on short notice, with people we may not know well, or at
all. So we develop standard ways of doing things, equipment,
and other stuff. For those of us who meet here and other places, we develop
informal relationships as well. There will be people here that I've worked
with before, and we take some time to socialize."

"Is the food always this good?"

"We try. Glad you like it. Most of it is produced by the various groups and
traded around. Some of them have small ranches or farms, that's where our
meat comes from. The salad is local - they have some sizeable gardens here in
various places."

"So in the event of things getting really bad you're not so dependent on
the usual food supply. Good idea." Carter said."How big is this place?"

"Pretty big, bigger than our place. Almost two square miles. So they can
spread things out. Their people live out in the wilderness, a house or two
here and there, but they're connected by roads or in some cases trails that
regular vehicles can't use, but motorcycles or ATVs can, or even horses in
some cases. Having the population spread around is also advantageous for
security purposes.

"How many people are here, as part of the outfit?" Carter asked.

"About eighty to ninety of us are here all the time." Tracy replied. "Of course,
with each of the Nine having about three or four family members, that's close
to fifty. I'd guess there about another thirty to forty employees. They
provide maintenance and security, and some of them will be involved in
training sessions.

"There are quite a few who are sort of associates of the Nine, who live outside.
They do various things, like helping us remain under the radar, using their
connections in the outside world. They can do things like getting real
drivers licenses in some states, and other things useful for establishing
working alternate identities. Others have access to various sorts of
information about things happening in government. They have to be used
discreetly, though. Obviously we don't want our agents compromised. But the
time will come when..."

She didn't finish the sentence. There was no need to. Carter was beginning
to think that some enormous secret had been very well kept. As a police
officer in a large city, he had of course been exposed to various briefings
about domestic terrorism, alleging that various dissident organizations
usually labeled as 'white supremacists' or just 'anti-government'. He had
never seen anything like it, even the news reports which purported to show
them in action, they appeared to be little more than small groups of people
angry and not smart enough to maintain a low profile, assuming they were
capable of causing any kind of problems. Often their behavior was so
theatrical as to make him wonder if they were being paid to perform for the
benefit of a news story or a political agenda.

"I am guessing that any of your activities don't make the news," Carter said.

"Never" said Tracy. "You see things in the news occasionally about some sort
of anti-government riots or something. I suppose some of those really are
amateurs, no organization and no threat, if they are even real. We know some
of them are put up to it by various liberal activist organizations, probably
with the support of government actors. But we're doing nothing at this point,
except preparing. And remaining invisible."

"I wondered about that, how you avoid getting tagged as one of them. I
suppose if they don't know you exist they can't. But I remember hearing, it's
been a while back, about some of them being in this part of the country, with
training camps like this. You ever run into any of them?"

"Not often," said Tracy. "A few years back there were some, mostly motivated
by religion. Kind of like those people they killed at Waco. There was one
over in Arkansas, the feds came in and arrested some people and dispersed the
others. Apparently some of them had been engaged in criminal activity and
associating with some racist organizations. People like that are usually
unstable and not able to stick with anything when they don't succeed
immediately in whatever it is they want to and are easily manipulated. But
more than anything, acting on the impetus of religion or politics is never a
good idea."

"Are we political?" Carter asked.

Tracy smiled.

"Not at all," she replied. "We want nothing other than to restore
constitutional rule, as established by the founders. We don't care about
anyone's religion, race or other proclivities. That's why we'll wait until
there is no longer any hope of reform before we act."

"We start talking about things, it's hard to stop," she said. They had
finished eating and took their dishes over to a collection station where they
would presumably be collected for washing. "Let's get out of here and show
Darrell around a little before it gets dark."

With Jessica driving and Tracy in the back seat, they set out on a tour of the
area. There were few roads that were wider than necessary for two vehicles to
pass if necessary, and they occasionally intersected with narrower trails
which wound off into the forests. The first stop was on a hillside
overlooking a lake that appeared to be artificial, or at least having been
modified. The road ran down to and about a third of a way around the lake,
which appeared to have been made by building a levee across a small valley. A
couple of small boats were on the lake, each with two occupants who appeared
to be fishing.

"This is one of several small lakes we've built," Tracy told them. "Since we
produce as much food as possible here, the lakes help. And besides fish, they
serve as a water supply. Up here wells have to be deep to get to water, so for
irrigation we use the lakes. Down there to your right is one of several small
farming plots. Let's go by the range."

They crossed the levee and went back into the forest. Jessica seemed to know
the area and navigated without much direction. A quarter of a mile or so later,
overlooking another shallow valley, Carter could see a wide flat area with a
wide grassy area several hundred yards long, with clusters of buildings along
the sides. Jessica drove on down the hill to one end, where he could see what
looked like a row of covered shooter positions, and looking down at the other
end what looked like target holders.

"As you can see," said Tracy, "we have a couple of shooting ranges - the long
one is four hundreds long, the shorter one is indoors in that long white
building. I would guess you know something about guns. There's an urban
combat range as well as one with an outdoor environment. You'll get some time
in out here."

"With a four hundred yard range, I would guess you can do some, I guess you would call it,
sniper training." Carter said.

"Exactly," Tracy replied. "We'd like something larger, but four hundred yards
is a quarter mile, which is a little big for this area. There are a couple of places, one
in Texas and another in Arizona, with thousand yard ranges. Not that it's
ever likely to have to shoot a target that far away, but you never know. How
are you skills?"

"Being a cop, I was naturally trained for proficiency with handguns, so most
of our practice was at short ranges. Most urban gunfights are at fairly close
range. I did a little rifle practice, but it was on a hundred yard range."

"We try to prepare for all eventualities," Tracy said. "Of course, we're not, we would not
be bound by any regulations. We practice close range, as in close enough to
touch. And we practice with knives, as well as unarmed and improvised weapon
combat. Even grenade practice - you never know."

The tour continued, another lake, another patch of crops, and occasionally a
large metal building, looking somewhat out of place with no other buildings
around. Carter supposed it was part of the policy of scattering and hiding
assets. Certainly any intruders would have a hard time finding anything other
than trees, unless they knew where to look.

Occasionally they passed a small group of cabins much like the ones he had
seen upon arrival. There were usually four or five, separated by several
hundred feet. Tracy told him that the members who lived on the site occupied

"They give us eyes all over the place," she said. "They know the place like
their own backyards, since it is their backyard. Any trespassers will be
spotted and dealt with quickly. In normal times that means they are advised
of their error and escorted off the property. In other times it would
probably mean something else. We're getting close to the perimeter now, I'll
show you the warning signs."

A few minutes later the road they were on ended, looping back on itself so a
vehicle could turn back the way it had come, and Jessica stopped.

"Let me show you something," Tracy said, opening the door as Jessica did the same.

Carter followed them through a relatively thin stand of trees, and then the
trees became more dense again. Looking back at the way they had come, it
looked as if the area had been deliberately thinned. Tracy stopped,pointed to
a tree with a wide patch of purple paint on its trunk.

"The paint is used to mark boundaries," she said. "Anyone out in the woods
knows the paint is like a 'NO TRESPASSING' sign. So if they come in anyway,
they're violating the law. The marks have to be no more than a hundred feed
apart, so it takes some work to maintain them.

"Out here we don't have much of a problem with trespassers. The people who
live here or hunt here regularly - legally anyway - know what the paint is for,
and we don't have many problems."

Walking back to the Trailblazer Carter was struck by the tranquility of the
place. Sunlight diffused by the canopies of the trees dimly lighted the area, and
it was almost completely silent. He had been out of the city only occasionally,
and then it was usually to places frequented by other people, and he had spent
little time in an environment so quiet and peaceful. He wanted to lie down
and go to sleep and let the world go to wherever it was going without him.

"You seemed a little preoccupied back there," Jessica said as they drove away.

"It's so peaceful out here it's easy to forget everything, just want to not
have to worry about things. Guess that's not an option."

"Not for people like us, I'm afraid," Jessica replied. "For too many people,
it is. It's always a few carrying the load for the many. The sheeple, most
of us call them."

"Yeah, I've heard that. On the radio talk shows. Lot of the guys I worked
with listened to them, they all talked about the same things, country going
all to hell and no one doing anything to stop it. Of course, they weren't
doing anything either, except talking.

"And they didn't do anything when I was sacrificed. The best any of them did
was keep their mouths shut, and they even got a couple of them to commit
perjury to put me away. They were afraid of having the city burned. Makes
you wonder if the sheep are worth saving."

"The founders probably thought something like that as well," said Tracy. "Less
than half of the colonists supported the war, and quite a few of them were
actively against it. It was a miracle it succeeded, literally. We're likely to need
one again this time."

"I hope we get it," Carter said. "I haven't had much time, since I left the
world I was in, to develop any thoughts along those lines."

"Unfortunately most people these days seem not to think outside their personal
world," Tracy said. "Career, family, finances. Taxes have put so much
pressure on people - those who actually are working - they don't have time for
much else. That's probably the biggest reason there's not much resistance to
the corruption in government and the mobs destroying the cities. The people
who don't work, subsidized by the taxpayers, are the ones doing all the crime
and destruction."

"Do you really believe anything would wake them up now?" asked Carter.

"Not likely," she replied. "When everything really falls apart, the people in
the cities have no food, no electricity or water, it's going to get really ugly.
And there are those, in the right positions in government, who are just
waiting for that opportunity to impose their planned regime, in the name of
safety and order. And the sheeple will at the least offer no resistance, and
many will support it."

"We're all of the resistance, I suppose."

"Pretty much. There are a lot of people, individually and in small groups,
who won't go quietly. But they'll be easy enough to handle, under martial law.
And make no mistake, it will come to that. Out here in the country they can
hold out for a while, but eventually the only survivors will be in hiding."

"And what will we be doing? I know what we're preparing for, but do we pull
the trigger before or after that?"

"That," Tracy said, "is under discussion, and has been for some time. I do
know we're getting close to the point at which we'll have to look at some
preventive measures, but in the end, it's hard to say."

The tour went on for another hour or so, and aside from several groups of
cabins and a few more of the large non-descript buildings, everything was
mostly trees. Eventually they ended up back at the headquarters.

"Looks like Chris is back," Tracy said as they arrived. "That's his truck."

Of the several vehicles parked there, only one was a truck - the others were
mid-sized SUVs like the Trailblazer. The truck was, like most vehicles Carter
had observed in use, was a plain-looking Dodge that appeared to be at least
ten or so years old. It looked smaller than the current models he saw on the
roads, and it was apparently a four-wheel-drive, judging from the high
clearance and large off-road tires. Perhaps the vehicle used on his patrol.

They went inside the building where Tracy had welcomed them earlier. As they
entered, a young man was coming up the hallway and emerged into the open area
where they stood.

"We're back," Tracy said. "Darrell, this is my brother Chris, and Chris, this
is Darrell, obviously."

Chris, a good-looking young man in his mid twenties, held out his hand.

"Good to see you at last. Jessica's told us a lot about you."

After shaking hands with Carter, he hugged Jessica.

"And as usual, Tracy and I have been eagerly awaiting for another visit."

Carter, accustomed to assessing newly met individuals quickly, immediately
liked what he saw in Chris, at least based on his speech and mannerisms. He
had the same look as his sister - plain outfit of jeans and the same khaki
shirt that everyone he met seemed to favor. He was also wearing a holstered
revolver, from the looks of it a rather large caliber. He had the look of
someone who spent a a lot of time outdoors.

"How was the patrol?" asked Tracy.

"As usual," Chris replied. "No problems, we took our time since there wouldn't
be much to do before dinner. Speaking of which, how about it? I just got in
a few minutes before you."

"Sounds good," said Tracy. "Let's go."

They went over to the dining facility where they had had lunch earlier. The
menu was a little different - something that appeared to include fried fish.
Carter guessed it was catfish, given that it was accompanied by small round
breaded balls which he remembered from somewhere were called hush puppies.
french fries and coleslaw confirmed his suspicions - he had only occasionally
eaten at fish places other than seafood restaurants. And of course, for seven
years he hadn't been given any choice of food. In any case, it was delicious,
as he observed to his hosts.

"One of our partners-in-crime, so to speak, has a large fish farm," Chris told
him. "Among his other enterprises. I guess Jessica has filled you in somewhat
on how we trade among ourselves. It keeps our costs down, but it also keeps
us from being dependent on the fragile supply as the rest of the country."

"It would you're pretty well positioned to survive quite a lot," Carter said.

"Having only been with us a few weeks, there's quite a lot to learn. Of
course it'll take a while, but you'll enjoy it. But it's always there, in the
back of out minds, what we're preparing for. So we try to enjoy life as much
as we can, which isn't hard if you like what you're doing. I'd hate to be
stuck in a city at a desk or something, I'd probably be watching the clock all

"Or driving a patrol car," Carter said. "I grew up in the city, rarely got out.
But after years of it, I was always going to work figuring if something bad
hadn't happened yet it was because it was about to. And one day it did. I
just didn't realize what a hellhole I was living in until I got out. I'll be
glad not to be there when it all comes unglued."

"We wish it didn't have to be that way," Chris said. "But most of us
don't see any way around it. There does seem to be a school of thought among
them that we might be able to slow or even stop it, but even that would
require mobilizing our forces in some way, to some degree. It gets discussed,
but no plans are ready for execution. So for now we wait."

Carter thought about the enormity of the entire problem. Intervening in what
was essentially a guerilla war going on in the nation's in population centers,
with the enemy being for the most part supported by the political
establishment in those states, getting involved would be a touchy business.
But when the alternative was to wait until the country was at the cliff's edge -
that was still something he didn't want to contemplate.

They were all quiet for a while, finishing the meal and clearing the table.
It was getting late, and they were ready to retire. Chris invited him for the
early next morning's early patrol, which he of course accepted. He and
Jessica got in their vehicle and drove back to their cabin. He noticed
several more vehicles had arrived, presumably bringing participants in the
next week's activities.

He and Jessica unpacked and prepared for bed, and after a shower and brushing
his teeth, he pulled on a T-shirt and pair of jeans and went out into the
common area of the cabin, intending only to say good night to Jessica. As he
did, she emerged from her room, wearing a pajama top and shorts.

"What do you think? she asked.

"I like it," he replied. "Seems to be plenty to keep us busy."

"Yeah," she said. "We're pretty serious about these training sessions, and we
try go get as much in as we can. We never really let ourselves forget what we're
up against, and will be eventually. The activity helps keep our minds occupied.

"You've been here a few times?" he asked.

"Enough that I don't remember, maybe a dozen or so."

"I noticed you're pretty familiar with Tracy and Chris, and the area, so I
guessed you'd been around some."

"We've become pretty close. They're good people, like everyone in the
organization is. We avoid anyone that could cause problems, even if they're
close to us, like relatives. Even a few relatives of the Nine don't know
anything about is."

"Is that nine with a capital n?" he asked. "Kind of like the name for a
circle of wizards..."

Jessica smiled.

"Somehow it seems fitting," she said.

"You read any fantasy, SF?"

"Not really. Chris does some, or did when we were younger. We're a little
busy these days, so we don't read for fun like we once did."

"My cellmate was reading a book when I left," he said. "Dune. You might have
seen or heard about the movies. Anyway, remembering that, I thought about the
scenarios in a lot of SF books, about how people in dystopian societies and don't
want to conform, survive."

"Yeah, I guess that would be a likely subject for writing about the future,
since societies seem inclined to go in that direction."

"Anyway, in Dune, there were these desert tribes who would'nt submit to the
rulers of their planet, and hid in places deep in a desert where the rulers
could not easily find them. But just in case they did come after them, they
were also the deadliest fighters in the universe, and no one wanted to mess
with them. Makes me think of what we're doing, except we don't have a desert
to protect us, so we hide in plain sight. And hope that if it comes to it, we
are the better fighters."

"Sounds about like us," Jessica admitted. "And what we're doing now is working
at being the best fighters."

"But will we be as ruthless as we need to be?" he asked. "We're talking about,
in some cases perhaps, killing people who are not at the moment pointing guns
at us. Technically murder, or assassination, whatever. And if we can't do it,
we'll lose no matter how prepared we are, if things have gone too far before
we resist."

"That's something we talk about a lot. To some degree it will depend on what our
enemies do, whether there is any success in pushing the crisis point further out.
It's possible we can do things to accomplish that, by attacking the small players,
the pawns, now."

"What would that consist of?" Carter asked.

"Apparently the idea, and I'm not privy to these meetings - but Dad is - that
the activities going on at the lower levels, the riots in the big cities, as
well as some actions by state or local governments to violate the rights of
their citizens, could be countered by the same means they are using. Using
their own methods, only we don't have the government protecting us or the news
media conducting a propaganda campaign for us. So we have to be better at it."

"Any definite strategies?"

"Some, but how close we are I'm not sure. I know Dad is attending a council
meeting in a couple of weeks and that is to be one of the main topics. It
seems there is support for some probing attacks, to see what the possibilities
are. We would have to have the right opportunity, though."

"What sort of opportunity?"

"I know there are some who want to put together a strike forces that could be
inserted into an area on short notice, for example one of the riots that go on
for days or weeks. Our people would go in and neutralize some of the leaders
and inflict some serious pain on the participants, and see what happens. The
thing is, we would have to get in and out without having any of our people
captured... that is arrested, or identified and traced."

"Sounds like a good idea," said Carter. "How practical does it look?"

"Pretty good, apparently. It's largely a matter of logistics and the ability
go execute the operation. Logistics are no problem, it would be a matter of
preparation and execution. We are not, however, going to figure it out tonight.
I'm about ready for bed."

"Yeah, me too. Good night."

Carter joined the two dozen or so other people assembled near the covered
shooters stations at the rifle range. He and Jessica had gotten up early and
driven over after breakfast, prepared for the beginning of the week's
activities. He knew there would be a considerable amount of weapons practice,
as well as physical conditioning work. Although most of what he had come to
call the resistance were from rural and small town environments, there were a
few who lived, as he had, in cities where it was not possible to walk out the
door and take a hike through the woods - they would probably find this trip a
refreshing diversion. He knew how much he had enjoyed the change from the
crowded, noisy city.

Several people wearing hats that looked like the ones worn by many state police,
including those of Missouri, he knew. Jessica told him that they were the
ones who would be conducting the practices.

"Generally, military training instructors wear these, so with many of us
having military connections, it's something we're used to. Makes them easier
to find when we're all dressed pretty much the same."

Their own attire was the usual, but almost everyone was wearing baseball caps.
They were of different colors and had letters on the front, identifying their
organization. He and Jessica had navy blue with with the letters MGF in white.
They hadn't worn them at home, and he first saw them when Jessica produced
them when the trip began. There were a total of twenty-nine visitors,
including instructors.

A couple of them waved toward the group, indicating they should gather around
them in a close group. The two of them, a man and woman who appeared to be in
their early forties, got the group formed into a semi-circle about two deep,
before they began.

"Hello everybody," the man began. "Glad you all made it safely. Since there
are a few of you here for the first time, I'm William Randall, and I go by Bill.
And this is my lovely wife Melissa."

Except for the paramilitary look of their outfits, they could have been an
average suburban couple at the mall. Carter had yet to see anyone who looked
crazy or even eccentric. He had often seen news about various alleged white
supremacists or religious fanatics plotting against the government. There was
video or photos of people who looked like misfits and derelicts, badly groomed
and dressed, and otherwise unpleasant-looking. He knew there were amateur rebel
groups, usually small and without much money, and not usually thinking far
beyond the fact that they were angry about something. But he also knew that
the government had a habit of planting agents provocateur in such
organizations in order to create an incident of some sort. He supposed they
could provide a useful distraction while the organized and disciplined outfit
he was part of remained well hidden. Perhaps they could create such
diversions if they were not already occurring.

The other instructors were introduced and the session got underway. First was
target shooting on the handgun range. Apparently the others had, like Jessica
and him, not brought weapons. Jessica had her personal gun in the car, and
had a carry permit. As a convicted felon he could not, although she had
assured him that if the time came when it was necessary, he could count on
being able to do so without any worries.

Here the guns were issued to the shooters. The range had only ten
shooter stations, so they would spend some of their time watching. The first
group took their positions, and he watched as they completed firing and scoring.
They were using revolvers that sounded like .357 Magnums, and went through a
cycle of target practice type exercises, shooting for score. Next they fired
all six shots as rapidly as possible, double action, while putting all shots
in the kill zone.

He and Jessica were in the third group. A young man and woman, both fairly
young, gave them their guns and ammunition. They were indeed .357s, Rugers with six
inch barrels. As they were scoring their targets, the young woman wearing a
name tag with 'Hannah' on it told him looked at his targets, then smiled.

"Nice," she said. "Thought you were one of the new ones."

He had put all of the slow shots in the the ten ring, and the rapid fire hits
were not off by much. It wasn't difficult, even after not having practiced in
seven years, outside of some informal practice with Jessica and Tommy.

He grinned. "I'm a little rusty."

He noticed that he was only a little better than Jessica in the rapid fire,
and not at all in the slow part. They went on until it was time for lunch,
using .40 caliber auto pistols for a round, and then a session with .44 Magnums.

Over lunch, sandwiches and chips with bottled beverages, arriving in a couple
of vehicles presumably from headquarters, he and Jessica chatted with the
others. He found himself talking to Hannah again, along with the other
instructor, whose name was Steve.

"Seems you already have some proficiency with weapons," he said. "Military

"Ex-cop." Carter replied.

"Lot of those these days," said Steve, "given the way cops are being treated.
Is that why you quit?"

"Not exactly. I was given an extended vacation and not invited back."

He paused. Not having associated with anyone other than Jessica and her family,
he hadn't had occasion to discuss what had happened to him.

"You remember the King case in St. Louis, seven years ago?"

"Oh yeah - that was you? There've been so many of them it's hard to keep track.
Drugged-up thug sliced your partner, you got filmed holding him down the wrong
way, or something. That was one of the worst - no reason at all except the
mobs and the bureaucrats."

"Yeah. The perp was the wrong color, and so was over half the population.
They had the usual days of riots and burning and looting, so they made the
usual sacrifice. Throw a cop or two overboard."

"Yeah," Steves aid. "And now no one in his right mind will be a cop. So the
the urban jungle dwellers are killing each other off at a greater rate. Sorry
it happened to you. Is that what brought you over?"

"Actually I didn't know you existed. I figured my life was over and I was
going to use what time I had left to go back and kill the people who did it to me."

"I've often wondered why none of the cops who got railroaded like you have
ever tried to that," Steve said. "I don't think I could go on living without some sort of
retribution. Maybe we've become the kind of people who no longer have what it
takes to set things right. We're hoping that's not the case. But how did you
get here?"

"Tommy brought him in," said Jessica. "He's a pretty good judge of character,
didn't want to see Darrell throw away his life that way. And someone who was
that determined to pursue justice might be a good fit."

"He did well, I believe," said Steve. "Are you as good with other weapons as
with handguns?"

"I didn't train that much with long guns," Carter replied. "We had to be
qualified with all the weapons we used, but unless you were on some special
duty like a SWAT team the emphasis was just handguns, tasers, mostly."

"Well, in that case you can learn something. We have a combat range over
there that is probably something like police departments use in training. And
then there's the rifle range. We can't make everyone into a special forces
operative, or even a competent soldier, but we try to prepare for as many
situations as we can. In the end, we have no way of knowing how things will
end up. All we can to is try to be ready."

After lunch they went to the rifle range, spending the remainder of the day
practicing with several types of rifles. There were several M1 Garands of
recent manufacture and a number of sporting rifles chambered in .308 an .30-06,
and a couple in .300 Winchester Magnum. The rifles Carter had trained with
were in .308, and he shot reasonably well with one even after years of not
using one. After a while he got five shot groups down to under four inches at
400 yards - nothing spectacular but with regular practice he would probably
improve. The shooters passed the guns around in an informal manner, each of
them shooting several of them in each caliber.

They departed the range in time to eat at the cafeteria at headquarters, or
the 'mess hall' as Carter heard several of the former military guys call it.
He had seen a number of them who seemed to have military experience, both from
their handling of the weapons and their camaraderie. He and Jessica shared a
table with two of them, young men from Arizona.

They had each done a four year enlistment and while enjoying the knowledge
they acquired were unable to deal with the degradation been done by
political and social pressures. The knowledge that the nation's defenses was
so compromised was one of their motives for joining the outfit. It was
operated, as many apparently were, by a group of fairly wealthy
individuals who had sufficient means to finance it. Carter wondered if all of
them were organized that way, or if any were made up of individuals in a
democratic process.

"There aren't many," Jessica told him. "Of course, I don't have the entire
picture. Only the Council knows it all. But I do believe there are one or
two that fit that description. They would have to be very tight, in terms or
the reliability of their members, so they can't be penetrated by the enemy. I
know they exist only from things Dad has said, and I'm not sure they have the
same status as freeholds. Maybe more like associates, allies."

The Council, Carter knew, was the the top of the operation. It was made up of
the leaders of the various organizations. Jessica's father was a member, and
was away for meetings at least once a month.

After dinner was over they moved over to empty section of the dining area
where a couple of long tables held coolers of iced beer and some bottles of
wine. Although about a third of those present were women, only a couple of
them were drinking wine, drinking beer from the bottles like the men. Jessica
was one of those choosing beer.

The gathering broke up after just a couple of beers for most of them, enough
time for some more conversation. Jessica introduced him to a few more people,
and they headed back to their cabin. After the day's activities they were
both ready for a shower and bed, and with that accomplished, he fell asleep
almost as soon as he lay down.

The next day featured sessions on the combat courses. The first one Carter
found familiar, as it was similar to those used in some police training.
While going through a course simulating an urban environment, targets would
suddenly be presented from various places, depicting either armed assailants
or harmless citizens, and points were scored for shooting the dangerous ones
and not any harmless ones. His cop training came in handy here, and he easily
got a perfect score.

The outdoor range was similar, with targets presented behind vegetation or
features of the landscape. Instead of a handgun, however, the participants
were given a .40 caliber carbine. Carter enjoyed using the little weapon and
despite having seldom used one that way, he easily mastered the course.

After lunch they practiced throwing grenades on the outdoor combat course.
They of course used inert practice grenades, as live ones either had to be
legally permitted and taxed, and of course acquiring them in quantities would
be difficult. However, practicing for the accurate delivery of them
suggested to Carter that they would be available and perhaps used in the event
of what he thought of as the 'big one'. Later he asked Jessica, and she told
him that the freeholds did indeed have them, and many other proscribed or
traceable weapons.

He knew that there were large stashes of weapons on the MacArthur farm, in
hidden compartments buried under tons of corn. The huge circular storage bins
would have to be emptied to access them, but even if the farm ever came under
suspicion and was raided, they might escape detection if no other evidence was
found. And if they ever were needed, that would be a minor inconvenience. He
also knew that in a fenced yard of several acres along one of the roads well
away from the houses, were several powerful demolition machines, some of them
modified to carry weapons. Disguised as rusty and dirty old trucks and
tractors, they waited for a time when they would be needed.

They ended a little earlier this day, and after dinner he and Jessica watched
television for a while. Most of the time they were together they were working
on something, or Tommy or her father was present. Now, however, with the only
distraction being the television, he began to wonder about their relationship.
She was not married, he assumed, and had given no indication of having a
boyfriend or whatever they were called these days. She worked with her father,
Tommy and him on various projects, mostly involving upkeep and security for
the farm, and various types of preparations for the expected crisis.

Perhaps, he thought, after being out of it so long he didn't know how to act.
He had had a series of relationships in the past, some of them fairly long but
eventually ending, probably because he never could make the commitment most
women would want eventually. Which, he thought, had turned out to be a good
thing. But, he found himself being attracted to her, at least in wanting to
be with her as much as possible. The last thing you need though, he told
himself, is to become emotionally involved. He had hardened himself
thoroughly against having any feelings beyond his desire for retribution, and
that was now fading against his new position.

He looked over at her, just in time for her to turn and look in his direction.
He had a slight suspicion she had been stealing a glance at him, something he
had observed lately, and the fact that he was doing the same thing had caused
his thoughts about some sort of relationship outside of business might develop,
and what its effects might be.

"You're quiet," she said. "More than usual."

"I am?" he asked. "Yeah, there's so much stuff to think about, suddenly. Do
you get used to it?"

"I guess I have," she replied. "I pretty much grew up with it. And it happened
gradually - it was after mom died that dad became serious about the situation
we were in, and as he began exploring possibilities he met others who thought
like he did. So he was in at the beginning. By the time I was out of school
it was in its beginning phase, and so it's been my life."

"You never married?" he asked.

"I did, but it didn't work out. Fortunately it didn't work out fairly quickly,
so it didn't waste much of my life. Now I don't know now if I could have a
relationship with anyone outside. The need for secrecy makes that
difficult. You never know if you can trust someone that completely."

Carter wondered if she was trying to tell him something or if that was just an
innocent observation.

"Yeah, I see what you mean."

He looked over at the television. Jessica had turned the sound down and they
had been reading chyrons on the bottom of the screen. It was a news channel
and normally there was little worth watching, much less listening to,
considering that most of the news channels had nothing except propaganda
punctuated by banal items of interest only to the dormant minds of the
majority of the population.

Suddenly everything disappeared from the screen to be replaced by a large
image proclaiming "BREAKING NEWS", accompanied by presumably dramatic music.
Carter always wondered how much the audience was impressed by the color and sound.
Probably, he thought, anyone watching this stuff every day was easily impressed.

They watched the bottom of the screen as the suitably young, well-groomed,
female person appeared and began to speak. One of Carter's former colleagues,
who had been born in and grew up in England, told him the people who read the
news on television were called 'news readers'. As long as he could remember
they were called reporters, anchors, correspondents and other aggrandized terms.
Of course paying a bimbo, male or female, millions of dollars a year to read a
teleprompter said as much as about the state of the business as anything.

'DEADLY POLICE SHOOTING' was announced in large bold letters across the
bottom of the screen. Jessica turned up the sound.

"Police are investigating an officer-involved shooting this evening on Quincy
Avenue," the young blonde news reader said. "We have few details at this time,
but it is confirmed that one person has been taken to taken to UAMS Hospital,
his condition is not known at this time. We go to Marie Myers, who is on the
scene now. Marie?"

The scene switched to mostly deserted street, with several police cars sat,
lights flashing, with cops walking or standing around. The screen
split to show another young woman, holding a big microphone with the station logo.

"Sarah, I'm here at the Quik Shop on Quincy Avenue," she said. "About an hour
ago police were called to a suspected robbery in progress here. Witnesses tell us that
two men had attacked the clerk, whether it was a robbery or something else we
don't know at this time. One of them was holding the clerk from behind with a
knife at her neck, and the other was behind the counter as well.

"Do we have any new information on the perpetrators?" Sarah asked.

Marie put her hand over one ear and did not speak for several seconds, then
said "We are getting a report now that one of them was dead on arrival at the
hospital, and the condition of the other is unknown."

As the conversation continued Jessica and Carter looked at each other, both
with probably the same thought. He said it first.

"They haven't gotten to the most important part," he said. "What color was the
perp, and the cop?"

"The only important part," she replied. "That will light the fuse."

"It's near the point now where it won't matter much," he said. "Cops shoot
white people all the time and it's not news, but before long even black cops
won't be safe if they shoot someone of the wrong color. They're moving beyond
just trying to create racial division - they want it to be between law and
order and the law of the jungle. Any excuse to get a riot started, burning
and looting, to tear down the civil society. The cities, of any size, are
mostly beyond saving."

Before long they were out of material and went back to the regular news. Carter
and Jessica sat silently for a while, with nothing to say that hadn't been
said before. He supposed one reason he didn't watch television much was
because of the news. It was earlier to read the articles on the news web
sites a couple of times a day - he got the information without the annoying,
preening humans.

It was getting late, and he and Jessica said their good-nights and went to bed.

They were back at the range the next day, not for shooting but for unarmed
combat. Or at least, combat without firearms. Both of the instructors was a
former special forces types, and they taught a blend of martial arts and
general purpose brawling. Since few if any of the other participants were
near them in skill and experience, it was mostly a matter of teaching as much
as possible how to survive when forced into a fight, or escape if possible.

Although Carter had had an exposure to hand-to-hand combat as part of his
police training and had practiced with some colleagues who were practitioners
of various martial arts, he found he got a few bumps and bruises despite the
efforts of the instructors to take it easy on their students.

There were some exercises involving armed attackers, with dummy knives and
handguns or course. A couple of automobiles had been placed on the field to
all for exercises it dealing with combat in and around vehicles. He found it
interesting that in some the scenarios the students played the part of the
aggressor, to the degree that they practiced resisting arrest and even
assaulting the 'cops' with knives or guns. Most of it was at close quarters,
and he noticed that in exercises in which the objective was to use a knife or
small handgun while the target was close enough to touch.

"Your best chance is when you're this close," said Mike, a forty-something man
who from his condition might have been an active duty Ranger. Carter later
found out that he was only recently retired, and he turned out to be a rather
pleasant type given that he had just spent the past couple of hours practicing
killing people.

"Remember this," he told them, after one demonstration. "When the time comes,
the only important thing is survival. By the time you have to use what we're
learning here it will be too late to allow a police uniform to cause you to
hesitate, or that is being worn by a woman - guys, that can be hard to overcome.
You might by then have accepted that the law is the enemy, but using lethal
force against a woman can still cause you to hesitate. Don't."

He grinned.

"I don't expect you ladies to have such inhibitions. But deliberately killing,
or ever injuring, another human being is not something any normal person wants
to have to do. But in this situation, your survival depends on it. And given
the kind of treatment that dissenters have received recently, and I'm talking
about completely non-violent protesters - some of them are still in jail and have been there for years.
Once they have the cuffs on you, your chances are not good.

"After lunch we'll go through all this again, to help you make it reflexive.
Thinking is what you do before the necessity for action arrives."

It appeared that most of them had been to these sessions before, probably
several times in some cases. Jessica had told him she came several times a
year, and besides the learning experience it allowed the members of the
various freeholds to meet and share experiences. Each day she found someone
new to introduce him to at lunch or dinner, and by the third day he knew quite
a few of them. Among them were a couple of ex-cops, one from Texas and one
from Arizona. Both had been sheriff's deputies and so they had different
experiences, but he learned that being a lawman in the wide open spaces could
be as dangerous as in the big city, particularly in the southwest. He was
aware of the drug and weapons traffic, along with the numerous criminal types
that came in among the other illegals, but these guys had had to deal with it
regularly. Both had eventually quit in disgust at seeing nothing done to
secure the border.

"Before long, we'll have an army of millions of illegals to deal with along
with the regular military," Cole Taylor - the one from Arizona - said. "I
don't even want to think about that."

"Hope the hordes in the cities don't come out all at once," said the Texan.
"Unless they decide to play with each other."

"If only we could get them to," Cole said. "Keep the government busy."

Back at their cabin that evening, Carter took a shower and put on a fresh pair
of jeans and a t-shirt, and went out into the common area. Jessica was there
in pajamas, watching television.

"I guess we should see how this goes," she said. The news channel was on again
and a the shooting incident of the previous day was the main subject. It
seemed one of the armed robbers was indeed dead, the other hospitalized. Due
to the nature of the conflict that ensued upon the arrival of the police, the
cop's bodycam recording was almost useless and left the account up to the cops
and some rather inconsistent witness accounts. Thus, there would be a lengthy
investigation before anything was settled.

"Bad news," Jessica said as a commercial interruption ensued. "It was a white
cop. You know what that means."

"Yeah," said Carter. "If he is smart he'll run fast and far. That'll give
him better chance than he'll get any other way."

"No doubt," Jessica said. "Even if they had the video to prove he didn't do
anything wrong, it won't matter. Things have gone too far, they'll throw him
overboard as a first resort."

"I have to wonder," Carter said, "why none of these guys has ever tried that.
Believe me, in that situation you've got nothing to lose."

"Where could you go?" asked Jessica. "If a guy like him runs, it would be the
biggest manhunt ever. Sooner or later they'd get him."

"Maybe," said Carter. "What if he had some help?"

"What kind? He'd have to have a new identity, change his appearance, and even
then he would never be safe."

"Yeah, but if he did that, and had protection, a hiding place when needed, it
could work."

"Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?"

Carter looked over and grinned.

"Most likely."

"You're serious, aren't you?"

"Think about it for a minute," he said. "Like Mike said, once they have the
cuffs on you, you're done. Suppose they indict this guy, and it's likely they
will. It could take close to a year to come to trial, and he hangs around like nothing's
wrong. Then, a month or two before the trial, he bails. Disappears, which we
can make him do. The worst thing is he has to give up his old life, but
believe me, that's gone anyway. And like me, he has a chance for revenge, and
the time in between isn't so bad."

Jessica was silent for a long while, and he waited, not knowing what else to
say at the moment. Finally she spoke.

"Our objective is much bigger than one man," she said. "I understand how you
feel. You've been there. But drawing attention to ourselves prematurely,
could be a costly mistake. I don't know how such a suggestion would be received."

"You mentioned probing, before the drop dead date. Would something like this
fit? It would be fairly small and easy to keep under wraps."

"I really can't say," she replied. "That's something that would be decided at a
higher level. I do know that among the Council there's an idea that the big
crisis might be averted by attacking the troublemakers now, each time they
have one their loot and burn events, go in and shut it down. The problem is
it could probably expose us prematurely, whereas later, when the country is
clearly lost, or almost so, we can go in and eliminate some of the bad people."

"Yeah, you mentioned that. But I was thinking, rescuing one man would be a
small operation, easily concealed."

"We should discuss it with Dad when we get back. At least in this case we
have time. It will take months, maybe a year or more, for a trial. If there
is one. We can still hope there isn't."

The television was back with another 'breaking news' segment.

"I thought it was breaking news yesterday," Carter said.

Jessica laughed.

"And it will be until they find something new to talk about."

They watched several representatives of the city government recite the usual
verbiage about thorough a investigation and justice being done. While another
reporter added that protesters were beginning to gather at police headquarters.
Switching to a scene of a group of people, probably several dozen in number,
being held away from the building by a line or policemen.

"Wonder how many murders they've had in Little Rock so far this year," he said.
"Bet they didn't get this kind of attention."

Jessica looked up from her phone.

"Forty-two so far" she said. "And the year's barely half over."

"And Little Rock isn't even a really big city, like Chicago or even St. Louis."

"Not that it matters," Jessica said. "We know from experience that for at
least a couple of years now, these things have been staged by rent-a-mob types,
transporting the participants in from out of town in most cases - there'll be
more tomorrow, once they get them in from Memphis, Houston, wherever. Even St.
Louis. And they'll keep it up until they get what they want, and if they don't
get it immediately the rioting will start. Looting and burning, the usual.

"That's why we, our leaders especially, have such a grim view of the future.
There's practically no hope of a societal or political solution, and no reason
to believe that will change without some major disaster, and even then it
would be exploited by the government to tighten their grip, while the sheeple
become even more frightened and will go along with anything. The only
disaster that will do any good will be the one we create."

They watched for a while longer, but it looked as if there would not be much
change for a while.

"It's getting late," she said. "Guess we should get some sleep. Wilderness
hiking tomorrow."

As they got up they both turned towards the space between their chairs, face
to face and almost close enough to touch. Jessica closed the distance,
reaching down to close her hands around his.

"Darrell, I'm glad you're here. This has been a lonely business for quite
a while."

"Yeah, I can see how it would be."

"I know you've had a rough time, of a different kind. I hope you're healing."

"I died seven years ago," he said. "They took my life but left my body
breathing. There was no reason for me to live except revenge."

"Is there another reason now?"

"You gave me one, and it's enough."

"We've been walking on eggshells at times," she said. "At least I have, and
you seem to be at times as well. It's all right to have feelings again, if
you can let yourself do it. And I'm not the boss's daughter, or anything like
that. You're a member of the team. And a friend."

Carter was only a couple of inches taller than she, and leaning in, slightly
on her toes, she kissed him. A quick kiss, not passionate or lingering, but
with obviously something that had been held in check for a while. He put his
arms around her and held her briefly before letting to.

"We probably should get to bed," he said. "Good night."

"Good night," she said, turning to go.

The next day was spent in the woods, split into several groups they entered the
forests covering most of the hills. The main objective was a combination of
physical conditioning and woodcraft. They followed an instructor deep into
the woods, and then tried to find their way back without help. Jessica and
several others had been on these excursions before, and had little trouble,
while Carter discovered that his experiences had not prepared him for this,
and he would have been in trouble alone. Once among the hundreds of square
miles of trees, with no trail, he doubted he could had found his way back to
the rendezvous point after they had been walking for a few minutes.

They wore boots with trousers tucked in, as they were likely to encounter snakes.
They didn't see any, but their guide assured them they were present. He
wasn't excited about the idea of encountering one, but Jessica assured him the
only way to get bitten was to step on one, hence the boots, or to deliberately
touch it which, strangely enough, some foolish people had been known to do.

Their guide was a member of the freehold, a young man in one of the Nine
families. He was, like most of the Niners, as he thought of them, young -
probably mid twenties. He seemed to have spent a good deal of time outdoors,
his skin deeply tanned and with a generally robust appearance. Carter had
worked with him in the close combat exercises, and was impressed with his
speed and agility for his stout build.

"Not out here though," she told him. "City people on vacation do stuff like that."

"Thanks," he said.

"You're not a city person now," she said, smiling. "You'll be a country boy
before you know it."

"Even when I was a city person I knew not to pick up a snake," he said.

"Believe it or not," she said, "it happens."

"Well," he said "considering the state of society, I'm not surprised."

"That's why we're in the situation we're in. The big cities aren't just hives
of crime and corruption, they're in a precarious situation in the event of any
disruption of normal processes. The food supply in even the smaller cities,
is only good for a few days. If the highways, bridges, even some of them,
were cut off you would have people desperate for food almost immediately. The
stores would be stripped clean in the initial panic, and if the supply was not
restored immediately - well, we wouldn't want to be there."

"Yeah," Carter said. "What do we think would happen?"

"Well, you have riots and city blocks burned down - after being looted, of
course - when a career criminal gets killed by a cop, a few tens or hundreds
of thousands of people without food, use your imagination."

They had come to a small stream, and as they crossed, walking on slippery rocks,
they held hands in a chain to prevent falls. When they had all crossed their
guide called a halt.

"One thing to remember, if you're lost in the woods, a stream can be useful if
you happen to come across one. Follow it. If you don't have a compass or don't
know which direction to go even with one, and if you're in hilly country, go
downhill. Roads, and eventually people, will more likely be found downhill.
And streams run downhill. And if you're lost without any prospects for rescue,
downhill is the way to go anyway."

The hike continued, and eventually they descended a hill overlooking a lake.
It didn't look like one of the ones they had seen while Tracy and Jessica were
showing him around.

"There are five lakes, or very large ponds," Jessica told him. "and probably a
dozen or so smaller ponds made by building a dam across a small valley or a
low area. Aside from being a source of water and food in emergencies, think
of the things you could hide by sinking them in a deep lake, one that you
control access to."

"Are any of the lakes deep?" Carter asked.

"The big ones are. A couple of them are probably a hundred feet or more in

Carter could see how effective that could be. Even if a lake was suspected of
being a hiding place, it would take some work to find the goods, unless the
exact location was known. With enormous bins full of grain, lakes in remote
mountains, he wondered how many hiding places there were, and of what kind and
what was in them. Weapons, certainly, and other supplies.

"I suppose if you wanted to hide a person, underwater wouldn't be a good place."

"Not likely," said Jessica, smiling. "Still thinking about where to hide a renegade?

"I suppose a good system of safe houses would help," he said. "I would guess
something like that exists."

"Of course. The trick with keeping someone safe is discipline. Any
relaxation or slip in protocols and procedures can give you away. And the
person being kept hidden must be able to adhere to that discipline. That's
why a lot of the people put in witness protection blow their cover, and some
of them just can't handle it and get out."

"I wonder if we couldn't do as well or better, given our resources."

"Probably, but it would depend on the candidate."

"Yeah, always does."

The trek went slowly due to the near absence of trails, requiring the hikers
to tread slowly, often stopping to avoid low-hanging branches or other
obstacles. At a pace of probably less than a mile per hour, Carter could see
how difficult it would be for anyone, especially a stranger, to move around.
He suspected the locals could probably do quite well on their own in areas
they visited frequently. A guerilla war in places such as this would favor
the defenders. Given the degree of determination he saw in everyone he met,
along with their competence, if things came to a full-blown war, it would be a
bloody one.

About four hours in Roger called a halt, and most of the group sat down or
leaned against trees. They had stopped a couple of times for a ten minute or
so rest, but most were fairly tired, and they still had to retrace their steps
to get back.

"Anyone know where we are?" Roger asked as they prepared to return.

No one did, even Jessica and a couple of others who had been on such
excursions before, had an idea. The woods all looked the same. Even Roger
took out his phone to check their position before starting.

"As you can see," he said, "even I need some help getting around here. One and
a half square miles is a lot of territory, and probably three fourths of it is
tree-covered hills. Even we who live here can get lost, so you can imagine
how much trouble intruders would have."

The walk back seemed easier, probably because food and rest awaited them at
the end. Roger had passed out military web belts, each with a couple of
canteens, partly for the feel of carrying some gear, and the water would be
needed even though the weather was not especially hot. Still, the quart
containers were mostly empty by the time they got back.

They arrived with time to go their cabins and clean up before the evening meal,
something Jessica, even with her experience, seemed to appreciate.

"If things get really bad someday," she said when he commented, "we'll do what
we have to do. For now, I'm going to enjoy civilization while it's still here."

He had noticed that seemed to be the prevailing attitude. Women and men and alike were
always clean and in fresh outfits every morning, and all looked like average
suburban or small-town middle class types or, he thought, at least the way
they used to look. Even among the ex-military types he saw no tattoos, much
less on the civilians. And not a piercing in sight, except the earrings the
women wore and there were not many of those, likely due to the nature of the
outing. He wondered if any of the generations replacing his were anything
like that.

As before, there was a small gathering for a couple of beers after the meal,
and he made a couple of new acquaintances. Having now met most of them, he
saw a pattern - quite a few ex-military and law enforcement, several family
members of the Nine, and a few regular citizens recruited he knew not how, but
evidently had passed the vetting process.

Later, in their cabin, they turned on the news again to check the progress of
events in Little Rock. As expected, the trouble was beginning. Or from the
look of it, well underway.

"Looks like they've got it going," Carter said. The current video was showing
a crowd like the night before, only the dozens were now hundreds. At this
point there were no apparent fires, and the scene seemed relatively calm.

"It may be a while before the professional agitators arrive," said Jessica.
"Little Rock isn't a prominent target, like LA and New York, or even
Minneapolis or Portland They'll have to load up some of the organizers and
probably some loads of equipment. Probably St. Louis will the staging point,
so it's a short drive. If the past is any indicator, they should have it
going today, tomorrow at the latest."

At this point the 'equipment' was a few large signs that looked like poster
board. "Justice for De'Andre" was demanded by a couple of them, while another
demanded that someone 'stop killing us', and the other usual signage.

"I'd have to guess they are going to make it a big one," said Carter. "It is a
little off the beaten path and not very big, but it looks like no opportunity
is being missed. I'm guessing the local government isn't such that it won't
get ugly."

"I wouldn't think so," Jessica said. "It's like St. Louis and Kansas City,
and most other big cities. Essentially, they're on the side of the rioters.
There seems to be a hatred of normal people, and of course normal people don't
operate that way, and they aren't offering any resistance."

"Sometimes," said Carter, "it looks like our only chance is that when they
finally get it broken enough to take over, they will find that they can't
control it. That might give us some breathing room."

"We'll do our best to make that happen," said Jessica, "if it doesn't happen on
its own. Or even if it does, anything we can do to make it worse. The police
forces, most likely augmented by military force, can be kept busy in the cities,
too busy to be grabbing our weapons and supplies. Or trying to."

"That would certainly be helpful."

Not much developed before they went to bed. He was wondering what was about
to happen as Jessica stopped, facing him.

"As they say," she said "About last night..."

"It's OK," he said. He grinned. "If you're planning a repeat performance, I'm
up for it."

She smiled, put her arms around his neck and kissed him. "Good night."

The fourth day of the event featured a meeting with several senior members of
the Freeholders, followed by discussion groups by the participants. Tracy and
Chris introduced Carter to their father, one of five members of the Nine in
attendance. He was, like most everyone Carter met, an affable person, not
given to excessive speech - another characteristic of freeholders. Tracy took
Carter around and introduced him to everyone he hadn't met, and then the group
seated themselves at the various tables in the room, about five or six to a
table. Carter went with Jessica, and found himself with one of the ex-
military men, a young woman named Jerri from Texas and a man named Dan who
had come with her. Almost all the attendees had come in pairs, a few in threes.

Jerri was quite young, Carter guessed just in her mid-twenties. Except for
the ex-military men most were older, at least into their thirties. Jerri's
entrance into the organization it seemed, had been influence of her older half-
brother who, due to her father remarrying after is wife died, was much older.
Eleven years, in fact, she said. When she was in college and found herself
the object of attempted brainwashing by most of her professors, she discussed
it with brother, as she thought of him, and their discussions, against the
backdrop or a disintegrating society, had led to her joining him and their
father in the Freehold. Mark, the half-brother, was a computer science major
and between that and being older, he had missed some of the indoctrination was
was aware of it.

Their freehold was, like many, in a rural area. Their family and a dozen or
so others had purchased a large tract of land some distance from Waco. They
were aware of the events at Waco, even though Mark was a child then and Jerri
was not yet born. Their father had told them about it from memory, pointing
out the inaccuracies in the supposedly official accounts. While he considered
the people foolish for drawing attention to themselves, the murderous attack
by the government forces, and the reasons for it, were beyond reprehensible -
they were downright evil.

Thus his own motivations in helping organize the freehold were those that all
of them embraced - remaining unseen until the time to act was at hand. He and
the small group he organized had built a small settlement on the 140 acres of
land they had purchased, first dividing the land into smaller tracts of five
to ten acres, then building houses for themselves. As new members arrived they
were awarded properties under a contract that enabled them to dispense with
any that did not work out. Due to the their careful recruitment it had never
been necessary. There were now about forty houses for the seventy or so
members. Many were older people, mostly men but a few married couples, who
did not have to work. A few others were self-employed at various occupations.
A certain amount of money was provided by the Council, collected from the very
wealthy freeholds, for services provided.

Those services included secure storage of assets, mostly weapons and other
equipment, but also caches of gold and silver. Mark worked with members of
other freeholds in cyberoperations, primarily working at finding ways to
penetrate and if necessary, sabotage government computer operations. They
were at any time aware of such avenues, undiscovered by others and thus not
revealed to potential targets. Operatives like Mark also, working with their
counterparts around the country, provided secure and impenetrable
communications channels.

Jerri, he learned, worked for the government. As in the federal government,
in the federal building in Waco. Working in the IRS office she drew a good
paycheck while spying on them. Not that she would be useful in the short term
as there wasn't much interest in what an IRS office in Waco was doing, she was
in regular contact with other federal employees from other agencies, and the
amount of useful gossip that she picked up in the normal course of work was
surprising. Or maybe it wasn't - government employees often weren't the
smartest people. In any case Carter found it amusing, although he already
knew that they had spies embedded in various areas of government.

He hoped Jerri was up to the task. She seemed a very unremarkable person,
aside from being very attractive but not much more than most other women. Probably
the main key to not getting caught was in not asking questions, or
unauthorized acts in her work. He suspected that their undercover
operatives were not going to take risks, rather they would be more like
sleeper agents, to act when 'the time' arrived.

Their former military companion, Gordon, was a one-time enlistee in the army.
Just out of school and almost as naive as most young men, he signed up for six
years, figuring a shorter enlistment wasn't going to be long enough to learn
much, and he wanted to get as much paid-for education as possible. While he
became disillusioned very early, he decided to make the best of it. He had
grown up in rural Kentucky and was already an expert shot with a rifle and not
bad with a handgun. He easily got into sniper school and excelled.

Exiting the army, he spent several months trying to figure out what to do with
his life, deciding to acquire a trade that buy groceries reliably. He went to
welding school and soon had a lucrative job, working as much overtime as he
could stand and piling up money in the bank, but unable to kill the uneasy
feeling that he was living a purposeless life.

One of his colleagues was involved in a group that, while they did not know it,
was set up for the purpose of recruiting for the freeholder organization.
They kept the organization clean, never allowing any illegal activities or
doing anything to attract unwanted attention. The most suitable members were
approached with invitations. They remained in contact with the group without
revealing their new affiliation, thus providing access to other potential
resisters without revealing themselves.

Having been through sniper training, Gordon asked Carter about his experience.

"I noticed you did pretty well on the range," he said. "Most people don't
shoot that well at 400. Much long range experience?"

"Not much," Carter replied. "The guys on the SWAT teams of course had sniper
training, but I don't know how much. I had the minimum exposure, which was
silhouettes and a couple hundred yards."

He hadn't told them how he came to stop being a cop, and most people probably
thought he had just quit. Thus far no one had connected him with the affair,
even knowing his name.

"You'd probably be pretty good at it," Gordon said. "I've shot at the
thousand yard ranges, we have a couple of them out in Texas and Arizona where
there's a lot of room."

"I used to wonder if I could shoot someone from cover, if they weren't an
immediate threat. But you don't have to be pointing a gun at me to be a threat.
I can see that now."

"Yeah," Gordon said. "I presumed that in war, killing an enemy soldier would be
no problem no matter how far away he was. But in other cases... I suppose by
the time it came to that I would be ready."

"One thing," Jessica said, "is that the first shots will have been fired by the
enemy before we start. In fact they already have, and still are. By the
time we have to act, there will be no doubt in anyone's mind."

After lunch they formed new groups, and this time he and Jessica shared a
table with an older couple in their forties, a young man from Texas, and
another ex-military, this one an older man named Harry who turned out to be a
retired army master sergeant. He had been in the middle east three times
before he finally tired of the stupidity, he said.

"I lost my brother there," Jessica said. The old soldier looked down at the
table for a few seconds before responding.

"I'm sorry," he said. "That's the really evil part of it, all those young men
dying, and in the end we accomplished nothing. Like Vietnam. And don't think
it won't happen again. Especially now, the mess the government's in now, they
might start something for a distraction.

"I suppose in Vietnam they may have actually thought it was the right thing, but they
sure went about it the wrong way. And in the middle east, we had a president
who may have had good intentions, but his advisers certainly didn't. That's
the advantage the dictators have over us -- they're in charge permanently,
until they die or are deposed. Changing government every few years, sometimes
the balance of power changes in as little as two years, there's no consistency
even if the war was justified."

"Have you had any military experience?" Jessica asked the young Texan, whose
name was Michael.

"No," he said. "I only saw it on television, but it looked the way Harry
described it, like the joke about insanity continuing to do the same thing and
expecting a different result. The scary thing was, this is our government
doing it, stupidity or incompetence or whatever you think it is, on a huge
scale. And these people control our destiny."

The couple were Christi and Sam, from Idaho. Carter knew that part of the
country was a popular destination for 'preppers' and other people who shared
their outlook. Their organization, like many, was small and composed of a
number of families with some relatives and friends. They operated a small
used car lot and garage, and most of the other members either had jobs in
nearby Twin Falls while others were retired.

Jessica asked about their knowledge of the people moving to Idaho in
anticipation of coming troubles. They both laughed.

"That's what most of us are," said Christi. "What was it when we started, Sam?
About twenty or so. We were just some prepper types that got together a group
that had virtually no disagreements on anything except favorite beverages.
Over the past five or six years, we've about doubled in size, almost all from
recent arrivals."

As Carter was beginning to learn, there were a lot of small freeholds like
theirs, and they would be an important part of the resistance if it came to
that. Or almost certainly, when it came. He asked about the situation in
Little Rock.

"It looks to be going the same as usual," said Sam. "They've found what
works, and they'll keep doing it. I suspect that last night they were just
waiting for the professional agitators to show up, with their hired mob."

"No doubt they'll keep it up as long as it works," said Harry, "and these
cities are not going to change on their own. And the worse it gets, they're
guaranteed to continue having these kind of incidents, at an increasing rate."

"It wouldn't take much to shut these down," Michael said, "if you could get some
operatives in there, break it up, and get out without getting caught."

"As in, the police will instantly arrest anyone who interferes with the rioters."
said Sam. "You'd be fighting the 'law' and the rioters."

"Yeah," said Michael. "But you get say, two dozen good men in there, bust it up,
and disappear. Since they'd be coming in from out of town and leaving afterwards, if
they couldn't be identified they won't be caught. The trick is the in and out,
along with not getting killed in the process, or taking down a cop. That
would really ruin it."

"So," Harry said, "you take in a strike force, well trained and well equipped,
go in fast and hard, inflict some casualties, and get out."

"What sort of casualties?" asked Carter. "We're talking non-lethal, right?"

"Of course," Harry replied. "Flash-bangs, pepper spray dispensers, rubber ball
grenades -- stuff to inflict pain. Not only are these people cowards, most
especially the organizers, but once they are hurt their enthusiasm diminishes
quickly. And of course, if a cop accidentally gets hit..."

"So if you did something like that, probably a couple of times would stop it,"
said Carter, "They'd have to try something else. But how much good would it
do in the end?"

"Not much. It might slow the rate at which the feds move in on taking over
local law enforcement," said Michael. "It might be better to let the
deterioration continue. Trouble in the cities means they've got less time to
come after us."

"It might be worthwhile to do it, just to confuse them," Michael said. "We
could blame it on right-wing extremist white supremacists, the usual. Only if
they can't catch any of them..."

"They'll make something up, as usual," said Harry.

"Darrell and I were discussing another angle." said Jessica. "It's likely they'll
sacrifice another cop or two, and that's something that should stop."

"What did you have in mind?" asked Harry.

"What if," Carter asked, "whoever the unlucky cop is, he's charged with some
kind of murder, looking at going to prison for a while in view of past events.
Of course it will take a while to get to the trial, so we'd have plenty of
time to plan. We go get him, if he's willing, and hide him. Kind of like the
witness protection program the government uses."

"There would be the mother of all manhunts," said Harry.

"No doubt," Carter agreed. "But with our network and hiding places, we could
make sure he would never be found."

"We'd have to get clearance from the Council for any operations like these,"
Harry said.

"I believe if they're willing to take any early action, before the big day,"
said Carter, "it might be something like this."

"My father is a member of the Council," said Jessica. "They have a meeting in
a couple of weeks. I'll talk to him and see what he thinks."

Carter awoke to a brief moment of panic as he realized something was different.
It subsided quickly as he remembered he wasn't in his bed. He looked over at
Jessica, still sleeping quietly.

When they returned to the cabin the evening before, he took a shower and
dressed in his usual manner, to find Jessica sitting in one of the chairs,
also as usual in pajamas. She turned off the television and stood up, moving
toward him.

"Screw the news," she said, putting her arms around his neck, then she let
go and took his hand and led him towards her room.

He supposed it had been inevitable and they had been avoiding dealing with it
for a while. So much of his life had been been controlled by others for a
long time. He was put in prison by a corrupt political system, then recruited
by a organization he would have never believed existed, and had generally not
taken much time to analyze any of it. She had dedicated her life to an organization
that must remain secret and thus limiting contact with the outside world. Looking into her eyes he thought he saw
a reflection of his own isolation.

*   *   *   *   *  

He wondered what time it was but did not have his phone and there was no clock,
Jessica's was on the nightstand on the other
side of the bed, so he closed his eyes and lay quietly, as he had done so many
times when he awoke in his prison cell in the early hours, waiting for the
noise of the day to begin. After a while her phone screen illuminated as the
alarm sounded. She turned to face him, smiling almost shyly, it seemed.

"Big day," she said. "Graduation."

"Did I pass?" he asked.

"Of course, silly. You wouldn't be here if you hadn't passed the test a long
time ago. These sessions are just opportunities to stay in shape, sharpen our
tools, so to speak. And meet some of our comrades-in-arms. Today we'll spend
some time just socializing, mostly a day with no shop talk, although for most
of us that's not easy to do."

Getting out of bed, he collected his clothes and went over to his room to get
ready. Jessica wasn't yet ready when he emerged, and he sat down to check the
news. As expected, the event in Little Rock was well underway. Someone representing the oppressed-
peoples-of-the-moment was ranting into the newsperson's microphone, and the
mob had grown, with more and larger signs. And more cops, now forming a dense
line in front of them, just a few feet apart. They looked uneasy, and with
good reason. They knew what was coming as well as anyone.

He didn't know who the representative of the aggrieved was, there were so many
of them these days and they all looked pretty much alike. The screen split,
leaving the mob on one side and introducing some sort of local official, from
the looks of it. It was soon identified as a spokesperson for the mayor's office, with the
usual verbiage. Urge the citizens to remain calm, let justice take its course.
See, we're trying to keep this calm. When the place starts to burn it's not
our fault.

Jessica had come out and was watching. She didn't say anything, watching
until a commercial break.

"Anything on the cop?" she asked.

"Nothing. Probably be a while. The riots are more fun for them."

They went over the building with the dining facility. Most of the attendees
were already, partaking of a continental breakfast and talking in pairs or
small groups. Others walked around outside, enjoying the pleasant weather.
By time for dinner, a little earlier than usual, perhaps to allow a few more
adult beverages afterward, Carter had met most, if not all, of the others.

Afterwards, he and Jessica went back to prepare for an early departure.
Before going to bed they watched the news again for a while before going to bed.
After a while, they lay quietly with mostly their own thoughts and little talk.
It seemed to Carter that he would never fall asleep, but eventually he did.

The next morning they left early, before most of the others. Jessica told him
the departures would be staggered so there would not be a large number of
vehicles leaving together. There was no sign that the area was under
surveillance, and it most likely was not, but extra caution, sometimes
approaching paranoia, was standard procedure.

He noticed it, as he had before, just after they were back on a paved road for
the first time. They passed a small community, no more than a handful of
houses but large enough to have a small store and gas station. As they
approached, a highway patrol car was parked in front of the store, and as soon
as they passed it turned out of the parking area onto the highway behind them.
He noticed Jessica kept her eyes on the mirror as it came up behind them. He
did not look back, knowing that if the cop wasn't already suspicious he would
be. The car approached slowly, and for a while it seemed he was going to
follow them, but after a couple of minutes he passed and soon left them behind.

"Definitely checking on us," Jessica said. "He was on the radio."

"You get that much?" he asked.

"Not a lot," she replied. "Of course I don't make a lot of long
trips. Mostly over to Saint Joe now and then, once in a
while down to the KC and Springfield areas. I would guess he was interested in the vehicle - it's
pretty old but a cop would pick up on the fact that it's in new-looking,
even when it's dirty. The downside to using these old vehicles."

"What happens when they get rid of gas-burners?" he asked. "They would do it
today if they could."

"Yeah, they would. It's a question of whether everything goes to hell and we
have the big one before then. I suspect it'll be close."

They stopped south of Springfield and refueled, then resumed the drive home.
As always, Jessica kept her eyes on the road and the mirror. Carter thought
about the situation in Little Rock.

"I guess we're looking at more of the same down in Little Rock," he said. "There's
not much we can do about it, except maybe save the cop. I hate to see that
happen even one more time."

"I can only guess at how you feel," said Jessica. "You're one of the few who
can understand it. That's why it may be hard to get any kind of operation for
that. The Council is looking at the big picture. Still, it would be fairly
easy to do, and with little exposure for us. Maybe they'll go for it. Got any
ideas on how it would get done?"

"Sure," he said, grinning. "It could be a piece of cake if done right. And I
have no doubt we can do it right."

"Dad's going to the Council meeting week after next. We'll have time to
discuss it with him."

They were still some distance from when they decided to stop for lunch. It
was the first time in a while they had eaten together without anyone else around, and
Jessica seemed to enjoy it, almost like they were on a date. He wondered if
she was thinking about their relationship and what it portended. She
apparently was, or was reading his thoughts.

"Are you good with everything?" she asked.

"If you are," he said.

"What I said about not being the boss's daughter. Whatever sort of
relationship I have is fine with Dad. We all trust each other completely."

"That's good," he said. "I have no reservations. When I signed
on this became my life, and I don't see it changing."

"I know quite a bit about you, your life before," she said. "Tommy had to
tell us everything he knew before we could decide whether to invite you. So I
know you never married, you have a brother and a sister, and your parents are
still living"

"Yeah," he said. "I guess that may be the hardest part. They were proudest
of me - my brother banged around from job to job, my sister got married and
moved to Colorado, we rarely heard from her. I asked Mom and Dad not to visit
me, I didn't want anyone... anyone I cared for to see me like that. I told
them it would only be a few years. Which I guess has turned out to not be true.
They have no idea what happened to me, and I don't know if they ever will."

"Maybe someday you can get a message to them, let them know you're around. I
don't know. And I don't know how you deal with knowing they're getting old
and need their children. It's a tough deal."

"Well, anyway," he grinned. "I dropped a few hints about what would happen
when I got out, to certain people. Maybe they're wondering, now that I'm out
and no one has any idea where I went."

"If you're wondering what happened to my marriage," she said, "I was a dumb
young kid once, the kind that wanted to be a cheerleader and date the
quarterback. Which I did, and it took a lot less than the almost three years
we were married to figure what a jerk he was."

"You ever see him after the divorce?" asked Carter.

"No, he moved to Saint Joe right after. I guess some of the problem was that
I didn't want to leave and he didn't want to stay around a small town. We
were both kids, got married right after school. Should have waited. Anyway,
I got involved with Dad's political activities, and lost my brother just after
that. So the freehold became my life."

They left the restaurant and resumed their trip. A short time later they left
the highway for the road to the farm. Jessica drove up to the main house,
where another Trailblazer was parked.

"Looks like Tommy's here," Jessica said. "Let's go in and say hello."

Tommy was indeed there, chatting with Donald and Gordon. Jessica gave each a
quick hug, and they all greeted Carter.

"Welcome home," said Tommy. "Have a good time?"

"Very," Carter replied. "Quite impressive."

"Dinner is at the usual time," Donald said. "Plenty of time to get unloaded
and cleaned up. I think Tommy is the only one who enjoys long trips."

"OK," Jessica said. "We'll see you in a while."

Dinner with grandfather Campbell was as usual, not especially fancy but
no expense spared for quality. The roast beef was better than anything he had ever
experienced, the other dishes equally so. He wondered where it came from.

"There are several small farms around, quite a few nationwide, where people
grow their own livestock and have it processed with small operators," Donald
told him. "They take them the cows, hogs, whatever and have it cut up and
packaged to their specifications. So it has natural food, no chemicals. We
get most of our fruits and vegetables the same way, from small farmers who
only sell direct to the consumer."

Carter remembered that much of the food and Charlie Niner was locally produced
or came from other freeholds. He already knew that they traded among
themselves, whether food, weapons and equipment, or facilities for training.

"If what I've seen so far is any indication," Carter said, "you're a lot
better off that about ninety percent of the country if things fall apart

"There's a pretty good chance our network could survive," Donald said, "somewhere close to
indefinitely, as long as no one has the ability to attack us on a scale that
only the government can, and they'll be too busy with that ninety percent.
Cities full of people who weren't civilized to begin with suddenly deprived of
the basic needs - what will they do?"

"It's entirely possible," said Gordon, "that we may go into a period of chaos
like that seen in so many smaller countries, constant warfare between various
groups, a government that essentially does nothing except try to put out fires,
or what it perceives as fires. The question is whether one of the big enemy
states - China or Russia - will try to take over, or just wait and see."

"An attempted takeover would have the same problems the current government has,
I would think," Donald said. "Except they would be far from home with people
shooting at them from every window and tree. I wonder if those governments
even have a plan, or if they believe the status quo won't be disturbed, and
they can continue exploiting us."

"Once it breaks down, though," Jessica said, "we won't be such a lucrative
buyer for China. I have to wonder what will happen."

"That," said Gordon, "is the question we have to deal with in deciding when to
move. We often think of that time coming when the confiscation of weapons,
the detention camps being populated - what if it is just a collapse on such a
scale that the machine grinds to a halt. Manufacturing and transportation
greatly curtailed or stopped almost completely, the populations of the inner
cities doing whatever they will do..."

He left it hanging there.

"So do we act earlier?" Donald asked. "We know now that the election process
is unlikely to recover. It's gone too far. They don't have to start rounding
up dissenters and guns right away - just grind everything down gradually. That's
what they're good at."

"I suppose we should shut up for a while and have dessert," said Gordon. "Mary's
going to be disappointed if we don't - I suspect there's a cherry pie
or two involved."

As if on cue, probably because she was listening in the kitchen, Mary entered
with a large, freshly baked cherry pie balanced on each hand. Expertly
setting them on down on the table, she returned to the kitchen and came back
with a large bowl of ice cream.

Mary and her husband Dalton were longtime employees of the elder Campbell, with Mary
overseeing the house and Dalton taking care of the grounds.
While Mary cooked, her main job was managing the upkeep of the house with
various hired personnel, while Dalton oversaw the grounds maintenance and
other outdoor duties. Their main job was seeing to it that they came and did
the work and left, and didn't do any snooping. Although there was never
anything to be seen or overheard.

After dinner they went outside behind the house and sat down around a large
round table, away from the house and under a group of very large mimosa trees
trees. They were in full bloom and the delicate scent filled the air. The
house was safe enough for talking, but getting a listening device could be done,
if they were targeted. Every week or so a technician from a freehold just off
the I-70 corridor between St. Louis and Kansas City stopped by and checked
for bugs.

He ran a small technology consulting company in nearby Columbia, with clients in
the two larger cities. He and his wife and two sons were, with about a half
dozen other families and several individual members, populated a small village
well off the nearest major highway. They had houses on large lots of several
acres, with a jointly owned area used for raising large crops of vegetables
and a small chicken farm. All the properties were contiguous, and
the area around them was all farm fields, so they had near perfect privacy.
Several of the members had businesses or jobs in nearby Columbia, which was a
city large enough to provide whatever they needed from civilization, which
wasn't much.

"So, Darrell," Donald began. "What do you have?"

Here goes, he thought. They haven't carried out or even planned an operation
yet, and here I am about to tell them they should do something. But he was
committed, and had been from the beginning.

"We all know what's going on down in Little Rock," he said. "I expect it will
go like most of these have so far - they toss a cop or two overboard to stop
the riots. I've been there, seenin another innocent cop from having
his life destroyed is... I'm more sensitive to this because of
my experience, but if it goes this way it will be a perfect opportunity for,
say, a shot across the bow.

"Here's the general idea. They indict one or more, probably more to be have the best
chance of conviction. Not that it will be difficule there. It's months, maybe close to a year until the trial. Presuming the guy is willing, we
take him out of there, hide him where he can't be found. We have the resources
to do it, and it's less exposure than sending in a strike force against the
rioters. We're looking at a small team to get him out and into a safe house.
From there is just a matter of keeping him safe, permanently. We have plenty
of places for him to stay, once he has a new identity and appearance changes -
the only they can find him is to get close enough to get fingerprints or DNA.
And if he's one of us, he won't have that exposure."

"If he's one of us," said Donald. "Do you think we should do it only on the
condition he does join us, and is suitable?"

"Absolutely," Carter replied. "I don't like the idea of leaving him to his fate,
but he would have to be recruitable, and willing."

"We'd have time to evaluate, and work on him," said Tommy. "He'd have to
understand he would be giving up his old life completely. Of course, what
they'll do to him on a murder charge - he knows the same things we know. He'll
most likely be willing enough. And with months of time, we can decide whether
we want him in. Of course, if he's not a good fit, we could give him a
fighting chance on his own."

"We'd have to find a way to do that without revealing our existence," said
Donald. "But is seems doable."

He looked at Gordon.

"We have to move sometime," Gordon said. "We've discussed operations to break
up some of the riots, inflict some pain on the participants. If we do that we
will almost certainly have conflict with law enforcement, and in all these
situations, or almost all, they have orders to let the rioters go and arrest
anyone who interferes. Even motorists who try do drive away with these people on
top of their cars, are being prosecuted. As for this being a shot across the
bow, as Darrell says, it would be a good way to start, since we can avoid
exposure. Once we start sending strike forces against the rioters that won't be
so easy."

"Getting him out, to a hiding place, should be easy," Carter said. "He won't
be watched closely, particularly if he doesn't raise any red flags. And he's
likely to be wearing a monitor. That's easy enough to remove when the time
comes, and he could be long gone before anyone notices. I would think we need
to get him far away, quickly, to a safe house. What are the prospects for
flying him to say, Nebraska or somewhere. Apparently we have air transport

"We should be able to do that," said Donald. "We have a fair number of privately owned aircraft,
A few with considerable range and capacity, and even a
couple of helicopters, which could prove useful."

"So," Carter said "we remove the tracker, if there is one, drive him out to a
small airport, and in a matter of a couple of hours he's in a safe house, in
some place he has no known connection to - no family or other acquaintances,
never lived or visited there. When they finally notice he's gone, they've no
idea where he is or how to find him."

"Well," said Donald "we'll have to get it approved. I suspect quite a few on
the council will approve. We're pretty much all in favor of some probes
before we get to the breaking point. This would give us a chance to put some
of our practice to use. The Council week meets after next. If we get
clearance to go ahead, we can start planning."

Carter spent the next week with Jessica and Tommy, most of it at her house
making plans. He wondered how Tommy was affected by his relationship with
Jessica -- if he didn't already know that they were spending their nights
together, he would sooner or later. When he brought it up she laughed.

"I've wondered if he didn't recruit you because he wanted me to have someone,"
she told him. "Tommy is like a brother to me, and while he doesn't show much
emotion about anything, kind of like you, he loves me and Dad like family, and
he thinks a lot of you too.

"If you're wondering about his love life -- well, I don't know any details but
he always has a girlfriend, or maybe more than one at any given time, on the
outside. He's not running any risks, he has the necessary discipline not to
let anything slip. As far as they know he's just a guy who works at the farm
and sees them on weekends."

They were in Jessica's office, an unused bedroom containing not much more than
a table with a couple of computers and several chairs. The sound of the door
from the garage announced Tommy's arrival, and a few seconds later he entered
the room.

"Let me get some coffee," he said "You guys need any?"

"We're good," Jessica replied.

Tommy sat down at the end of the table, with Jessica on one side and Carter on
the other. She had spread a large sheet of poster board on the table, and
several pens and pencils lay about. Carter had drawn two small circles on the board
and marked them 'here' and 'LR'. A rough outline of the states of Missouri
and Arkansas surrounded the two marks.

"So, I guess the first order of business is the flight," Carter said. "Ditch
the tracker, if there is one, and leave town quickly. I'm guessing that even
without a monitor, he'll be watched -- how carefully we don't know. I'd guess
there would be status checks several times a day, the assumption being that he
can't get far in a couple of hours. So it would be a good idea to make his
departure unseen, if possible. We'll know more once we contact him, see where
he's staying, and case the area."

"All right then," Jessica said. "So where to we pick up the action? Once he's
safely away from town, with no followers?"

"I'd say so," Carter replied. "There would be a pickup point, and we go from there.
The reason I asked about air assets was because the fastest way to get him far
away quickly is by air. You know of anything near central Arkansas?"

"There are quite a few private airstrips," Jessica replied, "mostly used by
farmers. I know there's a group of farmers in Arkansas, mostly in the
northeast down into the central area, that make up the Brave Shield freehold.
About a dozen, with big rice farms. Big as in thousands of acres. Some of these
guys own crop dusting businesses, and fly their personal
aircraft from the crop dusting facilities."

"Are any of those among our air assets?" asked Tommy.

Jessica looked at her computer.

"I don't see anything, official, in Arkansas. Wait, Bronze Bull. It's a small
group of wealthy old retired men, lot of military officers. Near Hot Springs,
which is further south... let me see."

She consulted a map.

"It's southeast of Little Rock. Anyway, some of the guys are former pilots,
mostly Air Force I suppose, and several have airplanes. If that works, we'd
need a landing place."

"How are you figuring this?" asked Tommy.

"Small aircraft that could use the farmers' airstrips -- a Cessna 172 or
something like that..."

"Wait," said Carter. "Look at the map. Pick a location up in this area. Do we
have a connection up in this area, where an aircraft could land, refuel if
necessary, and fly back to Hot Springs?"

"Just a second... OK, over near Pittsburgh, Kansas. Just over the state line.
Say you had to fly out a little east of Little Rock, pick up a passenger, fly
to Pittsburgh. We have a contact out there, rich guy with a big estate,
private runway. He's not one of us, but he does things for the right money,
no questions asked. I'm guessing he's not interested in talking about any of
his activities because some at least, may be of questionable legality."

"That looks promising," Carter said. "Who do we know in Kansas? Besides our
contract help?"

"What do you mean?" asked Jessica.

"Where do we hide him after we get him to Kansas?"

"Why not bring him here?" Tommy asked.

Carter looked at Jessica.

"How far is it from here to Pittsburgh?"

"I know its down south." Jessica consulted the computer. "Only a couple of
hundred miles. It's a four hour drive, has to go through Kansas City, or
around it. Which is not a great idea. The main thing we have going for us
is that no one is likely to be looking up here that soon."

"So let's run the scenario," Carter said. "Our guy in Hot Springs flies out
to a ricefield runway in rural Arkansas, sets it down, rolls to a stop,
passenger jumps in, they take off. Fly to Pittsburgh, where the passenger can
deplane under cover of darkness -- this would need to be a night operation --
and we're waiting to pick him up. So far so good. Then it's back over into
Missouri. We get through Kansas City, and the only thing we have to worry
about is a bored highway patrolman stopping us. Or an accident or something. Since they wouldn't have an
APB out so soon, a fake ID for our passenger would be a good idea. We get him
home, stash him on the farm."

"Now we just need to see if all that will work," Tommy said. "We'll need to
confirm our air transport before anything. It's a pretty good ways, so it
will have to have the range and still be small enough to land on a short grass

"OK," said Jessica, making notes on her computer. "Got it. What's next?"

Carter had looked over at the screen.

"I just noticed, that's an odd screen. It isn't a Mac, is it?"

"No," said Jessica. "Or Windows either. It's Linux. Something techies use.
At least the smartest ones, apparently. Grant, our tech wizard, sets up our
systems. It's possible to completely secure these machines, the encrypted
files can't be read without the passwords, and they're very difficult to
penetrate, even if you have network access."

"Impressive," Carter said. "Does the government know about this stuff? Just

"Of course. They use it for their most secure systems. The trick is, they
still can't crack it, if it's set up right, even though they know what it is.
Kind of like the one-time pad in cryptology. It doesn't do any good to
intercept a message, even though you know or suspect how it was encoded,
without the key."

"OK, back to business. Looks like maybe four to five hundred air
miles a from Little Rock to Pittsburgh. There are small planes that can do
that, one way, without refueling. I'm not sure about a round trip. We do
know it can be refueled in Pittsburgh, though." "So that leaves getting our guest home," said Tommy. "Are you comfortable with just the three of us? We
go in together, he rides back with me. Who's in the lead?"

"Good question," Jessica replied. "I should probably lead. The leader is the one
most likely to be stopped. I'm wondering, though. Should we get some help?"

"If we have trouble in KC," Tommy said, "I don't know if we could have enough.
Out on the highway, a couple more cars could help. But really, our best
chance is not being detected. The usual - no problems with the cars, no
speeding, what we always do."

"You're right about KC," said Jessica. "If we get caught there... well, it won't
be good. Outside the city, in one of the little towns, we can deal with the
locals, if we act quickly."

"How's that?" asked Carter.

"If he ended up in a jail in some small town, we could extricate him, but it
wouldn't be pretty." she said. "And we'd have to move fast -- they'd want him
back in Arkansas as quickly as possible. Probably move him the next day, if
they could process the extradition that fast, or make it a federal case and
have the FBI or marshals come get him. I think our best bet is a four-car
convoy. If something goes wrong, we'll have to make the next move based on
his situation."

"So," Carter said, "the final phase is housing him. If he agrees to go along
with it, he'll know the conditions already. His old life is gone, from now on
he's going to have a rigidly controlled existence in terms of where he goes
and who he associates with. Essentially what we do already. Where does he stay?"

"I'm thinking one of the houses on the north road," Jessica replied. "They're
all empty, so he'll be the only one around. And it's pretty deep into the
property, so getting there unnoticed, for anyone snooping around, won't be easy."

"Well, at least we have a plan," said Carter. "We'll see what your dad thinks."

As they often did, Carter and Jessica, along with Tommy, joined Donald and his
father for dinner on the night before his departure for the Council meeting.
Conducted quarterly, the venue was always at one of the freeholds with a large
land area with the meeting location deep within it. Donald was going to Texas, where
several freeholds with large estates were located. They were all large
ranches which, much like the MacArthur farm, had ranching operations to
camouflage the secret activities.

The conversation at the table was no different than usual - in this case
little about the proposed operation. That was as far as it was going until
approved. The situation in Little Rock was apparently not over yet, as the
television news each day showed the same crowds at police barricades, with an
occasional interview with a local official or a representative of the
aggrieved community, often in front of stores with broken glass or on fire.
Apparently it wasn't going to die down until a cop or two was charged with
murder and in jail.

"Well," said Jessica, "it's been working so well, why not. They always end up
getting what they want. Of course, it'll take some time to push it through a
grand jury. They might run out of stuff to burn before that."

"If they would burn down all the hellholes, it wouldn't stop,
Tommy said.

"That's one of the things that worries us," said Donald. "As long as they have
places to burn down and loot, they pretty much stay there. What we
have to worry a bout is things breaking down prematurely. Then it will probably
spill out into the suburbs, even outside the cities eventually. When that
happens, it may get really bloody."

"But how prepared are the people outside the cities to defend themselves?"
asked Carter. "Sure, a lot of them are armed, and can defend themselves and
their homes individually, but what organization do they have?"

"Not much, in most places," Donald replied. "Some places might get something
going, like the neighborhood watch becoming a neighborhood militia. In other
places not so much. People are afraid, particularly when they see those who
defend themselves being arrested and prosecuted while the rioters are being
let go. Even trying to escape is being criminalized. Try to escape when your
covered up with attackers, you get arrested."

"It would seem," Carter said, "that those situations might be good for another
type of operation. Put some well-equipped 'local residents' in there, let them deal
with the attackers in the appropriate manner and then get out, without being
arrested or even identified. A little trickier than what we're planning, but
it's hard to see how it could fail to be effective."

"That sort of thing has come up before at the Council," Donald said. "Part of
the problem is knowing when, or if, the time is right. There's not a lot of
confidence that the eventual need for a high-level house-cleaning won't occur."

Carter assumed he was referring to a purge of the sort Jessica had once
alluded to. He guessed that the use of a euphemism indicated meant that even
among the highest levels, even in private, actually saying the word was
something they were not comfortable with. From his conversations with Jessica,
the story about Michael Collins, he suspected that was the plan. Only on a
grand scale.

"Am I correct in suspecting that we may not have a choice?" asked Carter.
"That in the absence of a political solution, we are looking at either a
guerilla war with an uncertain outcome, or a massive strike that will cripple
the nerve center, with equally unpredictable results?"

Donald smiled, a humorless smile, even grim.

"That's about it," he said. "If we don't want the republic completely
destroyed, turned into whatever blend of socialist, fascist, something even
those trying to create it can't anticipate - the worst of Soviet Russia and
communist China, with elements of the worst dictatorships ever seen. That's
what we could be up against, and we're hobbled by conscience, no matter how much we
try to look at it clinically. And reluctance to do what we have to do to
survive, will ensure our defeat."

The mood became somber all around. Most of the time they went about their
lives with the reasons for what they did at the back of their minds - always
there but not looming like a dark cloud over them. One could not live that way,
and perhaps that was why the vast majority are seemingly unaffected. Jobs,
homes, families - those things take up most of their time. And even if they
recognize the danger, they are too afraid of risk losing what little they have
by resisting.

"The survival instinct, in most people, overrides logic, reason, and conscience."
Gordon said. He seldom said much in their discussions, leaving most of that
to the younger ones. When he did, it was usually to contribute something strategic
or philosophical based on his greater life experience.

"During the second World War, when the Germans were killing Jews in the death
camps - in the gas chambers - they had something called the Sonderkommandos.
These were Jews temporarily spared for use as labor. They removed the bodies
from the gas chambers and moved them to the crematoriums. I watched an
interview with one of the survivors - there were very few because after they
had been used for a while they themselves were killed and replaced by new ones.

"This man, who was not very old and the film itself looked old, so apparently it was
not long after the war, described what happened. He said that among the
incoming prisoners he sometimes recognized people he knew, and would avoid
being seen by them because of his shame, knowing what was being done to them
and being part of it.

"He said he was asked, after the war, by people who knew what he had done,
'why did you do it? why didn't you refuse? why didn't you resist?'

"Clearly tormented by his guilt, he said when facing death, it is human nature
to do anything, absolutely anything, to stay alive just a little longer.

"Which is true. And a strong survival instinct in individuals is obviously
essential to the survival of the species. Very few people will sacrifice, or
even risk, their lives for principle, even when that principle is essential to
the survival of the species.

"Those who are trying to tear down the greatest nation and society that has
ever existed, do not know or care if they are destroying humanity. The only
logical conclusion is that they are evil or insane, or both."

"One of the consequences of the societal decay," Donald said, "is the ignorance
of so much of the younger generations, mostly created by the public schools. The
corruption was beginning in my day - in the 80s, I had teachers in high school
who didn't even try very hard to hide their communist designs. Now they
openly admit their intentions, and the sheeple continue to obliviously graze."

"So you have what, five to ten percent actively attacking and the other ninety
percent not paying attention," Jessica said. "If you could manage to do away
with the troublemakers, what would happen?"

"I presume you mean do away with them all at once," Donald said, "with no one to
replace them. That's the trick - there it still sanity in the federal
government, and it might be that if all, or most of, the bad people suddenly
disappeared it might be possible to effect some change. Assuming they weren't
immediately replaced with people like themselves."

"If they suddenly went away in a very unpleasant manner," Carter said, "maybe
the replacements wouldn't be so enthusiastic, maybe be reasonable."

"Quite possibly," said Donald. "The fact is, we could make it happen now, but
the outcome would be very much in question. If, say, a meteorite hit the
capital at just the right time, took out a couple hundred members of Congress -
the right ones - and at the same time a few dozen or a few hundred other
individuals who provide the money that buys them, and maybe a few dozen
agitators went away as well, could we put it back together and fix it?"

"Good question," Carter replied. "So if we have a chance at slowing the decline,
making some reversals, the inevitable big one might be averted. I wonder it
there's time."

"That's the big question," said Donald. "If there isn't any political
reversal soon, even slowing the destruction for a while, there probably won't
be. At some point they will come for the guns, mass roundups of resisters,
and once that gets underway it will be too late, perhaps even for a mass
removal of the bad people. If the structure is sufficiently advanced, the
various police agencies converted into suppression forces, their replacements
might well continue the policies."

"I guess," said Carter, "Fortifying our freeholds, in most cases, would not work.
They would most likely by then just attack with regular military forces, and
they would do it if ordered."

"That's fairly certain," said Donald. "Our only chance seems to be, if we don't
prevent the collapse of constitutional rule, a guerilla war. And the chances
of that succeeding don't look good. Prevention seems to be our only chance.
Of course, there is a mid-term election coming up. If Congress changes hands
again, it could give us another pause.

"Meanwhile, we'll see what the Council does. And it's possible we may come up
with something else workable - you never know."

After dinner Jessica and Carter went back to her house. While Donald doubtless
knew of their relationship, he had made no comment. Jessica had said her
father trusted her judgment, and presumably he saw no need. He noticed that
he had been accepted as having essentially the status of Jessica and Tommy, in
terms of is place in the organization, and Donald seemed to approve of him.
Jessica had said that Tommy had in a way become looked at as a replacement for
his lost son - he wondered if Donald looked at him in a similar way, as his
relationship with Jessica made him more a part of the family.

The television news was more of the same. The situation in Little Rock was in
seemed to have settled into the usual pattern - news segments several times a
day, the usual scenes of angry people holding signs and shouting at police and
passing cars, occasionally switching to a scene of disturbances in another
part of the city.

"Doesn't seem to be quite as energetic as some," Carter commented.

"Little Rock isn't as big as some of the other places." said Jessica. "Lots
of others ahead of it in population, and it doesn't get much attention outside
of things like this. If you were to plan one of these events, Little Rock
wouldn't be a great candidate. Still, they'll probably do what they can with it."

"As they say, never let a good crisis go to waste," said Carter.

"And if you don't have a crisis, make one. A few years ago this wouldn't have
happened. This far south, in the smaller cities, there aren't as many such
incidents, and as long as there's no evidence of wrongdoing by the police,
there isn't much trouble. But it seem no opportunity is being missed, and of
course even down here, the decay from the big cities up north and on the coast
has spread."

"I wonder if the enemy is as well-organized, and as well-financed, as we are."

"We wonder that too," Jessica replied. "Some on the council believe the true enemy,
is something we don't know anything about. Some worldwide entity that has
much more power than we ever can. If so, they're exercising it somewhat
cautiously, incrementally. Or it may be an organism with many members, like us,
and they don't always agree on how to do things. I would guess that here at
home, it's a lot of different players who want some of the same things, enough
for them to work together, but whether they are set up to make a sudden
decisive strike as us... hard to say."

"Well, I guess we'll learn some things when your father gets back. When is he

"Tomorrow," Jessica replied. "They usually arrive at the location the Saturday
or Sunday before it starts, have some informal meetings as they arrive. The
meetings run Monday through Thursday, and they generally leave on Friday. The ones
further out, on the coasts and up north, fly in on private aircraft. They try
to be inconspicuous."

"What's on for tomorrow? Do we need to stay close to home, with your dad gone?"

"Yeah. We'll make the rounds with Tommy, check all the facilities. But with
Dad gone we like to visit with granddad as much as we can, have most of our
meals there. Mary and Dalton can take care of things, but I like being there
as much as possible - he's not a young man."

Carter knew that Gordon had stopped attending the Council meetings a couple of
years earlier, and had turned seventy-one earlier in the year. He wondered if
he was lonely, but Jessica said he wasn't much affected by their near-isolation.
He spent a good deal of time reading, writing and communicating with other
Council members. He was one of the founders, and would be dedicated to the
cause as long as he lived. She hoped he would live to see it victorious.

Carter, with Jessica and Tommy, spent the next days doing their usual work, ensuring none of the
property had been disturbed. She explained the workings of the grain storage
bins, enormous cylinders of corrugated steel that looked to be about three stories
high, and about fifty feet or so in diameter. Jessica explained that the
center part of the bin contained a large compartment that occupied most of the
interior. It was then filled with corn up past the top of the compartment,
which could be accessed from the top, using a ladder on the inside.

The compartments were overkill in terms of size, easily accommodating their
contents, mostly caches of weapons acquired over a period of years - a few
hundred rifles in the common 5.56 and 7.62 military ammunition. The 5.56s
were of new manufacture, AR15 designs, purchased on the open marked one or two
at a time, while a number of Kalashnikovs had been acquired through more shady
operators. Tommy's ability to blend with the biker culture he sometimes
associated with made it easy to acquire illicit arms. The hardest part,
he said, was taking delivery and getting them to the farm without anyone,
particularly the sellers, knowing where they went.

"Besides the rifles," Tommy told him, "we've got a fair amount of other handy
stuff - grenades, a handful of RPGs, regular rifles, shotguns, and handguns.
And armor. Never know when you'll need it."

Presumably, Carter thought, weapons like the RPGs could be useful in the hands
of some of their former military colleagues. And of course the other military
weapons would be useful in the hands of some of their former military types.

"We're a storage facility for the entire organization," Jessica told him. "One
of several hosted by the freeholds that large areas with places to hide things.
One of those things being some fairly large quantities of gold and silver,
along with some other valuable items. And of course cash, which is handy as
long as it remains usable. It they ever succeed in going cashless, some
things wouldn't be as easy to get done."

They spent some time at the junkyard, as they called it, a large fenced area
of several acres containing a few large shop buildings and a fleet of old farm
equipment. Most of the equipment was old tractors, with several bulldozers
and some large trucks. A number of the tractors were quite large - usually
with four sets of wheels all of the same size.

"These big old four-wheel-drive tractors are some that have outlived their
usefulness to farmers," Jessica said. "They're expensive to maintain, unless
you can do it yourself. You see a lot of them sitting around rusting and
rotting. Or being sold at auctions for next to nothing, compared to the
prices of the new ones.

"Several of these, and the bulldozers and trucks, have been returned to
operation for potential future needs."

Carter looked at a nearby tractor, which was probably taller than the average
house. He had seen them working in fields, from the highway, but had never
stood next to one.

"Let me guess," he said. "Battering ram. Gate crasher."

Tommy grinned.

"Sometimes I think it'd be fun to use one like that."

"There are all kinds of ideas that come out of Council meetings," said Jessica.
"They're serious about the possibility of an extended, unconventional war.
Every possibility is considered."

Finishing the tour, they checked on the other areas and the buildings. There
was rarely an intrusion other that a driver getting lost, or the occasional
local miscreant prowling around looking for opportunities to steal.

After lunch with Jessica's grandfather, they spend the afternoon visiting,
talking and watching television. Donald had called to say he was about
halfway home, and when Mary looked in to ask about dinner Gordon told her to
plan for about an hour later than usual.

The lead on the evening news featured a mass shooting in Chicago, with
four dead and eleven or twelve wounded, depending on the witness. They
watched as various scenes of the crimes were shown, interposed with various
location reporters interviewing locals, without a law enforcement or city
official in sight.

As the news hour was ending, Donald arrived. He didn't look like he had been
sitting in a car for over nine hours - he was, at just a year short of fifty,
quite fit and energetic. However, he allowed that a shower and change of
clothes was in order.

Dinner was accompanied by a little casual chatter - discussion of the meeting
would wait. Given the late hour, it would most likely wait until the next

The next day, after lunch, they assembled to hear Donald's account of the
Council meeting. Normally, the meetings consisted of updating the situational
status, along with debating and sometimes deciding proposals, and this one had
been no exception.

The consensus was, as usual, that the situation was worse. The riots and
other civil disturbances continued at a steady pace, strategically placed so
as to be distributed around the country for maximum effect. Several members
reported that they had observers inside the operation to the extent that they
could confirm a centralization of the operation. While the visible activists
appeared to be no more than tools, there was no way to identify the flow of
money and instructions. It seemed to be similar to the way the Council
operated, payment with cash and other items of value and laundering through
registered non-profit organizations.

"This may interest you, Darrell," Donald said. "One thing we've been
investigating for several years is the multi-targeted shooting incidents, what
the news calls mass shootings. Looking at the patterns, and the circumstances
of many of them, we looked at the possibility of them being deliberately
provoked, to raise support for anti-gun legislation.

"Our theory was that interested parties could, in the same way law enforcement
sometimes tries to lure people who sexually abuse children. Instead of posing
as children, our agents pretended to be young adult or pre-adult men,
expressing themselves in such a way as to appear mentally unstable and angry -
the profile of many of past perpetrators. Since little information about the
interactions of previous subjects - either their computer traffic was not
examined in many cases or such information was suppressed - we generated our own.

"We knew that past subjects were known to discussed their intentions in this
way, little information was available. It took a while to set up and do a
data collection operation wide enough, but we definitely noticed a pattern.
We were able to confirm a lot of the sources in contact with our agents, and the same
ones contacted multiple agents. Most of the time all we can get is IP
addresses, since they are smart enough to use different identities and web
sites. But not only is the pattern of systematic contacts there, but they did
in fact attempt to push the intended victims in the direction of committing
such acts.

"What we don't know is if they are deliberately grooming potential actors in
preparation for another such event. We know the riots are being managed, and
it seems that something similar is going on here. What I was wondering,
Darrell, is whether your department ever looked at investigating that angle.
I know we have a number of former cops in the organization, and none of them
knew of such a thing - and some of them are from areas where these things have

"The only ones I've heard of were conducted by the FBI," Darrell replied.
"Usually they get the local PDs to work with them, but I can't remember of
hearing of a bust in the St. Louis area. I certainly never knew of the local
DA being interested."

"That's where it is most places," said Donald. "And of course when they do it,
it's usually to advance a political career. But if anyone is behind
instigating these shootings, it could only be people interested in, as I said,
getting anti-gun laws passed. And that could, and most likely is, the same
sort of organizations managing the riots, or operators in the government. Or
both, working together."

"So we have cases of people actually encouraging it, how far do they go?"
Jessica asked. "Does it go to the point of saying 'do it'?"

"Yes," said Donald. "That's why we wonder if some dry runs are being made,
or if they keep a certain number of likely candidates on the hook at any given
time, ready to be pushed over the edge. It looks like that might be the case.
And we have to wonder if similar activities are underway, for other types
of crimes."

"That," said Tommy, "is a kind of evil you don't want to know exists."

"True," Jessica said, "but we know it does - it's just thinking there's so much
of it. Do we have any idea how many operators have been identified?"

"From what analysis we've done so far," said Donald, "we've found a dozen or so. And
with our limited resources. So it's probable there are plenty more."

"That kind of evil, as you say Tommy," Jessica said, "the scary thing is that
there's so much of it. When you look at the people caught in the child
predator stings - they can only carry out so many of those, and yet they
always catch a lot. That says something really unpleasant about the state of
society in general."

"Of course," said Darrell, "those sex stings haul in a lot of dumb guys, a lot
of whom wouldn't actually do anything but don't have enough sense not to play
those games. Or those trying it for the first time out of curiosity - the really hardcore guys
are too smart to get caught that way. Still, it's disturbing all right."

"Where does that leave the shooter investigation?" asked Jessica.

"Unfortunately, we're not sure where to go next. We can demonstrate, with the
weight of evidence, that it happens. But the news media isn't interested - it
would work against their agenda. And going to law enforcement would be worse
than useless - they would come after whoever gave them the info. They
sometimes do it to people who do their own investigation of predators.

"I suppose we could get together a well-documented investigation, and
anonymously get it published somewhere. Of course it wouldn't get mainstream
exposure. But we're still working on it."

Donald went over a few routine details. There were now something over two
hundred freeholds, with over eighteen thousand members.

Carter had not known the full extent and was surprised.

"That many people and never a security breach?" he asked.

"As far as we know, of course," Donald replied. "The majority of them are
small. The average size is less than a hundred, and some are much smaller.
The ones that are up in the hundreds, have to consider that possibility. But
so far, there's nothing to indicate a problem. The only members who leave
a freehold, are carefully monitored. And the compartmentation of information
makes most of the members relatively small risks, in terms of what they know.

"Here, everyone knows everything. But we're family, and a lot of the smaller
ones are similar, several closely related family groups. But the main thing is,
we're good at evaluating people before we recruit them. So the most likely
place for a compromise is in the really large ones.

"There isn't any other urgent news, except that the Council is interested in
your proposal. Of course, it depends on the prosecutor down there actually
charging someone, but if it isn't this time, there will be one sooner or later.
So, with no other urgent needs, we can start planning."

"OK," Donald said, "let's see what we have."

He was sitting in his office, one of the unused rooms in Gordon's house. His
own quarters were on that wing of the house, and most of his work was done
there. Jessica, Tommy and Carter were there, with the poster board drawing on
which they had sketched out a plan.

"Here," Jessica said, indicating the location of Little Rock on the map, "is
our starting point. Or somewhere in the area. We are at this point
working on the assumption that our subject will be wearing a monitoring device. If
he isn't, that makes it a lot easier, but we have to plan for it."

"What's the effect, if he is?" asked Donald.

Jessica looked at Darrell.

"If he is wearing a monitor, it's likely to be of the type used for people
under house arrest, or something similar. It can track your movements and
report if you get too far outside a certain area. If he
leaves town, they'll know where he is and go get him."

"So he would have to remove it," said Donald. "Is that difficult?"

"No," Carter replied. "It can be cut off quickly, most likely like cutting a
heavy watch band. But it will immediately send an alarm."

"So, it's removed on the way to the pickup point," said Jessica. "We'll want
him to get away from is last reported position quickly, before a cordon can be
put in place. So maybe on a freeway headed for the pickup point."

"Being in a car on a freeway, he would be miles from the place where the
monitor is discarded before they get after him," Carter said. "Especially if
it's a busy night for cops. So a weekend night would be good."

"So we're looking at getting him out of the city, to a pickup point here."
Jessica pointed to an area northeast of the city. "We would need to scout the
area, see what the best route is. It looks like, Dad, you may know this - we're
looking at the area of the Brave Shield freehold. I know it's several big
farmers in this area" - she indicated the area northeast of Little Rock - "and
wonder if any of those farms have airstrips for crop dusters, something like

Donald looked at the map.

"I know a couple of them fairly well," he said. "Which is to say I've met
them a few times at Council meetings. In fact, Howard Taylor was at this last
one. He, and about a half dozen big rice farmers out there, with some family
and friends, are Brave Shield. I believe most of them have aircraft, housed
at airstrips where they operate their crop dusters. It has a pretty good runway -
a couple of them have fair-sized planes, I know a couple of twin engine jobs."

"That's better than a grass field," said Tommy. "We were thinking about the
Bronze Bull group doing the flight. Do you think it would be better to see if
one of the Brave Shield guys could do it?"

"We probably could," said Donald. "Of course the Bulls might not like being
left out. Some of them are old Air Force guys who still like to get some
hours in. Both groups are close to Little Rock, but if we pull it off there
wouldn't be any connection. And, it gives both groups a chance to participate."

"So," Darrell said, "we have a plane take off from, where is the Hot Springs
point - the local airport?"

"No," Donald replied, "better than that. About a half dozen or so of the members
live on large contiguously situated estates. They have a private runway with
hangars, fuel, everything needed to operate privately. Needless to say, they've
recruited some former Air Force types to maintain the aircraft. So there's no
problem with timing, or being tracked."

"So, let's see what we have so far," said Carter. "Our transport could take
off any time that will put it at Brave Shield before our passenger arrives.
That's good flexibility to have - we were thinking a touch-and-go on a grass
strip, only with a stop for the passenger to board. This is definitely better.
What type of aircraft are we talking about, range-wise?"

"I've flown some with Jerry Yarborough, he's a retired Air Force type," Donald said. A-10
pilot back in the nineties. He's got a, I believe, Piper Comanche. Single-
engine but with a pretty good range. We flew out to a meeting in Idaho once.
We stopped for fuel once going and coming. He said it was a little out of his
range, which was about a thousand miles."

"This is well under that," Carter said. "How about the next part. From Brave
Shield to here," indicating the location of Pittsburgh, Kansas. "We seem to
have a contact out there - someone who could provide a drop-off and turnaround
for the aircraft. Do you know much about him?"

"That would be Jim Henderson. A bit of a mystery, even to us, and we're
pretty good at finding out things. Our investigations turned up a lot of
gossip, but nothing substantial. The usual rumors about criminal
connections, mostly, but he looks pretty clean. He's done some things for us.
The few times I've been around him, I had the feeling he was sending some sort
of signal, almost as if he knew something about us, not sure what it was. But
for this, I believe it would work. The only part that's dodgy is driving
through Kansas City."

"Yeah," Carter said. "The other way would be going over to Springfield and
taking the usual route up from there. I believe the KC route is better, with
heavy traffic to get lost in. And if we added a couple of cars, in case we
need a distraction, interference, whatever. I believe the best use for more cars
would be spotters at front and rear. Spot trouble before it finds you."

"I would think Jim could help us out," Donald said. "He has some guys who work for him,
don't seem to be working at anything except whatever errands he happens to
have come up. I don't know if he knows where we live - I suspect he does.
But we can have them peel off and turn back once they're a few miles out, say
at Chillicothe."

"So," said Jessica, "that leaves the problem of where to put him. He'll have
to have agreed to give up his old life completely, we provide a new identity,
and he essentially lives here for the foreseeable future. We can use one of
the houses over on the junkyard road. I'm guessing we have ready access to an
identity, and the Council is willing to use one for this."

"They're agreeable to that. It's an essential element," Donald said. "We have,
at any given time, some on the shelf, constantly maintained as if they were
real people - driver's license, credit cards, bank accounts, the works. Not
many of them - it takes money and manpower to keep them up, but we select one
for a man his age and he can step into it. We've disappeared people before,
with no problems. Probably about as good as the government's witness protection."

"So all we have to do is get him to agree," said Jessica.

"He has to be charged with something first," Carter said. "But I suspect that's
pretty much a done deal. There are already demands for a grand jury, and the
government down there is in the bag. They'll almost certainly do it. The
rest is a formality."

"So we'll be involving Brass Bull and Brave Shield, and doing a deal with Jim," said Donald.
His part is easy, refuel the plane and provide a couple of blockers. We'll
need to set up a code for our communications - even with our encrypted
channels we need our messages scrambled."

"How do we do that?" asked Carter.

"There's an unbreakable code, and only one as far as anyone knows. Apparently
it's only practical for short messages, because of the way it works. Let's see,
we'll need code pads for all three freeholds, and Jim. We'll probably have to
show him how to use it - we freeholders know. Some of us anyway."

"We can get that done," said Jessica. "We need to figure out an efficient way
to minimize the number of messages we have to pass."

She explained the code to Carter.

"It's completely secure if used right," she said. "It's been used in espionage
and such businesses for a long time. But it only works if a different code
and key pair are used for each message, and the code has to be a random
pattern with no way to find a pattern. And you have to distribute the keys
ahead of time.

"We can do it with a dozen or so messages. We'd need to set up how to do it,
and then when it's time to pull the trigger, it's pretty much on autopilot."

Over the next few days they tuned the plan, and it was time to wait. And they
didn't have to wait long - within a few weeks the grand jury had done its work
and delivered the expected result. The cop who fired the fatal shot was
charged with second-degree murder, the other a handful of other charges -
civil rights violations and the like.

"You can bet the prosecutor wrote it up and the grand jury rubber-stamped it,"
Carter said. "That's the way it's always done. The grand jury gets in two or
three weeks of slacking off at the taxpayers expense, meals included, and
pretend to be actually doing something."

"Any trial date?" Tommy asked.

"It's not set yet," said Carter. "if may be a week or more before they set a
date. And it'll probably be close to a year at least before the trial."

"In this case," Jessica said, "the slow wheels of injustice work in our favor.
We've got plenty of time to prepare."

The demonstrations stopped, as if on cue, once the indictments were announced.
The two cops were arrested, arraigned, and released on bail. No one seemed to
notice who put up the money - in any case they would not have made the
connection. The Council had millions in their bank accounts, and arranged
bail throughout a convenient cutout.

They began to set up the plan immediately. Jessica and Carter went down to
Arkansas, driving through Little Rock on the way, assessing the area. Both
found it depressing, as they did most cities. Little Rock wasn't even one of
the larger ones, and it showed the same decay.

"We'll probably have to spend some time here, getting set up," said Jessica.
"You and I will be making contact and getting him ready to jump. If he's

"We only planned on one," Carter said. "I guess we should have known the other
one wouldn't get off. Not only do I not like leaving him behind - our man
could let something slip."

"Yeah," said Jessica. "But he's looking at a very light sentence at worst, and
more likely having the charges dismissed before the trial. But they almost
always charge anyone involved with something. As for him leaking, he won't
really have anything except instructions to be in a certain place at a certain
time, and he'll only get that a few hours before departure."

Continuing on to Hot Springs, they located the Brass Bull freehold and met a
couple of the leaders. One of them was Jerry Yarborough, the pilot Donald had
mentioned, the other was a weathered army colonel.

"Hi," Jerry said, extending his hand to Jessica. "So your Don's daughter.
Good to meet you. Darrell, welcome to the club. Don told me a bit about you,
so I can see this has something of a personal meaning to you, even if I can't
ever completely appreciate your experience. This is Colonel Morgan Sheppard,
late of the U.S. Army, First ID."

Colonel Sheppard looked every bit the soldier, and he supposed Jerry looked
like a pilot. He guessed that pilots spent most of their time flying or in
offices or other related facilities when they weren't flying.

They were in a large office in Jerry's house, interestingly almost devoid of
air force memorabilia - a large detailed model of an A-10, several pictures,
and that was about it. Jessica spread the drawing out on a table and they
gathered around.

"So," Jerry said, "Don talked about a night flight to somewhere in rural Kansas
by way of the Brave Shield installation. I know the area, flown in there a
few times putting in some hours. It should be easy - they'll have to set up
some runway lights. I can set my Comanche down and roll down to the end of
the runway, have the passenger jump in and we're off. Do it right and I'm on
the ground three or four minutes.

"Then, it looks like, we've got a big lazy left turn over southern Missouri,
and what looks the middle of nowhere, south of Kansas City. What's there?"

"A private runway, kind of like the ones you have here and a Brave Shield,"
Jessica replied. "The guy who owns the place does things for us occasionally and
doesn't ask questions. Essentially the same thing, except you refuel before
taking off - a round trip would be cutting it kind of close. Then it's a
straight shot back home."

"Looks easy enough," Jerry said. He looked at Colonel Sheppard.

"What happens to the passenger after he lands?" the Colonel asked. "Not that I
need to know."

"No problem there," said Jessica. "He'll be with us, for the foreseeable future,
as Darrell did. We could use some additional manpower, the way things are
developing. We were glad to get Darrell, but basically all we're doing at
this point is safeguarding some supplies - not that it isn't important but we
could be looking at a need for more security. And recruits are not easy to
find, as careful as we have to be."

"Yeah," said Colonel Sheppard. "We're basically a bunch of old soldiers and
airmen, mostly airmen, waiting for an assignment when the time comes."

"I'm guessing transporting things, and people, would be rather important in
that scenario," said Carter.

"That would be our biggest contribution," Jerry replied. "We've got a pretty good
fleet of aircraft - this will be a good test run. If you have time, it's
getting late, we can fly up to Brave Shield tomorrow, do a few touch-and-gos,
and look around a little."

They dined with Jerry and his wife, a son, and Colonel Sheppard. Sheppard was
a widower, and none of his children had joined him in his association with the
organization. Of the members of the freehold, only about half were married,
and just a handful had one or more children with them.

"A lot of military men end up losing their children, and often their wives, to
the pressures of the decaying society," Sheppard told them. "It started
getting bad with Vietnam, and the wars since then have only made it worse.
And in recent times, they've poisoned the armed forces with their political
machinations that it's hard to get good men. So they're taking whatever is
available, and probably they don't want good material."

Jerry's son Dale was also a pilot, but had elected not to follow his father
into the service, instead becoming a pilot for a charter service. "I get to
fly faster than dad did," he said, and they both laughed.

"The A-10 was a low and slow operator," said Jerry. "I've flown some of the private jets like Dale
does, and they're fun. But the A-10 was fun, too."

The next day Jessica and Carter accompanied Jerry and Dave out to the airfield.
They got into an old Piper Comanche, but so well maintained or perhaps
restored that it looked new. It was a short trip to Brave Shield, and they
performed three touch-and-gos before landing and taxiing to the small group of
buildings about halfway along the runway, where several men waited.

Shutting off the engine, Jerry and Dave deplaned behind Jessica and Carter.
Jerry made introductions and briefly discussed the mission.
They confirmed that they could have runway lights out - it was something they
had planned for and practiced a few times. It was early in the day, so it was
decided that Jessica and Carter would leave Brass Bull and drive to Brave
Shield, spending the night there. After a while they reboarded and Dave took
them up, out in a broad circle over northeast Arkansas and then back to Hot

Taking their leave of Brass Bull, Jessica and Carter made the relatively short
drive to Brave Shield, meeting several of the members. After dinner they
stayed in the home of their host, a relatively young man who had taken over
operations of the family farm a few years earlier. His three siblings - a
brother and two sisters - were all in their twenties or early thirties. Their
mother was the quintessential southern hostess and they had an enjoyable
evening. Later, Carter and Jessica talked for a while before falling asleep.

"You could think we're just some normal people visiting with friends," he said
"instead of planning things that might, eventually, end up getting people killed."

"And it almost certainly will," she said, "but as someone once said, as long as
the right people get killed."

"Yeah," he said. "I wish I could have met someone like you in a different world."

"Me too," she said.

For all her businesslike approach to everything, he suspected she was
hiding some pain. So am I, though, he thought.

Back at the farm, having debriefed Donald and Tommy and having a wait of some
time before a clearer picture of the operation emerged, they stayed busy with
the usual chores. Occasionally Tommy and a girlfriend accompanied Carter and
Jessica over to St. Joseph for a dinner with a more varied choice of
restaurants than was available locally. Carter learned that Donald had
a relationship with a partner on another farm in the area. Apparently they
had been together for a couple of years, but Donald had not as yet revealed
the existence of the freehold.

"They seem pretty serious," Jessica told him, "and Dad believes she will be a
good recruit when the time comes. But for now he prefers to leave it alone.
By the time something has to be done, it won't be a difficult choice for her.
And there are others in the freeholds with family and friends they're close to
but they aren't part of it."

Before long they got the news of a trial date for the subject of their project.
It would be at least six months, and the initial dates usually got pushed out,
sometimes more than once, but they had something to plan for.

Their preparations would include trips to Little Rock, most likely several of
them. They would also have to practice the run from Pittsburgh several times,
to insure it was trouble-free. They decided to gamble on waiting until the
trial was closer before approaching the subject. If he was going to go along,
he would be more receptive once the prospect of going to prison was so close.
But they needed to be sure they could get to him easily, and that meant casing
the neighborhood a few times.

The three of them drove down, Tommy on his bike and Jessica and Carter in one
of the Tauruses. It was a good setup for surveillance, Tommy dressed like the
numerous motorcyclists seen around any given city. Riding a Harley, dressed
in jeans and a work shirt, he was as good as invisible. The old Taurus
likewise blended in, and they were able to locate their target fairly easily.
All they had to do was ask a few people, and soon they had his address.

He lived in a rented house, and being suspended without pay he was probably
not having an easy time of it. In the current economic climate he was most
likely like most people - not much savings and with the loss of income in a
bad situation.

"Wonder if we should snatch him sooner rather than later," Tommy suggested.
"If we got him in say a couple of months, assuming we could set it up that fast.
And there's always a chance he might do something - unfortunate - if he was
desperate. I don't know what that does to a man's mental state."

"It's not good," Carter said. "I thought about nothing else the whole time. And
I thought I would get off."

"It's probably different for everyone," Jessica said, "but I'm fairly sure it's
not good for anyone. The big thing is depression - even if he isn't the type
to be driven to suicide, and that's a possibility, given that the last guy
this happened too essentially got a life sentence. A forty-something guy
going away for forty years - some might consider it."

"If he's in a bad mental state," Carter said, "he might not be able to work with
us. We need a way to assess that - I'm thinking we give him a month or two,
maybe get close to him before that."

"Who does that?" Jessica asked, the three of them already knowing.

Carter and Jessica looked at each other silently for a few moments.

"We've no choice if we're going to do it," he replied.

"So what's the plan?" she asked.

"A lot of driving for all of us," he said. "I wish there were a half dozen of us,
but more people is more potential leaks and screwups. So I guess we look at
an earlier extraction. I get a place here, make contact, start the process.
Evaluate, the see if he's willing. I know cop culture, can get close to him.
If he's convinced, it should be fairly easy for him to stay calm while we're
waiting to go."

"So we go back and wait, a month or two," Jessica said. "Then we move in, you
make contact, how?"

"Tommy, what are your chances of making some contacts here, with people in
that zone, familiar with both sides of the law?" Carter asked.

"You mean ride around on my bike, blend in, talk to whomever? Yeah, I could
probably pick up a good bit of info that way, street gossip and all."

"You might be a good way to get an intro," said Carter. "If you can connect
with him, eventually suggest meeting me, someone who might know a way out."

"You'll have to be careful," Jessica said. "Some of the people you meet might
be undercover cops. Especially asking about our subject. And speaking of that,
we need to get to know him some before we meet him. What all do we know?"

Jessica was looking at her phone.

"First, I guess, his name." Carter said. "What was it? Michael Kucinick, not
sure how that's spelled"

"K-U-C-I-N-I-C," said Jessica. "Let me see, nine years on the force. Age...
here it is, I think. Age thirty-three. I'm not finding any family, no wife
at least."

"Lot of cops aren't married," Carter said, "and for those who are the divorce rate is pretty high. So it's
likely he's not. Anything else interesting?"

"Not much. We know who he is and that's about it. That's where we'll have to
do some discreet detective work."

"I guess most of our time here," Carter said, "once we make contact, will be
working out flight plan, so to speak. When it's time, we want to be away fast and clean.
If we have to dispose of a monitor, ditch it while he's moving and pretty
close to the freeway. And we'll need someone to drive him - I'm thinking
someone from Brave Shield. They should have someone familiar with the area,
and some inconspicuous vehicles."

"So we're going to be here a lot, quite a few long drives," said Jessica. "At
some point you and Tommy will have to be here full-time, rent a couple of
places in the area."

"Are you going to be at home?" Carter asked.

"I should be," Jessica said. "I know it's not optimal, but it's doable."

"That's a long drive, alone. Even a few times."

"I have long drives sometimes," Jessica said. "It's lonely and boring, but
not that bad. I know you worry, I'd worry about you, and I do about Tommy.
But we have something of an advantage. None of us are totally helpless, as so
many people are, and I can take care of myself. I haven't been carrying a
weapon when you're with me because I don't want to risk any problems if we
were to get involved with cops. But when I'm alone I'm always armed."

"I know," said Carter with a grin, "and I'm still going to worry."

Jessica smiled.

"I know," she said, "but kidding aside, I'm at worst four hours from either
endpoint, and I've got triple-A. The only real danger is a breakdown, and we
keep our vehicles in shape."

"Well, it looks like we're going into the waiting phase," Carter said.

Back home, there were a few days of discussions with Donald, along with
preparations for setting the operation in motion. Once they were ready, they
set out for Little Rock, this time in an three-vehicle convoy. An additional
Taurus, identical to the one Jessica used, was driven by Carter. Upon arriving,
they set about renting accommodations for Carter and Tommy, each of the modest
houses a few minutes from where Kucinick lived. There were always landlords
willing to rent a property for a few months, payable in cash and no questions
asked. Once they were settled in Jessica headed back home.

Within a week Tommy had made the acquaintance of the hapless cop, and gave
Carter an assessment of his condition.

"For starters," Tommy said, "as you know he's thirty-three years old, nine
years on the force. Divorced, no kids. Don't know about any girlfriends, or
his other friends. I would guess they'll be hard to find about now.

"He's obviously depressed, and would have to be scared. I didn't do more than
have a couple of beers with him at a bar near where he lives. He seems not to
be having much contact with anyone except his lawyer. Other than letting him
know I recognized him, I didn't pry. I'll try to catch him again in a day or
two - I know he has been going there, shadowed him on a couple of previous
visits before I went in and started a conversation. Seems like a nice guy,
nothing like an unpleasant personality, not obvious anyway. That's about it."

"That seems about right," said Carter. "I know I was depressed and scared,
couldn't get away from it. And it got worse each day, even when I wasn't
expecting to be convicted. As for friends, yeah, they get scarce quick.
There were two or three guys who weren't afraid to be seen with me, the whole
time, but that was about it. I'd guess you see if you can run into him a few
more times, work up to discussing the case. See how realistic he is about the
likely outcome. Then we can see how receptive he is to escaping his fate. I
believe the best way to introduce me is, once he is ready, introduce me as the
guy to see about it."

Carter had a few dull weeks, as Tommy was only seeing Kucinick a couple of
time a week, and was just beginning to plant the idea of flight. Assuming
that they would be under surveillance, Tommy had arranged to meet in an open
space outdoors before he broached the subject. After a couple of times,
Kucinick admitted that he had considered it, but could not see any way to

"It's about time to bring you in," he told them. "He doesn't really believe
it at this point, but he's willing to grasp any straw."

"Let's do it soon then," Carter said. "We're a couple of months in already,
and even though they'll most likely get some postponements we need to be ready. How soon can you set
up a meeting?"

"He's ready now, just need to get it set up. What's the best meeting place?"

"I'd like to assume my car isn't bugged - there's no reason to believe anyone
is on to us. But probably we should have Jessica come down, in a car we know
is clean. If we get a commitment from him, we won't need any more meetings.
We set it up and execute when the time is right. All he has to do is follows
our instructions."

"OK then," said Tommy. "Let me know when we're ready."

Jessica arrived in the early afternoon of the next day, and Tommy called
Kucinick to see when he could meet. There was a small park near the bar where
Tommy had been meeting him, and Tommy told him to go there at seven and sit at
one of several picnic tables. The area was mostly deserted in the early
evening, and it would be easy to spot him. They arrived a little early and
saw him as he entered the park, and Jessica drove toward the table he was
headed for. As they came close enough Tommy lowered the window and called to
him. Kucinick came over to the car.

"Let me get out and you ride in the front" Tommy said.

Kucinick complied and Jessica drove over to a parking area with a few cars in
it. The night was warm, and she left the engine running to keep the air
conditioner on. Tommy made the introductions.

"Mike, this is Jessica and Darrell. Jessica's driving, obviously."

The light humor drew a smile from Kucinkck, but not much more.

"This car was driven down from several hundred miles up north, today, to it's
about as safe as anywhere for talking. I'm going to let Darrell brief you."

"Does my name mean anything to you?" Carter asked. "Darrell Carter?"

"I'm not sure. Wait, you were a cop up in, St. Louis I think."

"Right," said Carter. "I guess I was lucky, relatively speaking. In my case,
nobody died. The best they could do was throw a bunch of civil rights charges
at me. Which was enough. Like most of these things now, it was a setup from
the start. Local politics was going to pacify the mob at any cost, aside from
the fact they don't like cops anyway. So it was off to the joint with me,
seven years. It's only gotten worse. There's a couple of guys I know of
doing more than twenty years for doing absolutely nothing wrong. Witnesses
for the accused are intimidated and threatened, evidence suppressed, and
always the knowledge in the minds of the jury of what will happen if they don't
convict. But you must know that."

"Yeah," Kucinick said. "I'd been trying to get a job in a department out in
one of the smaller cities, but there are a lot of other guys doing the same
thing. Funny thing is, I had been talking to a guy over in Conway, as soon as
they had an opening I was hoping for an interview. Too late."

"The best thing is not to be a cop these days," Carter said. "I don't like
to think about it, but we're getting to the point where no no one with a brain
will do it. Especially in the cities, the only cops they'll have will be the
rejects that would never have gotten hired in a sane world. But that doesn't
help you now.

"Without telling you more that this - we are members of a large organization
with considerable resources. We were able to put this team together on short
notice, not just the three of us, but dozens of other operatives around the
country. And at this point, we're completely invisible. But, we have the
ability to get you out of here, to a safe place far away, before anyone knows
you're gone. You'll have a new identity, and they'll never find you. You'll
have to take a lot of this on trust, I know. But we're determined not go let
another cop be sacrificed to a mob of what are little more than animals, if that."

"I believe you're right about what will happen. And I'm scared, I'll admit it.
So if you fail and I get caught..."

"You go to jail and stay there until the trial. That's a chance you'll be
taking. But if you stay, you have only a few months of freedom remaining.
Believe me, you won't get off. You know who the mayor is, the police chief -
he's already thrown you over the side - and the DA is just looking for a scalp.
He'd like to be governor, or be elected to Congress. To these people you're
nothing more than something to be used for their career advancement."

"You say you can't tell me how, can you give me an idea of what I'll be doing?"

"The only thing you'll have to do," Carter said, "is wait for Tommy to contact
you with the go signal. You'll be picked up here, so you should make a habit
of coming here in the evenings every couple of days - not so it looks like you're
waiting for something - just walk around a little and go home.

"When it's time, Tommy will give you the signal. A car will pick you up here,
there'll be a code word so you know. It's not likely to be any surveillance,
but we leave nothing to chance. We'll decide later, but it's likely that when
you will leave your monitor there when we remove it - unless you're under
visual surveillance, they'll assume you're here for a while, and you'll be far
away before anyone notices. You'll be driven to an area outside the city, at
a private runway where an aircraft will land about the time you arrive. Once
on board the plane, you're gone. You can't be touched."

"I'd say there's no choice," Kucinick said. "The worst that can happen is
that I begin doing time a few months early."

"Sounds good," said Carter. "We'll leave you in Tommy's hands for now, he'll
keep you updated.

Carter and Jessica drove out to Brave Shield the next day to organize the exit
plan. Their host of the previous visit, Leroy Thompson, and a few other
members met with them. Leroy selected himself to make the run, accompanied by
another of the group. They would make a few dry runs beforehand, so there was
no reason the pickup should not be smooth. With that settled, they went back
to Little Rock, where Jessica would spend the night before returning home.

After dinner with Tommy, they went to Carter's rental to spend the night.
Sleep didn't come quickly. They were, for the first time, mounting an actual
operation against the enemy. That their enemy was completely unaware would
make it easier, but the war was actually underway. What form it would take
they could not know.

The final part of the operation was arranging the turnaround at Pittsburgh.
Jessica would coordinate that part. Once all was in readiness they would be
waiting at the starting line.

They did not have long to wait. Within a few weeks all the preparations were
made and practice runs completed, and message codes arranged. All that
remained was, as Tommy said, pulling the trigger.

Carter had delivered the news to Kucinick, and set the date. Now it was time
to head back to Pittsburgh to wait. He and Tommy said goodbye and headed back.
A few hours later they were there, where Jessica had already reserved motel
rooms and was waiting. They drove out to Henderson's place for a brief visit.
He had two employees who would shadow them on their drive to Chillicothe, and
they were ready.

Henderson was a bit of an enigma, Carter found. He seemed to be one of the
people who seemed to choose to keep a wall between himself and the world, a
wall not immediately apparent but it would stop you if you pushed too hard.
Carter suspected that the source of his wealth might be legal
or not, or both - that he was a man who could make his own rules, and did.
Gordon had been confident he was trustworthy as long as one dealt straight
with him.

Back in Pittsburgh they had dinner and settled in to wait. They were in three
different motels, of the ubiquitous chains that populate stops along the
highways. But beginning in the morning they would gather in the small suite
where Jessica was staying. Carter left a small suitcase in his room and went
to join Jessica. Sleep came even later tonight, as they were charged with
excitement edged with slight apprehension. In discussing the significance of
what they were doing, Gordon had called it a 'shot across the bow'. But for
now, the enemy would have no idea where it came from.

When they awoke, there was no time for the usual morning lovemaking, and the
mood wasn't there. They went down to breakfast in the hotel restaurant, where
Tommy joined them. Afterward he and Carter took their luggage to Jessica's
suite, which was reserved for an additional night.

Early in the afternoon Carter called Kucinick on a burner phone they had given
him. He seemed calm and said he was ready.

"OK," Carter told him. "Bring a change of clothes, just one - jeans, casual
shirt, something like that. And your toothbrush, razor, whatever. We'll get
you outfitted later, everything you need."

The final call was at six, and Carter told him to call when he was at the park,
and again when he was in the car.

Leroy Thompson drove his eleven-year-old Lincoln Continental to a parking lot
near where Kucinick lived. His accomplice, who was also his cousin who was
just two months older, was approaching the park in an old pickup truck,
painted with looked like primer, only darker than usual. There was no license
plate. Kucinick had been given a description, and walked over to the truck as
it came to a stop, and got in.

"We're about five minutes from switching vehicles," the driver told him. "I'm
Mark, welcome aboard."

By the time Kucinick had called Carter to confirm the pickup, they Mark was
parking the truck. They got out and walked to the other side of the lot, got
in the Lincoln with Leroy, and were on their way.

"That old truck is not traceable to us," Mark told him. "We got it into town
for the few minutes we needed it, and now it'll eventually be towed
away. No connection."

Kucinick made his call and confirmed they were on their way.

"Excellent," said Jessica, relief evident in her voice. The possibility that
Kucinick might back out, or something might delay him, was now past. From
here on, everything was under their control.

"Let's see where Jerry is," she said, pressing a button on one of the phones.

"The chair is against the wall," she said when he answered.

"Roger," Yarbrough said. "Just turned on the burner, eggs will be ready in
about ten."

"OK," Jessica said. "He's got their starting time, he'll be taking off shortly,
landing just in time for the pickup. Which should be shortly. The next call
from Kucinick should come when the arrive at the airfield, in about an hour."

The three of them watched television for a while as they waited. A stock
picture of a handgun appeared in the upper part of the screen, by the news
person's head, indicating that a crime report was forthcoming. Jessica turned
up the volume.

Apparently there was a multiple shooting up in Kansas City. They waited to
see if police were involved - apparently not. Three dead and no suspects yet.

"If no cops were involved that's the end of it," said Carter. "No one seems
to care how many of each other they kill, if there's not a cop involved it's
gone by tomorrow."

"There seem to be fewer lately," Jessica said. "Maybe most of the cops have
gotten the word. Shoot anyone you'll probably end up in prison."

"You would think so," said Carter. "The only cops they're going to have left
now will be the worthless ones, the incompetents, the corrupt.

"We can only wonder how it's going to go, places like that. We know the enemy
element in the government wants this, so they can get law enforcement federalized.
But I don't know if they'll be able to control it, once they take over."

"It won't be their first miscalculation," said Carter. "With most of the big
cities full of problematical inhabitants, the resources needed to control them
would be massive. If you take the riots like they just had in Little Rock,
multiply that by, whatever you like, but at least a few dozen. Of course,
they wouldn't have much time to bother us."

"Which would be convenient," Jessica said, "but if they ever get complete and
irreversible control of the government, they're likely to move fast against
any potential resistance. I could see them going ahead and trying to
confiscate private weapons, even seizing the assets of citizens who oppose them.
Even if they are having to deal with bloodbaths in dozens of cities."

"Yeah, you're likely right," said Carter. "But at that point, at least we know
where we stand, in terms of a political solution. There won't be one."

*   *   *   *   *

The Comanche taxied toward the runway, Jerry's son in the left seat. He had a
few days off and decided to go along, so Jerry had him fly so he could log a
few hours. Dale was excited, as he was for the first time in his life on a
clandestine mission. The prospect of flying out to a remote airfield, picking
up a passenger, and dropping him on another remote runway, was like something
from a spy novel. Of which he had read a few.

Jerry sensed his son's mood. Once they were up he looked over and as their
eyes met they both grinned.

"Butterflies?" Jerry asked.

"This is something we've talked about and planned for a lot," Dale said. "But
actually doing it for the first time, yeah. It's a new feeling."

"The way things are looking," Jerry said, "we may find ourselves doing some the
things we've been preparing for. And most of them won't be as easy as this."

The time for their passenger to reach the pickup point was about an hour. The
Comanche could cover that distance in something less, so Dale kept their speed
to about 140 miles per hour. Jerry looked out at the darkening land below them.
The sun had just set - it would be dark when they landed. Becoming accustomed
to night operations would be important in the future.

Before long they were approaching the target, and as they lined up with the
runway they could see the landing lights that had been deployed. If the field
eventually became essential, a permanent installation would be needed.

Jerry's phone rang, and pressed the answer button.

"John has a long mustache," came Jessica's voice.

That meant their passenger was ready, and would be waiting just off the runway.
Dale set them down and rolled along the surprisingly long and well-maintained
runway, considering it was mostly used by crop dusters. He saw a vehicle
approaching the runway from the left side. Good, the door was on that side.

He brought the Piper to a stop even with the car. Jerry moved back to open
the door and waited as a man jogged across the grass to the runway, reached
down to help him aboard.

"Grab a seat and buckle up," Jerry said, closing the door and returning to his
seat. Dale taxied on to the end of the runway and turned around. He didn't
look at their passenger as he throttled up the engine and began the takeoff
roll. They climbed into the now-dark sky, turning to head for the southern
Kansas border.

Jerry turned to their passenger.

"Michael Kucinick, I presume? Did I pronounce it right?"

"You got it," said Michael.

"Welcome aboard," Jerry said. "I don't know how much you've been told about
your future, but for now we're just getting you safely from one place to another.
Safely and secretly. I'll call and let them you know you're en route."

Jessica answered the call.

"That was Colonel Strelnikov," she said. "At a little under three hundred miles,
we're looking at about two and a half hours. And now, we wait. How about pizza?"

They had a leisurely meal at a Pizza Hut and returned to the hotel. The evening
news had another homicide in Kansas City.

"Is that the one from earlier?" asked Jessica.

"No," said Tommy. "That one had three dead. Only one this time."

"It is Friday," Carter observed. "We're counting on the police being busy with
other business, and it looks like they are."

"At this rate," said Jessica, "I don't know if driving through there, even on
the interstate, is a great idea.

"We'll be all right," said Tommy. "There's at least six lanes through the
worst part of town. The good part is some of the highway patrol may be off
the interstate as a result. And we'll actually hit I-35 to the south, in
Overland Park, so we should miss all the bad stuff. There may be a tollbooth
or two, I don't remember if they're on our path. The only thing is we'll
probably be on surveillance video, but no reason that should concern us."

Jessica looked at her phone.

"It's about an hour to landing time at Henderson's," she said. "We'd best go.
It'll take a few minutes for me to check out, and we're about twenty minutes

Carter and Tommy carried the luggage down to the cars while Jessica checked out,
and they departed. Henderson's estate was just a few miles outside of town,
and within a few minutes they were waved through the gate and out to the
aircraft parking area. Whatever aircraft Henderson had, they were out of sight.
The two hangars looked as if they might more than one small aircraft, or a
large one each. A couple of trucks were parked there, near a couple of fuel
pumps. There were also a couple of Corvettes, relatively new, both red. Two
men stood between them, talking and paying no attention to their arrival.

Henderson looked at his watch - a Rolex, Carter noticed - and over at the two

"Those are your chase cars," he said. "They'll be close to you at all times,
usually one in front and one behind. Those 'vettes naturally draw attention,
so any cops you encounter will be looking at them.

Jessica's phone rang, and she had a brief exchange consisting of nothing more
than acknowledgements on her end.

"OK", she said, "they're about ten to twelve minutes out. We'll put Michael in
my car, with Tommy and Darrell following. Are we in good position?"

"Everything looks good," Henderson replied. "When he's on the ground, just have
him taxi up to the pumps. He can refuel and be out of here in under half an

"Sounds good," Jessica said.

Before long they spotted the lights of an aircraft beyond the end of the runway,
and then the landing lights came on. A few seconds later it was down, and
Jessica called Jerry again, directing him to the fuel pumps. He and Dale gave
the group a quick greeting, with a brief introduction to Henderson, and then
turned to the business of refueling. The two Corvette drivers started their
cars and drove over to where the group was getting into their cars. Nothing
was said - the plans were made and it was time to execute them. They followed
one of the Corvettes and the other fell in behind them.

The convoy took Route 69 at Pittsburgh and headed for Kansas City. Carter and
Tommy were behind Jessica's car, and they remained sandwiched between the two
Corvettes all the way to Kansas City. As Tommy was somewhat more familiar
with the area, Carter called Jessica to suggest switching positions, with they
did. The Friday evening traffic in the area was fairly heavy and staying
together required careful focus on their driving until they emerged from the
city's north side.

Carter had seen only a couple of police cars by then, and as they exited the
city on I-35 he felt some relief. From here it was a straightforward cruise
to the turn east to Chillicothe. The traffic was at its usual density for a
Friday night, and the drive was uneventful. Before long they made the right
turn onto US 36 for the final forty or so miles.

In Chillicothe Jessica contacted their escorts and had them let her take the
lead, and stopped in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Advising them they were
minutes from home, they watched the pair of cars reenter the highway and
disappear. They were almost home.

A few minutes later they were at Jessica's house. It was past midnight but
none of them, tired as they were, were ready to sleep. Jessica had called her
father several times along the way, and now told him they were home.

"The eagle has landed," she told him. "See you tomorrow."

"And that's the last cliche of the mission," she said, smiling at them.
"Michael, you must be at least as hungry as we are. Let's see if we can get a
pizza or something. By the way, for your soon-to-be former name, did you go
by Michael or Mike?"

Michael laughed, as the realization of the changes he was about to experience
sank in.

"Mike's good for now."

"All right, Tommy, can you make Mike at home in the dining room, get some
beers or something. Darrell can help me with the pizza."

The pizzas cooked and on the table, they ate silently for the first couple of
slices. None of them had eaten all day, and as the adrenalin subsided they
wanted nothing more than to eat and go to bed. A couple of beers each
finished them off. Jessica showed Michael to an unused bedroom, and Tommy
went to his place.

Tired as they were, Carter and Jessica took a quick shower and brushed their
teeth before retiring. The last thing he remembered was lying down on the big
bed, arranging a pillow, and Jessica lying down beside him, her head next to
his shoulder and an arm across his chest.

They got up late the next day and Jessica and Carter fixed breakfast and
woke Michael. Afterwards they went over to Gordon's house to meet with him and
Donald. After the introductions, they sat down to discuss plans. An unused
room in Gordon's area of the house held a small conference table and some chairs,
and with the exception of Gordon, who had other work to do. "First," Jessica said, "we need to get Michael acclimated to his new life."

She passed him a leather card case containing a number of cards - a Missouri
driver's license and insurance card and several debit and credit cards.

"How'd you get my picture?" he asked.

"We had plenty to choose from," said Jessica with a smile. "You were all over
the news, TV, internet. The nice thing about digital images is you can copy
and edit them with no loss of quality. We had your identity set up, just
needed to get a new license with the right picture. How is not important now -
you'll learn a lot of things as we go on. But you identity is as bulletproof
as if you were in witness protection. Maybe better.

"For now, the important thing is, you're no longer Michael Kucinick. You're
James Manley, and you've just aged a couple of years. Sorry about that, we
have these identities set up long before they have to be used. Anyway, given
your new life, you won't have a lot of the usual things to worry about. We'll
get some work done on your appearance - the only way you're likely to be
detected is by fingerprints or DNA. They'll have that, so when you're in
public places you'll have to be careful about touching things. Though I doubt
there will be much of a search after a while. In any case, you won't be
exposed to the public much. Certainly not before we get your

"Since you'll be living here," said Donald, "in a rather secluded environment,
most of the time you'll be with one or two of us, learning what
we do, and preparing for your future. As to what your future is, I know we
didn't tell you much beyond the immediate problem, but I believe you'll find
it interesting."

"I'll have to go into town and get you a wardrobe," Jessica said. "If you're
all right with it, I recommend what we're wearing. Do you know your sizes?"

"Looks OK to me," said the former Mike. "34 waist with 36 legs will work, I
like shirts a little on the large side, so XL there. Shoes, boots or whatever,
is size 10. That do it?"

"I believe so," Jessica said. "If you're not particular about toiletries and
stuff, I can fix you up."

"Yeah, just the basics is fine."

"It seems we got up in time for lunch," she said as Mary appeared at the door.
"James, this is Mary. He'll be our guest for a while."

"Nice to meet you, James," Mary said, "and yes, lunch is ready."

Gordon had returned in time to join them, which James found
impressive for a midday meal.

"You have to get used to it," Carter told him. "I lived in St. Louis, after I
left home I mostly lived on fast food and whatever the restaurants had. This
is definitely better."

"Our supplies are better," said Jessica. "We raise a lot of our fruits and
vegetables here, and most of our meat is from the freeholds that raise

"Freeholds?" asked James.

"That's what we are," Jessica replied. "One of many, some large, some small,
all over the country. We're preparing for the eventual failure of our society,
and whatever that brings. To survive it, and be around to pick up the pieces."

"Like the preppers?"

"That's the word some use," said Donald. "Back in the eighties they called us
survivalists. Usually as a pejorative, used by the news media. Luckily
they have no idea about us - we're considerably more than that.

"Our founders, years ago, saw that the republic was falling apart. The
original intent was to save it, and still is. But it's becoming less likely
that we'll be able to turn back now. Even if the next midterm election
changes the congress sufficiently to put a check on this regime, and that
seems unlikely, then it's pretty much over.

"Once elections are fully fixed, there will likely be a large-scale assault on
the constitution, rubber-stamped by the supreme court. And if they don't like
the court's decisions they'll simply ignore them. The only question is the
outcome. They're sufficiently arrogant and deranged to try confiscating
weapons, locking up people for objecting, or just killing them. We will
resist that, to the last man. They may win, but there won't be much left

"You really think it will go that way?" asked James. He seemed to be
wondering if he had fallen in with a cult.

"We're not a bunch of nuts nursing conspiracy theories," Donald said. "Think
about how you got here. We had a plane fly into a private airfield outside of
Little Rock, pick you up and fly you to another facility before returning to
its home base. Then we had a convoy transport you up here, in the middle of

"There are groups of discontented and frightened citizens trying, usually in
amateurish ways, to form defensive groups. They see what's coming, as we do,
but they lack the resources and wisdom to get it done right. They end up
attracting the attention of the government, and often are doing illegal
things as well, and eventually they're wiped out. Killed, often, and sent to
prison if not.

"That's now what we are. We're well financed and well organized, lots of ex-
military, and some of us are inside - working in government. That helps us do
things like setting up new identities, with everything in perfect order."

"Where do I fit in?" James asked.

"Don't be insulted," said Donald, "but our main motivation for your rescue was
to prevent another innocent cop from being sacrificed for the political
ambitions of the enemy. And make no mistake, those people are the enemy. To
be sure, the mayor, police chief, the prosecutor - they're just tools. They,
and those like them - for example in St. Louis where they did the same thing
to Darrell. Most of them aren't even very bright. Literally stupid, in fact.
They're enjoying the power, the wealth - most of them get rich from graft -
and the other benefits of their position. That's why these inner cities are
hellholes. But, anyway..

"Darrell had just been through that. He saw the same thing happening to you
if something wasn't done. From our perspective, we being the governing
council of the freeholds, it served a couple of other purposes. It was a test
of our ability to pull off such an operation smoothly, and it was a warning to
the enemy.

"As to where you fit in, I suspect you'll want to join us. You don't have to,
although the alternative is eventually being caught and going to prison for
the rest of your life, but we believe when you learn more, if you haven't
decided, you'll want to."

"I don't need any time," James said. "I don't know much, but it's enough to
know is what I want. My old life is gone, was gone before you got me out."

"That's good to hear. Not only will you like it, you'll be a valuable
addition to the team."

"Besides," James said, "the food's pretty good."

"I think that's the first time you've smiled since you got here," said Jessica.
"It's going to be all right. I'm going to leave for a while and go into
town, to get James outfitted. Darrell, you or Tommy want to go, or need

"If you'll be all right by yourself," said Darrell.

Jessica was getting up, and turned to look at him, then saw his grin.

"All right, smart guy. See you all later."

"I guess this would be a good time to show James around." Carter said.
"Jessica probably took her car, so the Trailblazer should be there. James, you

"You want to drive," Carter asked Tommy, "or be the tour guide?"

"Go ahead," said Tommy. "James, take the front seat and I'll point out the
points of interest as we go.

Carter took them on the tour Jessica and Tommy had given him on his arrival.
Tommy did the narration, but was didn't go into details on most of the features.
There would be time to discuss those things later.

They had decided to install James in the mobile home Carter had occupied,
rather than one of the empty houses, as they had planned. It was closer to
Jessica and Carter, and had already been prepared for occupancy.

"This place isn't as interesting as some you'll eventually visit," Carter told
James. "There's considerable variety among the freeholds, and we visit each
other a lot, for various reasons. Our primary contribution is funding -
Jessica's grandfather is rather wealthy, and is one of the founders. He's not
active on the council now, having passed that duty to Donald."

By the time they finished the tour, Jessica had returned. They went into the
house, and as it wasn't time for dinner they turned on the television
to watch the news.

The lead item was a double homicide in Cincinnati. They watched the as the
presentation was delivered with the usual polish, as the incident had happened
several hours earlier. First the on site reporter with a synopsis, then the
first interviewee. This was apparently a witness - if so she must have stuck
around to be on television. Not surprising, Carter thought. He remembered an
incident at a high school some years back, when, once the police had arrived
and dispensed with the perpetrators, several of the female students who lived
nearby went home to improve their hair and makeup so they would look good on
television. In her case, it wouldn't have helped, and her contribution wasn't
worth much either.

"They was back there behind the store when the police came up," the witness said. "I don't know
why they came back, maybe they couldn't get out. So they got behind that car,
there. Both of them was pointin' guns over at the cops. They got down behind
their cars too, was yellin' at them."

The scene shown was several small buildings with parking lots, not quite a
strip mall but the components of one. There were now several police cars,
cops standing around, and the news crews. Two of them.

"What happened then?" the reporter asked.

"Well, neither of them, the cops or the robbers, did nothing for a while, and
then one of them shot over the hood of the car at the cops, and while he was
doing that the other one ran out into the street, shootin' back at the police.
There was cars going by, he got across, and then the other one took off. Then
the cops stood up and put their guns away and one of them was talkin' on his
radio. And some more police cars showed up."

The reporter thanked the witness and scene switched back to the studio.

"Do we have any more information on the suspects, Ashley?" the anchor asked.

"Not at this time, Linda," the reporter replied.

"Wonder why they say their names so much," Carter said. "No I don't. It's all
about them. They couldn't care less, and neither do most of the people
watching. The maddening thing is, it's all a bunch of amateur theater being
consumed by a largely numb-brained audience. The pretty news people get big
paychecks and the cops get in trouble if they do their jobs right."

The street scene was back, but it was a recording. As the citizen said, a
couple of cops were crouched behind the doors of their cars, guns drawn but
not aimed at anything. Except the asphalt. They could hear the police
shouting at the perpetrators, and then as they broke to run the cops stayed
where they were, never moving to fire back.

"I suppose they couldn't have done much anyway," said James. "Couldn't risk
hitting a civilian. I suppose they could have chased them, but those things
sometimes don't end well."

Another clip was playing, the reporter was speaking with a cop, apparently one
of the two who were first on the scene.

"...and they'll have to see if they can get an identification and see if they
can find them." he was saying.

"Couldn't you have chased them, maybe see where they went? They may be hard
to find if the victims can't identify them."

The cop was fairly young, probably younger than James.

"Not my problem," he replied. "I catch him and he tries to shoot me, which he had
already done, one of us will get shot and maybe dead. I'm not getting killed
for people who don't care, and I'm not about to shoot a criminal. There's
cops in prison already for just doing their job, doing it the right way.
Politicians will throw you under the bus in a second."

"So what is the public supposed to think?" the reporter asked. "You're a police officer,
you don't try to catch a criminal because you could get shot or prosecuted?"

"Is she really that stupid?" James asked. "Nevermind."

"I have a feeling that kid isn't going to be a cop much longer," Tommy said. "He'll be
fired before the week's out."

"It's Saturday," said Carter. "I suspect he wants to be fired. He gets it - being a
cop these days is dumb. I suspect that was his parting shot."

"I didn't see the rot when I was there," said Carter. "And seven years later,
I guess you didn't either."

"It's hard, even now," said James. "We saw stuff like this, like what happened
to you and other guys, but were so wrapped up in our work we didn't take time
to analyze. But I think more guys are starting to."

"And now an update on another police shooting." The anchor was back. "Almost
four months ago, after another deadly police shooting, this one in Little Rock,
Arkansas, two officers were indicted by a grand jury. One of them, this man

"You're coming up," Carter said. James's mugshot appeared in the usual
location on the screen.

"...Michael Kucinick, was charged with murder. He was free on bail, and was
wearing a GPS tracker. Sometime last night the tracker was cut off he has
disappeared. For more on that we go to Wendy Wolsack."

"Tell me that's not a real name," said James.

"Has to be," said Carter. "Who'd make up a name like that?"

"...right, Linda," Wendy was saying. She was indoors, probably in a police or
court facility of some kind. "Sometime last night the monitoring service
noticed that locator had been removed. It was found in a park close to Kucinkck's
home, and there was no sign of him. Police went to his home but when they got
inside he was not there either. His car was at the house, so police suspect
he was taken away by an accomplice."

"And no sighting so far?" Linda asked. "It was over twenty-four hours ago
that the alarm was triggered."

"I hope they don't watch recordings of their banal dialogue," Carter said.
"But they probably don't notice. Probably think they're doing something useful."

"That's right, Linda," the exchange continued. "We have no more
information at this time, other than that the police are investigating."

"And now for reaction from the community," Linda continued. "we have Reverend
L. D. Hastings. Do you have any information or comments?"

The reverend appeared on the other half of the screen.

"This is obviously an attempt to thwart justice," he said, "and it must not
succeed. If this murdering cop is allowed to escape there will be no justice.
The police department must do whatever it has to do to bring this killer to

"Thank you, Reverend Hastings. And now to Henry Tutor for sports."

Jessica turned the sound down and left the television on.

"Wonder how much time they'll spend searching Little Rock," she said.

"And you're over four hundred miles away," said Carter. "Never to be found."

"I'm still amazed at what you pulled off," said James. "The idea that
something like this exists - no one would believe it. I'm glad you were here
to do it. When I think about spending thirty, forty years in prison - I don't
know what I would have done. Probably I wouldn't have the courage to live -
my life would have been over anyway."

"That's why we did it," said Carter. "We couldn't let that happen again. That
guy in Philadelphia got forty years, and he was already forty-two. He'll
never see freedom again."

"All that remains now," said Jessica, "is to let them know what happened. And
that there's nothing they can do about it."

"We're going to do that?" James asked

"Yeah," Carter replied. "It's an essential part of the deal. They have to know.
We really are at war now - that was a first shot. Of course they won't know
the rest of it - only that there is someone out here that can do it. There
are some people, in some places, who'll be running around like chickens with
their heads cut off, as we country folk say."

Jessica laughed.

"You've become a country boy pretty quickly," she said. "Hopefully James will
make the same rapid progress. It's getting late - James, let's get you over
to your new place."

"So," Jessica said, "now that we've put a stick in the enemy's eye, how do we go
about rubbing it in? Any ideas?"

They we in Donald's office, a week after extracting James. The news had
largely subsided, it was still an active subject in the Little Rock area, but
nowhere else.

"Essentially, we want to let it be known that it was a professional operation,"
Donald said, "and that their prisoner is free and they will never find him.
And that we did it to provoke them, that is important. We want to stir things up."

"Do we need to involve the Council at this point?" asked Jessica.

"We do," Donald replied. "We can set up a committee, three or four members, to
approve all communications. We need it to be some of us who can meet in person,
so they have to be close together."

He spread a map of the country on the table, black and white with no more than
the outlines of the lower 48 states. There was a stack of them, used for such
planning sessions as these. He drew an X at the top of Missouri, indicating
their location. Then he placed four more at locations around the

"These should work," he said. "We've got four members within a two hour drive
of here. We can get together once a week or so, draw up communiques. Then
deliver them somewhere in the Little Rock area, probably television and radio
stations, the Little Rock newspaper."

"We need to be sure the printer used can't be traced," Jessica said. "As far
as we know, only color laser printers and copiers can be traced, but we want to be
extra careful - maybe use a cheap inkjet and dispose of it afterward, like a
burner phone. And buy it somewhere, like KC, pay cash, the usual. So how
soon can we get that started? We might not want to wait too long, keep it in
the news."

"I can contact our guys, get them to a meeting in a few days," Donald replied.
"The entire council is aware of the operation, but only those of us who carried
it out know the details. Of course everyone is now aware it happened, so let
me get in touch with them."

The first message was delivered a few days later, and was on the evening news.
They watched as a feed from a station was relayed to the nationwide news
channels. It had to be taken seriously, it seemed, as Kucinick had indeed
vanished without a trace and there was no clue to his whereabouts. The FBI
had been on the case within twenty-four hours, even though it was not a
federal case.

"They use the excuse that after twenty-four hours it is assumed that state
lines have been crossed." Carter said. "It's how the FBI got in business -
they treated kidnapping as a federal crime if the victim wasn't located in
twenty-four hours. Not that it mattes, they make anything they like a federal
case now."

An image of the message filled the screen, while the contents were delivered
by an unseen person.

"Officer Michael Kucknick was freed Friday evening by a team of our personnel. He is now in a safe place and will remain there as long as necessary. We took this action because, as in numerous past cases, a police officer innocent of any wrongdoing was charged with a crime to pacify the criminal element of our society and to preserve and advance political careers. We will no longer tolerate such activities. Your hired mobs can burn, loot, and kill as much as you wish, but if you attempt to prosecute police officers who have done nothing wrong, we will prevent it, by any means necessary. If you are so foolish as to imprison them, the cost of freeing them will be much higher, for you."
The unseen news person reappeared.

"The message gave no indication of who sent it," she said. "The police
department has no comment at this time, other than that they are investigating.
We have, from our affiliate in Chicago, Dr. Robert Blakely, a criminologist
with experience in domestic terrorism cases."

"I didn't get her name," said Carter. "I'm guessing, oh, Heather."

"Not Melissa?" asked Tommy.

"Savannah is pretty popular with that set these days," said James, getting into
the spirit."

"C'mon, guys," Jessica said as the presumed Dr. Blakely appeared on one side of
the screen.

"Dr. Blakely," the as yet unnamed anchor said, "this message seems to indicate
some organization is involved here, but they don't identify themselves. Is
that unusual?"

"Somewhat, Amy," he replied. "Usually the perpetrators of such acts want to be
known, you might say get their brand out there. Of course we don't know yet
if this message is from the actual perpetrators. The only thing that does
seem likely at this point is that it was an organized and probably well
planned operation. Officer Kucinick has disappeared without a trace. Since
they have contacted the authorities, or at least the news media, we maybe able
to track them if they communicate further."

"Are they likely to?" Amy asked. "This seems to be simply a message stating
what they did - no demands or threats, except that they will do it again if

"You're right," said Blakely. "They aren't trying to get anything - they have
what they want, you might say. So if they don't make further contact, it will
be difficult to find out who it is."

"Could the message medium itself give us any clues? The paper, what kind of
printer was used?"

"Possibly but not likely," Blakely replied. "While it is possible to trace some
types of printers and copiers, they probably took precautions against that.
But it's worth checking."

"Any idea what type of organization would do this?"

"Here it comes," said Carter.

"Well, Amy, most of the time we find this sort of activity being done by the
various anti-government, especially white supremacist organizations. I would
expect the authorities to be looking a those."

"Do you think they could have been motivated by a white police officer being
charged with killing an African-American?"

"She forgot to say victim," said Carter.

"Certainly it could," Blakely replied. "Federal authorities keep a close watch on
such organizations. I would expect increased surveillance now."

"Thank you, Dr. Blakely," Amy said. "We'll have to wait for further developments."

"Amy," said Carter. "Is that the best they could do? She won't go far with that."

"How hard would it be to create white supremacist organizations that only
exist in the minds of the enemy?" Carter asked.

"Most of them do only exist there," replied Jessica. "The Council keeps an eye on
the organizations out there that aren't associated with us. We want to know
what they're up to, are they good, bad or not worth worrying about. I can
tell you, white supremacists are just not that common. If you put them all in
one place they probably wouldn't fill a minor league baseball stadium. The government-news media cabal just tags anything they don't like that way."

"I was thinking," Carter said, "that with our ability to remain invisible, the
imaginary creations would be even easier to hide, since they don't exist. The
digital environment would be easy enough to hide in, and some visible 'evidence'
in the form of photos and video of staged events, you could create these
things out of thin air. And if they don't even exist, the enemy could spend
an awful lot of time and money, not to mention personnel, chasing them."

"The political types, and the media as well, are actually pretty dumb," said
Jessica. "We put the bait out and they'll go after it. The actual operations
personnel are sometimes smarter, but not much these days. The BATF has for a
long time been mostly rejects from other agencies, pretty low on the scale for
both intelligence and character. The FBI was good once, but when it became a
political tool it went downhill as well. So yeah, we could definitely pull
something like that."

"Where do we go next with this operation?" asked Tommy. "We've got their

"We might deliver a couple of jabs, a couple of weeks, or even months apart."
Carter said. "Keep it visible. Each time they'll get more angry. Don't know
how many, though. Of course, we might do it indefinitely."

"Speaking of giving them ghosts to chase," James said. "Could we plant false
leads, sighting reports, things like that?"

"Anything to add to the confusion," said Jessica. "It's easy enough to
spread rumors on the internet. And we have ways to do it without being traced.
Given that the government relies heavily on spreading rumors and
disinformation these days, there's no reason for us not to. And that will be
an important tool once the real war begins.

"We have accounts at lots of web sites, including the major news outlets, but
a lot of other venues where things are discussed. Anyone can go on there and
say anything, and some people will believe it and some won't. It's fairly
certain that the various authorities and other interested parties will stay on
it. We could make anonymous calls, using burner phones, to plant
false leads.

"In the absence of anything out of the ordinary, we're not going to have much
to do outside of the normal joint activities with the other freeholds.
Unfortunately, James, it's going to be a while before you can
even leave here, outside of trips into town, maybe over to Saint Joe. Once we've
gotten your appearance changed some, and you're no longer a major news subject,
you can start getting out some. As long as you're with us you're safe - even
even if you are suspected we can handle any problems.

"And of course you have to be comfortable in your new identity. Aside from
not allowing anyone to get your fingerprints or anything with your DNA on it,
you have to be able to not respond if someone calls you by your old name. And
if anyone thinks they've recognized you, they'll try it. Anyway, we'll try to
make sure you don't get too bored."

"Your father told me a little about the setup when I arrived," James said.
"You said something about the real war. What do you expect to happen?"

"We expect the worst," Jessica said, "particularly if no political
situation is possible. And it doesn't look good. The best thing that can
happen isn't very good, only a postponement of maybe a few years. And that
would be a few years of things not getting much worse, not getting better. It
all depends on the next election. I Congress returns to a conservative
majority, it could prevent any more incursions on the constitution, but
without huge majority they couldn't pass any useful legislation. Then it
would depend on the next election.

"The degree to which the election process has been corrupted, the prospects
for the presidential election don't look good. So in the best case, things won't
get a lot worse for a few years."

"What's the worst case?" asked James.

"In that case," Jessica said, "the enemy has it all, and will never be
dislodged by elections. We'll have had our last chance. Either we go quietly
into the darkness with the sheeple, or we resist."

"What would resistance consist of?"

"There are a couple of unlikely scenarios," said Jessica. "If several of the
southern states, anchored by Texas - we doubt Texas could do it alone -
revolted to the point of declaring themselves autonomous and defending
themselves against any attempts to violate their autonomy, it could provide at
least a refuge for those unwilling to live under the coming regime."

"What would that mean, autonomous? Not seceding but not obeying federal

"Essentially. The vast majority of federal laws are unconstitutional, no
matter what the supreme court has ruled. The constitution is what it is, and
the Supreme Court is a much a part of the corruption as the other branches.
The major problem is that no state is likely to do it. Even the most
conservative states don't have the political majority they would need to do it.
It would probably involve changing the constitution, and that could take years.
We don't have years. In any case, if one or more states did that, in the end
the federal government would use military force if necessary."

"You really believe it's that bad?" asked James.

"We know it is," Jessica replied. "So we wait. For a while."

"And then?" James asked. "Do we wait for the first move?"

"Probably," Jessica replied. "But we won't know until it happens."

"You said there were a couple of scenarios," said James. "What's the other one?"

"Something that hasn't really been part of planning all along, but something
Darrell brought up, I've discussed it with Dad, and he with some members of
the Council. So we don't have a firm picture of it. But it would be
something short of an attempt to depose the government, but to put up a
resistance that couldn't be defeated, and would have to be tolerated.

"The freeholds would fortify their territory where possible, and conceal them
where that could be done. They would repel attacks, both by defending against
attacks and by retaliation, even against unsuccessful attacks. At that point
it would be a pretty ugly situation, which is to say things getting broken and
people getting killed."

"That would be ugly," said James. "Would it be possible to survive for long,
like that?"

"Quite likely not," said Jessica. "Which is why the nuclear option has
generally been the only likely outcome, and likely will remain so."

"Nuclear option?"

"The most extreme solution to a problem," said Jessica. "And hopefully a
successful one. But if it fails, the result would be mutually assured
destruction. We are not prepared to let this country become a larger version
of Cuba or Venezuela, or China for that matter, which seems to be the goal of

"We would try to take out the majority of the key elements of the enemy forces.
Members of Congress, likely the heads of some of the law enforcement agencies
such as the FBI, BATF, some that are under Homeland Security. Those agencies
are so corrupt already that we'd have no misgivings about doing away with the
one who run them. And along with the political types, we'd go after some of
their enablers. The agitators who have bee involved in creating the
conditions that made helped them, probably some who provided money. But it
would be only those whose guilt is unquestionable.

"And very likely, at the same time, we would likely be doing some disruption
around the country. Take out some bridges here and there, power distribution
stations. Cut off some of the big cities. With electricity and water, not to
mention food, cut off - they'll too much to deal with to bother us much."

"You're talking about assassinations?"

"Killing them, yes. Killing evil people who have done evil deeds and are
prepared to more. And preventing hundreds of millions of people from dying or
becoming slaves to an evil government."

They all sat silently for a while - discussing the future always darkened the

"It's over a year until the next election," said Carter. "That's time we have
to use to prepare. Wait, watch, and prepare."

Part 2
    Fate whispers to the warrior, 'You cannot  
    withstand the storm.' The warrior whispers  
    back, 'I am the storm,’  
   And, behold, here cometh a chariot of men,  
   with a couple of horsemen. And he answered  
   and said, Babylon is fallen, is fallen;  
   and all the graven images of her gods he  
   hath broken unto the ground.  
    Isaiah 21:9  

Carter watched the figure behind the podium, near the front of the outdoor
stage at the Gateway Amphitheater. It was well over a quarter of a mile, and
he needed the powerful binoculars to determine that it was a woman, and not
much else. The event he was waiting for was still days ago, and he was
setting up a viewing spot.

The affair in progress was a political event, as would be the one he was
preparing for. The most of the seats were filled, and a row of several chairs
sat to the left side, from his position, of the podium. Apparently the woman
was some sort of staff as she spent just a few minutes there, inspecting
the setup and then leaving.

There were several microphones, with labels identifying them with
local news outlets, mostly television stations. The event was being held for
the incumbent representative for the district, and the results of the election
was, like most congressional seats, not much in doubt. Of course, even if it
was a sure thing, the campaign provided an inflow of money for the party and
its allies. The senatorial candidate did have some competition, and
his event would be much larger.

Carter watched as the seats on the state were filled, no doubt by important
local party members. Soon the speaker would arrive. If the usual form was
followed, one or two of the seated persons would take a turn at the microphone
introducing the speaker, and then the candidate would arrive.

She would be recognizable - only in Congress for a couple of terms, she was an
attack dog for her party. Not very intelligent, but as a tool for the
party power brokers, her every word and action was scripted. All she had to
do was show up and read the speech. Carter was reminded of a conversation with James when he had
first arrived. Like so many people, James had spent his life attending to his
work and as much of a personal life as he had time for, and had never had time
for politics.

One day while watching the news, one of the more obnoxious members of the
party of the enemy, an old woman who was also extremely ugly, was delivering
one of the usual tirades James wondered aloud

"How does someone like that get elected?"

"One of the flaws in the system," Carter had said. "Senators are elected by
the entire electorate of a state, which is why we've were holding our own for
as long as we did. But representatives are elected by districts. You know
how some, probably most, of the big cities have places where no sane person
wants to live, or even visit.

"Well, some of those bad parts of town have enough population to be a complete
congressional district. Those cesspools have their own representatives. That's
how they get there. And of course, most of the people there don't even bother
to vote - it's done for them."

He picked up the rifle and used the scope to continue watching. One of those
in the chairs went to the podium and made a brief speech before yielding to a
second one, who made a longer speech ending with the introduction of the
featured speaker. As each one walked to the podium he followed with the scope,
calculating the right firing time.

As he watched, the woman selected by the party for this position emerged from
backstage, moving to the podium with an arrogant strut. Carter supposed she
might actually think she had something to do with her being in that position.
From what he had seen of her he was surprised she would find her way across
the stage unaided. She wasn't any more enjoyable to look at than the old hag
from California, he thought. Only much younger.

Carter had gotten a fix on the path his target would take, crossing the stage
at an angle, exposed for several seconds before being mostly hidden behind the
podium. He had tested the shot numerous times with all the right parameters,
including the elevation of his position at a couple of the ranges he had access to.

* * *

Attorney General Erskine McCormick looked out the window of his hotel at the
Gateway Arch. The gateway to the west in other times, he thought, would now
be his gateway to the nation's capitol. In a few short years he had parlayed
a prosecutor position into a shot at being elected attorney general, and the
state's trend to electing more liberal officials had won him the office. Now
he was ready for the big time, the U.S. Senate.

He had no doubts about his ability to win - he was the party favorite and his
party was guaranteed to win. And he was still relatively young, not yet fifty.
He could easily spend another twenty or so years living the good life of a
powerful insider, or he might just as well accumulate enough wealth to retire
comfortably in much less than that. He was already doing pretty well, he
reflected, and from here it only got easier.

"Mr. McCormick." It was his assistant, John Holmes. Holmes was looking
forward to the upcoming move, as he McCormick had promised he would be going
along as part of his staff.

"John." McCormick turned to the young man.

"Our guests are here," John said. "They're down at the bar, I told them you'll
be down shortly."

"Thanks John," McCormick said. "I'm ready."

John had bent over to pick up something from the floor.

"Wonder what this is," he said, holding it out for McCormick to see.

"Beats me," McCormick replied, looking down at it. "Looks like some kind of military medal,
something. Looks German, that cross. I don't know that the circle is."

"Should I check it out?" Holmes asked.

"Yeah, see if you can find anything on it. Let's go."

They went down to the ground floor bar to join their guests. They were dining
in the hotel restaurant. The guests, a pair of lobbyists
and their wives, were there to get their hooks into the new senator early.
McCormick wasn't much interested in what they wanted - if it wasn't likely to
endanger his career, or conflicted with a more important patron, they would
get it. And he would prosper.

After the meal, the final drinks downed, they adjourned - the lobbyists to
their limousines while McCormick and his aide retired to their rooms.
McCormick, normally not much of a drinker, quickly fell asleep. Holmes, in
his room, took the time to research the medal he had found in his boss's room.
It didn't take long - he quickly found the exact item. It was an army
marksmanship badge the highest of three levels - expert.

It could be nothing, he thought. There had been no threats against McCormick
during the campaign, or at any time in the past as far as he knew. Had it
been anything not connected with weapons he would have quickly dismissed. Now
he was uncertain. He had only worked for McCormick for a little over three
years, and before he was Attorney General he had been a prosecutor in St. Louis.
That was a disquieting thought, but he wasn't sure how to approach his boss.
He decided to ask him in the morning.

Carter was finished in St. Louis for the time being. Three days from now his
target would be in the amphitheater, winding up his campaign. The election
was days away. He drove over do Columbia, where Jessica met him. His
equipment was ready to go, and there was nothing more do do until it was time
to return to St. Louis. After Jessica had gone to sleep, he lay awake for a
while, the old memories he had brought back when deciding on and then planning
for the mission.

He remembered McCormick in the courtroom, his mercenary nature clear even
then. As was his contempt not only for Carter but for cops in general. And
anyone else beneath his station. It was clear those people feared him. The
witnesses were either willing accomplices for the prosecution, including some
of the cops, or reluctant but afraid. Not that it mattered. The judge
did her best to give the prosecution the upper hand and hobble the defense.
Carter sometimes wondered if he should do away with her as well - he was aware
of her record and it wasn't pretty. She was probably dead or retired by now,
he suspected, being quite a bit older than him even then.

It's not about personal revenge, he reminded himself. He wouldn't be going
after McCormick if he hadn't risen to the position of becoming a senator. Not
that Carter wouldn't have minded standing eye to eye with him before squeezing
the trigger. But what difference did it make? He'd be dead seconds later and
knowing why he was dying wouldn't matter.

No, this was much bigger. McCormick was on his way to becoming another tool
in the regime that was coalescing before their eyes. He was
already going down, he was just going early. And in any case, he wasn't even
going to die. Or at least that wasn't the plan. Carter could put the bullet
exactly where he wanted it, and it wasn't to be a lethal shot.

And so he and Jessica had headed back to St. Louis, lost in the early morning
traffic and getting set up before noon. Carter watched the target site,
checking the weather at regular intervals. The shoot would be after dark, and
with equipment better than most military snipers it would be no problem. A
quarter of a mile was nothing to some of those guys.

The rifle and the precisely handloaded cartridges so thoroughly tested were
ready, Jessica was monitoring the getaway setup and would until he arrived
after the deed was done.

John Holmes called his boss.

"Yes John."

"Do you have a few private minutes?"

"Sure, come on over."

Holmes went over the McCormick's room, closed the door and laid the medal on
the desk.

"That's an army marksman's medal," he said. "I have no idea if it means
anything. But if it's a message, it's a clear one. I know we haven't had any
trouble, or even threats, but.."

"Yeah, we can't be too careful," said McCormick. "It could be nothing, if it
was a message it would have been more visible. Or some crackpot, or a prank.
We haven't had any troublemakers around the campaign."

"Is there anyone from the past? You were a prosecutor, must have put a few
people in prison. Any of them stand out as potential threats?"

"There's always that. I hope the really bad ones are still put away. But I
don't actually even remember any of them threatening me. If there is someone
after me, I won't be in town after tonight. Good luck following me around."

The sun was behind the target site now. Carter set up the rifle and began to
survey the site. The audience was beginning to arrive, and occasionally there
was some activity on the stage. There were a few more microphones and cameras
now, the senate race would attract some national news.

Soon the state was populated, except for the candidate. Carter practiced
aiming at each speaker approaching the podium. And then it was time.

"And now," said the young woman who looked like a college student, and probably was,
"the next senator from the state of Missouri."

Now, Carter thought. He tracked the man as he emerged from the curtains,
almost in a side profile, one, two, three steps. Four. He squeezed the
trigger, barely felt the slight resistance. The .300 Winchester Magnum round
shoving the rifle back hard into his shoulder didn't cause him to lose sight
of the target. He had been well prepared. In the green light he saw the
target buckle at the waist and drop to the stage.

Quickly but with deliberate care he put the rifle in the case and latched it.
The bipod and other accessories were stowed and he was headed down the stairs.
He quickly descended the eight flights without a misstep. Jessica stood by
the Dodge minivan, the back hatch open. The compartment under the floor was
open, his gear quickly stowed, and the door closed. Several boxes containing
innocuous items were pushed back over the cover, and the back seat was raised
to the normal position. Jessica got in and started it, driving away alone.
Carter would follow in the Trailblazer, closing in behind her once they were
in traffic.

The sniper's nest might eventually be found, based on assumptions about the
angle of the bullet's path. Or it might not. The building was completely
unoccupied and secured, pending a decision on its future. It was likely do be
demolished, but whatever happened wouldn't affect him. A high fence had been
built around it, with signs warning away trespassers. As Carter drove through
an open gate, a man stepped out of the shadows and gave him a thumbs-up sign.
In the mirror Carter saw him closing the gate. By the time anyone showed up
to check it, he would be long gone and the concrete driveway would tell no

The site was something over a quarter of a mile and it would be quite a while
before anyone looked this far out, if they did so at all. Carter pushed the
call button on a small radio and waited.

"Here," Jessica said.

"Just egressed," said Carter.

"OK, I'm just about to hit the freeway."

"Gotcha. Should see you in a few."

Once Jessica was on the freeway she would stay just under the speed limit.
All the traffic would be going by her, and at just slightly over Carter would
catch her quickly. He set the cruise control and relaxed as the traffic
passed by, relaxing now. The operation was over, and there were no traces.
Before long he spotted Jessica's taillights and turned on his emergency
flashers for several cycles. She responded and they both adjusted their speed
to maintain a constant interval. A couple of hours later they were back at
the hotel.

Ensuring the vehicles were locked, they went up to their room. Not trusting
to locks alone, the vehicles had alarms to alert them to tampering. Not that
anyone was likely to burglarize or steal what looked like an old and not
especially desirable vehicle, which was part of the plan.

They hadn't eaten since breakfast, so they decided to eat in the hotel
restaurant before it closed for the night. They just made it, and it was late
when they got back to their room. They resisted the urge to watch television
until they had had a shower, brushed their teeth and put on fresh pajamas.
One of the things they had learned early on that both of them were what some
might call obsessively clean, particularly in their personal habits.

Much refreshed, they sat down on a couch to watch television. Of course, the
news was all about the shooting. The news people were visibly excited, their
calculated clinical delivery occasionally slipping. All the news channels had
the same thing - attempted assassination of senate candidate, citywide manhunt,
and plenty of guest experts to analyze.

It quickly became dull. Facts were in short supply and simple. The senate
candidate had just walked onto the stage when a shot rang out, McCormick
crumpled to the floor, and the usual cliches. Carter and Jessica forebore to
comment, even though there was no way for them to be under suspicion it was
entirely possible the room could be bugged for any number of reasons, and they
didn't need to turn up on a recording someday.

It didn't take long for them to get around to the anti-government angle, with
white supremacist thrown in for good measure. Any number of attention-seeking
politicians, academics, and police sources were willing to pontificate, and
were still doing so when Jessica and Carter opted for sleep.

The next morning they left with the morning traffic, a short drive of about
two hours, and were home in time for lunch. Donald, James, and Tommy were
aware of the general situation from the news, so they waited until after lunch
to discuss it. They drove out to one of the small houses, bringing Jessica's
minivan so the gear could be removed and stored.

"We probably should have our sensitive meetings in places like this," Donald
told them. "The house is safe enough, but we can't be too careful, especially
as the war begins. And you might say it has. Even though we aren't crossing
swords in the streets yet, we need to stay as hidden as we can for as long as
we can.

"So, with that said, how did it go?"

Jessica looked over at Carter.

"I'd say flawlessly, but then it was a complete surprise. There was no
serious security. In the future there will be. If they figure out I was over
four hundred yards away, and it's likely they will even if they don't know
where it came from, there won't be any similar opportunities. We may have to
work up close."

"And of course," said Jessica, "getaways won't be as easy either. That's where
we'll have to have more operatives, to breach security, prevent operatives
from being captured, messy stuff."

"We anticipate that," Donald said . "And our plans for further operations will
have to be made on case by case basis. The council will be meeting again
after the election. and assuming it goes the way we expect we may be
doing wet work in the near future."

"In other words," said Jessica, "this was easy compared to what we're looking at
in the future."

"We haven't had any news except the usual top-of-the-hour bits," replied Carter.
"What's the status of the subject?"

"He's still in critical condition," Donald said. "Apparently the bullet went
in right at waist level, out the other side at an angle that put it several
inches lower when it exited the other leg. I would guess what it did on the
way through wasn't pleasant. Assuming he had any manhood to begin with. In
any case, he'll apparently recover, maybe even be able to walk."

Darrell grinned. In his past life the idea of shooting at another human being
was something he hoped would never happen, even though the possibility was a
part of his job. What he had done the night before hadn't bothered him at all,
and the idea of the possible injury amused him. He had occasionally thought,
while preparing, that a shot at the base of the spine would be good, giving a
good chance at permanent paralysis. Of course, it might also kill him.

"You might find this interesting, Darrell," said Donald. "Late last night
there were some interviews with people close to McCormick. Apparently
something found in his hotel room night before last is suspected of being a

"So they found it," said Carter.

"I gave him more chances than he gave me. I shot him through the hip. He'll
remember it every day for the rest of his life, but he's alive. If I had a
chance to, I'd have liked to look him in the eye just before I shot him, but
what good would that do. It's better this way - he'll be punished for the
rest of his life. As for the marksman's medal - I knew it wouldn't do any
good for them to find it, but now he has to know it was revenge. And he'll
never know who, and will never be able to stop wanting to know."

"How did you get it into his room," asked Donald.

"Paid a housekeeper. No way to be sure she'd do it, any more than that it
would be found."

"Well, we'll keep an eye on the news, as always." said Donald. "Once the
council meets, we'll have a better idea of how to proceed."

Carter dumped the items from the small leather bag Jessica had handed him. A
driver's license, social security card, a credit card all bearing his new name.
There were a few other items, including an insurance card for the car he would
be using most of the time, auto club card, and a few others. A concealed
carry permit was among them.

His new name was Brian Stanley. Brian Charles Stanley, to be precise. The
other information was close to reality, he was a couple of years older but
everything else matched.

"You'll probably not be your old self again, unless there's a good reason to,"
Jessica said. "Your real identity will be maintained by our people who do that,
they have another credit card or two that they use to make occasional purchases,
and they'll take care of the bills on those as well. They keep all the data
in order - all you have to do is remember who you are. As little contact as
we have with regular society you aren't likely to be challenged, unless you
make contact with the authorities. And that won't normally happen until
operations are actually underway. And hopefully not even then."

Carter didn't know, and none of them knew, when that would be. If the
election turned out as expected, there would probably be increased pressure on
society at large, as there was no way the government was going to reverse the
dismal economic conditions - it just wasn't possible with their policies.
Continued inflation, increasing prices for everything, and more and more
people going into poverty.

One of the questions for the short term was that of the increasing numbers of
people who had lived with the ability to support themselves finding themselves
no longer to live on their earnings, and many of them becoming unemployed.
The welfare class would continue as before, but those being forced into it
wouldn't be happy about it.

"So," Carter said, "your dad's leaving, when, first of the week after the election?"

"Yeah," Jessica replied. "They'll want to observe the reaction before they meet.
We'll have a good picture of the future long before the average citizenry does.
So it's just a matter of knowing the results. In case something unexpected
does happen."

They both knew that was unlikely. More than unlikely. They probably wouldn't
even watch the news reports - there was really no point.

Carter replaced his identifying effects with the new ones and put the old ones
in the folder. Jessica went over to a wall safe and put them in.

"Now I know how James felt," he said. "What are we doing today?"

They had slept a little late, wanting just a few more minutes to feel like
things were normal. Lying in bed, silently watching the growing light outside,
finally getting up to start the day.

They would be at the farm for the next few weeks, waiting until Donald
returned from the Council meeting.

They went over to what Carter had started calling 'the big house' - the slang
expression for prison was sometimes used by rural southerners to refer to the
the main house on an estate where multiple parts of the extended family lived
in separated houses.

Jessica's father and grandfather were just finishing breakfast at the kitchen
table. Hearing them come in Mary came in from the cooking area.

"Let me get you some coffee," she said.

"That's all right," Jessica said. "Looks like there's some left."

She poured cups for them, and Mary took the now-empty pot away. Jessica had
adopted Carter's habit of drinking her coffee black, having previously always added
cream and sugar, she one day decided to try it his way.

"Careful," he had said the first time she poured a cup and lifted it to her lips.
"It's hotter without the cream."

He was too late, but she quickly noticed.

"Just blow on it a few times," he said, "and take a little sip each time until you can
stand it".

"That's nothing like what I was drinking," she said.

"That's what coffee tastes like," he said. "Hot, strong, a little bitter. It's
an honest taste. Wakes you up too."

"It's definitely different," she said. "You might say I never knew what coffee
actually tasted like - only coffee and cream and sugar. It isn't the same thing."

"Kind of like chocolate," Carter said. "The ground beans are bitter. A lot of
sugar has to be added to make it taste good. Ever taste any cocoa powder?"

"Probably not," she said.

"I probably wouldn't drink chocolate that way," he said. "But for some reason,
it works with coffee."

"It definitely wakes you up."

"What are you folks up to today?" Donald asked as he came in.

"Since it looks like we're sticking close to home for a while," Jessica said,
"we'll be doing the usual checks on the premises, get James acclimated some
more. We'll probably make some runs to Saint Joe, maybe down to KC. Give him
some practice being in public places, learn his way around. Of course he won't
be doing anything alone for quite a while, but he needs the practice."

"We haven't seen anything about him in the news lately," said Carter. "He's
well on his way to being forgotten. We'll have to get an updated license soon,
with a new photo. He's certainly no longer recognizable to the casual observer."

James had grown his hair considerably longer, not a difficult task since his
cop haircut had been very short, and he had added a modest mustache. The
longer hair was more versatile as well, making a scruffy look possible, to
blend with the lower level working class types. Tommy affected a similar look,
and his ability to appear to belong in such environments had been useful in
getting close to James when setting up his rescue.

Together with Tommy and James they made one of their regular inspections of
the farm. There was little traffic in the area and it was rare for an
outsider to venture onto the property. Still, for them there was no such
thing as being too careful.

The corn harvest was near. In a few days the farmers who rented the large
areas of cropland would arrive with harvesters and trucks, and with favorable
weather they would be gone in a few days.

After inspecting the estate they drove over to St. Joseph. It
would be an opportunity for James to begin learning about the area, and they
needed an occasional break. Even Jessica's father, busy with his work, took a
break occasionally to take his girlfriend over to Saint Joe or even spend a
weekend in Kansas City.

Tommy and James were in one of the Trailblazers while Jessica and Carter took
her Taurus. After the tour they stopped to eat at one of the numerous
pizza places. It was James' first time away from the farm outside of a couple
of trips into Chillicothe, and he seemed to be at ease with being in public.

Carter showed him his new driver's license.

"That's the new me," he said. "We're both in the same boat now, as far as
having to keep our story straight."

Conceivably facial recognition could detect James if he was being actively searched
for, but he was probably a relatively low priority. Certainly his present
appearance was not likely to be connected with his past. Of course, he would
never again be known by his former name among the freeholder community. In
fact, only those at the Sierra Verde would ever know who he had been.

After eating they headed back to the farm, arriving just at dusk. Tommy and
James went to their places, while Jessica and Carter went to her house. They
watched the news for a while before going to bed and learned nothing
especially useful. Another multiple killing in Chicago, which seemed to have
been a daily occurrence for quite a while now. Several other cities, the
usual suspects, reported one or more. And one cop killed.

"At least cops aren't getting hit as hard," Jessica said.

"Maybe they're getting smarter," said Carter. "Like that kid the other day,
came right out and said it on television. Of course the other side of is that
with the recruiting problems, the quality is declining. We always had
incompetents, the corrupt ones, the ones with mental problems. But they were
a minority, and usually got thrown out before they caused too much trouble.
Not they're coming in in greater numbers. Who with half a brain is going to
do it?"

The crime news gotten the top spot, and they turned to politics. The attempt
on senate candidate McCormick was the main attraction. The usual train of
pundits and experts took their turn on the split screen beside the attractive
young blonde anchor.

Apparently the sniper's nest had not been located, not that it would help them
much. The confederate who facilitated access to the area was one of their own,
embedded in the community for that purpose. His connection with a the
security company responsible for the site made it easy for him to allow access
at just the right time. Even if the investigators eventually worked out the
source of the bullet, finding the firing location would still be difficult.

Another expert correctly identified the weapon used as one of the more
powerful .30 caliber rifles in the family that included the .300 Winchester
Magnum that Carter had used, but did not speculate on the rifle itself.
Further examination of the bullet might yield some clues.

The socio-political angle was expounded upon by another guest Carter had never
heard of and guessed that most watchers would not remember once he left the
screen. He predictably hit the usual points of anti-government, mentally ill
misfit, and of course white supremacist. With some prompting from the anchor
he explored the white supremacist angle a little more before being dismissed.

Carter wondered about the fixation on white supremacists, given the miniscule
numbers in existence.

"Well," said Jessica, "it's unlikely anyone would ever encounter one, there are
so few of them, they might as well not exist for most people, except as an
idea planted in their minds.

"And the few that do exist aren't going go show up to object, I suppose."

Next up a doctor speculated on McCormick's prognosis. Apparently there was
considerable damage to the left hip and upper right thigh, among other things.
He was likely to be able to walk again, perhaps with crutches.

"I'd have liked him better in a wheelchair," Carter said. "Of course, in the
end he still may not escape."

A campaign aide came on to confirm that the soon-to-be senator was resting
well and in good spirits and eagerly anticipating the election.

"Should get some sympathy votes, as if he needed them," Carter said.

The polls were showing him with a slight lead, which would probably be much
bigger by time it was over.

"Well," said Jessica, "things are going just about the way we expected. By the
end of next year, we'll probably have a good picture of what this is leading to,
and I don't expect it to be pretty."

Later, they lay awake for a while, wanting to sleep but unable to allay the disquiet they
felt. It seemed that the only thing worse than the course they had chosen
would have been not choosing it.

The Council meeting was over and Donald had returned. He had called to let them
know he would be in around noon, so Jessica advised Mary that lunch would be a
little later than usual. The meeting had been out in New Mexico, too far to
driver, so he had one of the members from from a freehold in Kentucky stop at
the Columbia airport and pick him up.

The group gathered at the house in the late morning, chatting with Gordon and
Mary as they waited. Mary and Dalton had worked for Gordon for many years and
were more like family than employees, and they in turn played the part of
loyal long-serving retainers. Although they had a couple of children, it was
most likely that they would retire and live out their days on the estate.
Jessica had often suspected that there was some personal bond, but had never
asked her father about it.

Gordon called when he landed at Columbia. It was a two hour drive, so Mary
began preparations for lunch. It had been raining all morning, so Dalton was
limited to indoor activities. He looked in a couple of times, evidently bored
with nothing to do, and finally joined them.

Jessica was up and looking out a window as her father arrived, running to the
door leading to the garage to meet him. He gave her a quick hug before taking
his briefcase to his quarters. Dalton went out to get his luggage.

"Want to clean up a little before lunch" Jessica asked. She always felt the
need for the entire morning ritual of shower, brushing her teeth and clean
clothes after a long trip. Especially after a long air and road trip.

"You kidding" Donald said. "I haven't eaten since breakfast. Let's have lunch."

There was no business talk at lunch. Jessica did not know how much, if
anything, Mary and Dalton knew about the family's hidden business. It was
possible, she thought, that they knew nothing. Still, she could not see her
grandfather and her father keeping them completely in the dark, given that the
family might, indeed would, likely be exposed to danger. Perhaps there were
plans to move them out of harm's way when that happened.

After lunch, they gave Donald a couple of hours to himself and, presumably to
brief Gordon. After a while Jessica got a message advising of a meeting at
four o'clock in the small house they had used previously. She and Carter
drove over, Tommy and James were already there. Carter felt a tension as they
waited, and Jessica picked it up, reaching over to squeeze his hand, something
she had never done. He looked over, caught her gaze.

"Me too" was all she said.

Tommy, too, looked more serious than usual. James was still relatively
unaware of the depth of the situation, but they had decided to bring him into
the deep end at once. He would have to adapt quickly.

Donald arrived, and they sat down around the dining table.

"Well" he said. "You already know what the big picture is, in terms of what we're
facing. The elections were even worse than we expected, not that it matters.
The only possible positive outcome was to take over one house of the congress.
That's been our only hope for the past several cycles, and even that wasn't
worth much. Being able to block more laws wouldn't have done much to reverse
the process. And now, with a president who isn't just an ignorant tool but is
actively malicious, it looks like the confrontation isn't far off."

He looked around the table. James was the only one waiting for some sort of
revelation. The others already knew.

"We were in unanimous agreement about the situation." he continued. "The only
questions are about how to proceed. And since our actions will, for the most
part, have to be reactions. Because we don't know which of the things we
expect will happen - the when and the how of them - we have to wait for some
things to happen.

"However, our enemies, while they have plans for achieving their objectives,
can't be assured of accomplishing it as easily as they believe. And that's
with no knowledge of us.

"Two or three things we expect - continued bad economic conditions, increasing
unemployment, rising prices, and certainly tax increases and new taxes. The
remainder of the productive sector is going to squeezed harder than ever, and
there will be no relief. And tax enforcement will be even more ruthless. The
IRS has been adding personnel in each new budget, and since they aren't yet
going after the big corporations that are still supporting them they'll be
going after the little people. The big fish will get theirs eventually, but
they're either too stupid to know it or they think they'll avoid it.

"And we're almost certainly going to see attempts to disarm the population.
They fear the millions, tens of millions, of people who will not give in to
either the economic pressure or the curtailment of their freedom. This
government is absolutely about forcing more and more people into the cities,
making travel more difficult and expensive, and making any degree of personal
privacy impossible. But there are too many armed citizens at this point. So
it's likely we'll see restrictive gun laws soon, and the Supreme Court has
already demonstrated that it will do nothing.

"So by the end of next year, we'll see the vice beginning to close. We may
have a year before we have to either strike back, or go into the darkness.
And none of us are willing to do that. Some men have said that it is better
to die on your feet that to live on your knees, to which I can only add that
if you choose life on your knees anyway, you'll still die eventually. And the
intervening time won't be pleasant.

"That's pretty much the feeling of every one of us, in the Council and in the
members of the freeholds, there are likely very few who don't feel that way.
It's why we're here."

He stopped, waiting for a response. While there was nothing new in is words,
at least for Jessica, Tommy, and Carter - James was being exposed to the full
gravity of the situation for the first time.

"What are the variables from the enemy point of view?" asked Jessica.

"In their minds, there aren't any" said Donald. "Which is obviously in our
favor. But since they know nothing about us, they're overconfident. We're
something they won't have counted on, or ever even imagined.

"As for the variables - aside from us - it's mainly two things. One, obviously,
is the unorganized resistance that will occur. They probably overestimate
their ability to deal with it. Evan a handful of small, poorly funded and not
very organized partisan outfits can give them a lot of trouble. The resources
needed to put them down could be considerable.

"The other thing is the conditions they've created in the cities. They think
they'll be easy to manage, but we don't believe it will. The size of the
underclass, by conservative estimates, is over forty million. That's mostly
in large blocks of hundreds of thousands in the inner cities. They've been
provided for, coddled for generations, never held accountable for anything.
What happens when they suddenly aren't getting what they want any more, it'll
get ugly."

"Will that be a gradual thing, do you think?" James asked.

"It might be" said Donald "if we didn't help it along."

"How would we do that?"

"If you're fighting for survival, and you know that you either do what it
takes or die, then you do what it takes. Or you die. We're largely a people
now who don't have what it takes. It's one thing to obey someone with a gun
at your head when you think there's a chance to get out of it. When you know
there isn't, you had better be ready to do what it takes, or it's over. One
of my associates on the Council is fond of saying that anything worth fighting
for is worth fighting dirty for. He's a former special forces type who went
from the army into intelligence work. Was in some pretty bad situations. He
told me once that conscience is the first sacrifice on the road to survival.

"I hope none of us ever have to give up on our conscience, but the enemy we're
facing is far from even having a conscience - collectively or individually.
In their minds, everything they do is justified. They are sociopaths for the
most part, of which lacking a conscience is a symptom.

"As for how we use the mobs in the cities - we turn them against their masters.
We cut off the supplies - water and electricity, then food. One of the things
we decided on was to prepare to do that. If the government is dealing with
massive mobs of people who will use any excuse to burn, loot, and murder when
stirred up by agitators and now don't have food - it'll take a lot of
resources to deal with them. Leaving less to come after us."

"That's the conscience we struggle with" said Jessica. "We're at a point now
where there is no longer any doubt about what is right. If we have hundreds
of thousands of people who have already demonstrated their worthlessness, and
have no prospect for ever doing anything useful - we should have no guilt in
using them to protect ourselves."

"Yeah, I understand" James said. "I saw it, but it never registered. I was
too busy surviving. Until it happened to me. I knew about it, saw it happen
to other cops like Darrell. I looked at the garbage that was causing it, but
just accepted it as something I couldn't do anything about. When they came
after me..."

"That's the way with most people" said Jessica. "It's natural to be afraid of
challenging authority, to be uncertain if it's the right thing to do. Most
people wait too long, and know something is really wrong when they are being
arrested or killed. Now there is no uncertainty for us."

"So we use their own weapons against them" said James.

"Right," Donald said. "Unfortunately, it isn't the worst thing we'll have to
do. Besides using the unorganized resistance groups, by supplying them with
weapons and information to attack the enemy, we'll eventually, almost certainly,
strike at the heart, decisively. Which is to say with massive force.

"Whenever that time is, the prime movers will be taken out, en masse. And
that is when it will be decided. We may lose, but they won't win - they'll
all be dead."

No one spoke for a while. Except for James, they had all known what the end
game was, if it came to that.

"If it comes to that" Donald said "there will be more than enough other things
to worry about. When the mass arrests are occurring, when people are dying in
large numbers at the hands of the government, there will be no room for doubt.
For now it's pretty much under the radar for most of the population - they've
been killing people here and there a few at a time, and locking up the louder
voices, all in the guise of enforcing the law. But when it's all out in the
open, and there's nothing to lose, the time will have come."

"So we're probably looking at late next year" Carter said "for some bad things
to be happening. Is there an overall strategy, beyond the big one? Or will we
be mostly making it up as we go along?"

"Unfortunately, in the short term, yes." Donald replied. "The Council will be
meeting more frequently, or at least committees will be. Probably like the
operation to extract James, operations will be planned and carried out by the
freeholds involved, and for the most part unknown to the others. The less is
known by the entire organization, the less can be leaked.

"So yes, we'll be mostly reacting in the beginning. We still hope, even
though we know better, that events may lead to some sort of solution short of
the big one. So as long as it's below that level, we're taking it a step at a

"We'll be playing a waiting game for a while." Jessica said. "We can use some
of that time go get James some experience. We'll need to get your driver's
license update with a new picture, James, before you get out much. And by the
way, both you and Darrell's licences have motorcycle endorsements.
Motorcycles can be quite useful - how's your experience?"

"Not much for me" said James. "Just a little riding when I was younger."

"About the same here" said Carter. "I'm guessing we have bikes in the motor pool?"

"Actually, just three or four that Tommy uses. We'll acquire some more. It's a
good way to more around unnoticed, a lone biker or a couple, most cops don't
give them a second look unless they're doing something suspicious."

"The cool thing" said Tommy "is if you're being pursued, you've got a better
chance on a bike. More maneuverable, go off road if necessary."

"Tommy's got a lot of experience" said Jessica "so we're in luck there. One
of the freeholds we'll be visiting soon has a good driving course, and there'll
be a lot of guys there you can learn from."

"I'd like to do that. I can see where that would be a useful skill."

"There's also a combat survival course there." Carter said. "Practical street
fighting, improvised weapons, and other useful things."

"It probably would be a good thing for you to go out there with Tommy next
time they're having one." Jessica said. "We've been before, but you and
Darrell haven't. We can go out to the next one. They have them every two or
three weeks, whenever they have enough people signed up."

"I'll let you kids get on with it" said Donald. "I'll keep you updated on the
strategy end."

Chapter 28 -- DUXUGJTAUWJM
Tommy and James were out in Utah for a week of training, and Jessica and Carter
had taken a couple of days off to drive down to Kansas City. Carter had come
to enjoy long drives on the highway, something he had never done while living
in St. Louis. Like any other couple on an outing they went to eat in an
upscale restaurant and did some shopping, though their type of shopping was
somewhat different. They visited several coin dealers and purchased tubes of
silver eagle coins. The one-ounce silver coins were favored by people
planning for disruption of commerce or other situations in which cash and
digital money were problematical. Jessica had suggested Carter follow her
example of accumulating the coins, and since there was not much to spend money
for, all their expenses being paid for by their employer, their pay either
accumulated in the bank or was converted into gold and silver. Or occasionally
other things. Leaving Kansas City that afternoon they drove on to Springfield,
where they checked into their hotel before going out for a late dinner.

The next morning, they lingered for a while before getting out of bed. While
their daily lives were no means stressful, they found an occasional day away
from home refreshing. Jessica had told him one of the things she enjoyed
about trips was staying in hotels. She liked going into a fresh, clean room,
staying in the big comfortable bed as long as she wanted. Carter had come to
enjoy it as well, and welcomed those days then the coming storm seemed not so near.

Eventually, though, they had to go. A late breakfast in the hotel restaurant
was followed by checking out and taking their bags to the car. There would be
a few stops around Springfield for more shopping. Although their purchases
were mostly with cash, there were cameras everywhere. Carter was using his
new identity, and along with the coin dealers there were visits to three gun

The first one was owned by an associate of the freeholders, like the owner of
the airfield over in Pittsburgh. Using Carter's identification for the first
time to purchase a gun, they wanted to be in a friendly establishment. He
recognized Jessica from past visits, and she introduced Carter with his new

Carter had decided on an old-fashioned Colt 1911 pistol as his main personal
weapon. It was still popular among the cops who were gun aficianados when he
last worked with them, despite the prevalence of the newer Glocks and SIGs
favored by many departments for official use. He had fired a couple, and had
found he liked the way they handled better than his more modern service gun.

"Dad likes the 1911 a lot" Jessica had told him. "He owns a few, mostly some
old Colts and a couple of newer ones from Springfield Armory. They make some
good guns."

It was a Springfield he selected, in the classic 1911 design, along with
several additional magazines. He was slightly apprehensive while the
background check was being done, even though she assured him it had been
tested beforehand. That done, the goods were packaged up and they said
goodbye to the owner.

Out in the car, the gun went into a hidden compartment in the trunk, along
with the coins. They visited a couple more coin shops and two more gun shops.
At each gun shop they purchased several boxes of .45 ACP ammunition. Carter
would have a carrying rig when they made their visit to the Utah freehold in a
couple of weeks.

Springfield was a pleasant enough city, much smaller than Kansas City or St.
Louis. Jessica wished it was closer. On the other hand, the farm was far
away from any major population areas, and that was important.

They left in time to be back home before dark, and spent the evening relaxing
and watching television. News was the only thing they watched most of the time,
and not because it was enjoyable. It was, however, necessary to know what was
happening. Of course, television being almost totally agenda-driven, and the
agenda was that of the government, for actual news it was necessary to review
the internet sites where actual news was published. They wondered how long
that resource would be available.

The news this night featured one police shooting and a couple of random murders,
and they watched the coverage of the police shooting with interest, the others
not so much. The daily killings in the inner cities were for the most part
the denizens killing each other, something Carter found uninteresting because
of the repetitive nature, and the news gave little coverage to because it was
a reminder of the conditions there.

The police shooting had happened earlier in the day and the narrative was
about complete. Apparently a miscreant had managed to fire several shots at
two cops, wounding one, before being dispatched by the other.

"Lucky guy" Carter said. "Maybe. It didn't help James, but the clear video
of the guy shooting at him before he fired a shot should clear him. You can
see that he took longer shoot though. That will get you killed. They'll
probably still have riots though. Any excuse will do."

"Luckily the perpetrators don't seem to be as good shots" Jessica said. "Still,
I wouldn't take the job. And I can't believe any sane person would."

"Yeah" said Carter. "And it looks like they aren't, in the cities anyway.
And a lot of them, if they want to stay in the business, are moving to smaller
places. The urban jungle just gets worse."

"I'd better call Dad and let him know we're back" Jessica said, tapping his
number on her phone's screen.

"Hi Dad" she said when he answered. "We're back and safe. How's everything?"

"OK" she said after a minute. "We'll be over for breakfast. Good night."

"Dad wants to talk over some ideas tomorrow" she said. "You ready for bed?"

After breakfast the next day they went to Donald's office, where he laid out a
what looked like a large engineer's drawing. On close examination it appeared
to be a plan for a small airfield. It showed a runway with a small parking
area and taxiway.

"Are we building our own airport?" asked Jessica.

"I've decided it's time." her father said. "We've discussed it occasionally,
but I believe it's about time. Our travel needs, especially mine with the
increased council business, are probably going to demand it. Probably we
should have already done it, but better late, as they say."

Carter looked at the drawing. Just a place to land and take off, no fuel or
hangars, shouldn't take long to build. It looks like it runs along the front
edge, by the road. You can eliminate driving to an airport."

"Pretty much" said Donald. "Now I have to meet an aircraft somewhere, I can
be picked up here. And fewer people know when and where I come and go."

"It looks long" said Carter. "What is it - about a mile?"

"That's what the plan shows" said Donald. "We don't operate any aircraft that
will need it - not many anyway - but for future needs we might as well do it
in one shot. Even though building a mile long runway may attract some
attention, it'll be forgotten soon enough. Our friend in Pittsburgh that
helped us out, has a near 5000 foot runway. And we may have to plan on
flights being diverted here. So we'll probably build it that way from the

"Are we likely to have aircraft based here at some point?" asked Jessica.

"It could well happen" said Donald "if future needs require it. If necessary
we can have trucks to handle refueling if necessary, I don't see the need for
shelters now. They will draw unnecessary attention - if and aircraft is here
overnight or for more than that, there will be tie-downs."

"When does construction begin?" asked Jessica.

"Pretty soon. As soon as we can - I'd like to have it usable before things
heat up. We're encouraging the other freeholds who can to get some kind of
aircraft accommodations, even if only short grass runways. We will probably
find ourselves relying a lot on small aircraft as ground surveillance becomes
more intense. And it will."

"It will be convenient, and more secure, to go that way. They have an
airfield out at Mesa Romeo."

Tommy and James had used a charter flight out of St. Joseph to Provo, Utah
where they were picked up by members of the Mesa Victor freehold, the location
of the training facility. In a couple of weeks Jessica and Carter would be
spending a week there. The session consisted of two days of driving
techniques and two of mostly hand-to-hand combat. They would be returning on
Saturday. Jessica and Carter had driven them to the airport and would be
going to pick them up.

"Have you heard from them?" Donald asked.

"Tommy calls at night." Jessica said. "It seems to be going well. James
seems comfortable and is enjoying it. He was impressed by the driving
sessions - apparently we go way beyond what they get in police training."

"He should really like the combat part then" Donald said, grinning. "They get
pretty down and dirty."

Donald occasionally went to the training sessions as time permitted, and was
familiar with the programs at Mesa Victor.

"You may even be surprised, Darrell" he said. "The hand-to-hand stuff is
pretty serious. The course is run by a some special forces types, and one of
them is an old guy from the Vietnam era, did a couple of tours. I believe
there's an ex-SEAL. Guys who know what they're doing. Even if you're ready
for it, some of the stuff you learn about can be disturbing."

"I can vouch for that" said Jessica. "And they don't sugarcoat anything. And
They don't go easy on the women, and as you've noticed there are quite a few
of us. We get it just as tough as the men. In fact, some ex-military guys I
met said they wouldn't be impressed if they went back now."

"Today's Thursday" Donald said "so they'll be wrapping up. Friday the hang
out and drink beer and let the aches and pains subside."

"That bad?" asked Carter.

"They're completely serious" said Jessica. "If you've had any martial arts,
like judo, jujutsu, it helps. Learning how to fall is handy - you'll be doing
it a lot. The military guys combine martial arts with general brawling, a
pretty effective combination. You'll get some bruises."

At noon they joined Gordon for lunch, and afterwards joined Donald in his
office and watched news for a while. The atmosphere since the election and
Donald's return and briefing seemed to have become permanently serious, even
foreboding. Post election the news was no longer seemingly non-stop politics,
and since the political climate was not likely to change, there seemed little
incentive to dwell on the subject. The establishment news media, with their
agendas on track and no opposition in sight, dispensed the usual trivial fluff.

Watching the one or two remaining actual news channels, one could keep track
of the murder counts in the various cities, and watch the mindless commentary
of the various mayors, governors, and pundits.

"You have to wonder" Carter said as a mayor of a city with ten homicides a day
and an even larger number of attempts pontificated, "if any of them are stupid
enough to believe anything they say. Or realize that no intelligent person
believes it."

"Good question" said Jessica. "and it probably depends. There are a handful
of them that are reasonably intelligent - not Mensa material for sure - but
not totally stupid. They're just playing the game, and with their
constituents easily in the majority their position is assured. But some of
them, that Chicago mayor for example, are genuinely stupid. Not smart enough
to come in from the rain, as they say down south. But they're tools, and as
long as they serve their masters they get to live in the big house and ride in
limousines, just as if they were actually capable of earning it."

"I think the tools scare me more" said Carter. "They can only be there with
an organization behind them. The situation is being created and maintained by
money and power."

"One advantage we have" Donald said "is that the brains behind them aren't
that great. The money comes from corrupt business people, or in the case of
the big corporate supporters, they're mostly just naive. CEOs these days, for
the most part, didn't build their companies. They get there through politics,
and have little understanding of the real world. And they assume that, no
matter what happens with the government, their wealth will protect them. They
don't know how wrong they are."

"What will happen to them when they get their way?" Carter asked.

"Probably we could look at China for a clue." said Donald. "Since most of the
political class have either sold out to are are afraid of them. They built
their economy up out of the communist mess they had by allowing a some free
enterprise, but within limits enforced by the government. Get too big, or do
something that threatens the government's plans you can end up in prison, or
worse. That's where today's tycoons will probably end up - they can stay
alive and even keep most of their wealth as long as they don't get out of line."

"Seeing that most of them have already sold out to China" said Carter "I guess
things wouldn't change much for them."

"Right" said Donald. "Which is why, if we succeed, we must return to the
original intent of the founders. The federal government should return to the
boundaries of the constitution. Who knows how it will all shake out when we
try it, but first we have to win."

Ted Sandefeur carefully navigated the narrow road up to the camp. It was one of
only two roads to the place, at least capable of accommodating motor vehicles.
It only usable when the ground had been dry for a few days, due to being
unpaved. They were careful not to use it when wet to avoid making ruts. Even
so it had acquired a few and was rough in places.

That wasn't a major problem as the other road was on higher ground and paved
with the clay gravel which was abundant in the nearby hills. It was also wide
enough to accommodate vehicles passing, and large trucks. Still, he wished
they could improve the other road to facilitate access to another route in and
out of the camp.

He parked the truck at his cabin and went in. Martha was preparing dinner,
the smell of roast beef greeting him as he entered. The cabin was small, but
more than adequate for their needs. Built mostly of salvaged lumber from old
houses he and Frank tore down - their primary source of income - it had cost
little to build but a lot of work. Frank's house, just a couple of hundred
feet away, was similar, having been built the same way. His truck was gone,
so Ted guessed he was still in town.

"Hey honey" Martha greeted him with a hug. "Dinner's about ready." Though they
had been married for over three years, they still could never get enough of
being together. She spent most of her time gardening and preserving the
produce of their garden. Some of the three hundred or so residents kept
chickens and the they all had gardens, and traded among themselves for most of
their food. The men hunted deer in the thousands of acres surrounding their
settlement, not bothering with the minor details like licenses and limits.
They had little contact with outsiders aside from going into one of the nearby
towns for things they couldn't produce. It was a satisfying life for those
wanting to live away from the chaotic world outside.

The settlement had begun ten or so years earlier when several families seeking
escape from that world acquired a tract of land almost ten miles from the
nearest town. The owner of the two hundred and twenty acres of woodland was
like most owners of land in the area had died and his heirs promptly sold it
to a preacher who had become disenchanted with his church and left with some
family and friends to start a new community. Believing that the end of the
world was not far off, they chose the remote area to live out their lives

The inhabitants were largely bound by their faith. Most of the early arrivals
had been associated with the preacher and came to join him. Others had come
later, but almost all of them were friends or relatives of some of the others.
Almost all of them attended the church services on Sundays, although there was
no pressure to do so. It was largely a social event with lunch after the
service, brought and shared by the members. Ted and Martha were among the
later arrivals - her best friend from school was married to Frank and had
persuaded Ted to move there. Ted liked it, it was peaceful and cheap to live
there, and he had gone into business with Frank, making more than enough money
for their needs.

Such communities were not uncommon - people had been abandoning the societies
they were born into for centuries - but in the late twentieth century it had
become much more so. Many were motivated by religion, and often avoided
contact with the society they had abandoned.

But in the later part of the century, the elements of survivalism and
opposition to the increasing intrusion of government into their lives, some of
the communities were more militaristic in their preparations. Preparing to
survive disasters and defend against an oppressive government were the primary
motivators. There were quite a few former military personnel among them, and
most had weapons and ammunition in considerable quantities.

One such community had recently been established near where Ted lived, and he
and his neighbors had regarded it with some degree of anxiety. They had heard
of government attacks on such communities, with allegations that they were anti-
government and racist organizations plotting attacks on the government. Ted
had met some of them and visited their place, not long after they began about
a year earlier.

They had seemed normal enough - just people like him and Martha wanting to
live lives as unpolluted by the outside as possible. There were about two
hundred or so of them, according to the first one he met, a man named Grant
Page. He looked to be in his early fifties, fit and healthy, he could shave
and clean up and not be out of place working in an office. He was armed,
though, a large revolver in a belt holster. Looked like maybe a .357, he
thought, from the size. The longer barrel suggested it was woodsman's gear
rather than a for use against people.

It was just a few days after they had noticed the activity down the road from
the camp, other than Grant he saw only one other person, though there could
have been others - along a road that had been built, running about a quarter
of a mile back from the main road and cleared to a distance of perhaps a
couple of hundred yards on each side were half a dozen large portable buildings,
the largest type, probably about forty feet long. They were all same size and
looked new.

"We're using ready-made buildings to save time" Grant had told him. "We'd
like to be ready for winter. We've got a lot of work on the road before then."

In the months since there had been a lot of work. The main road was paved
with loads of crushed rock brought in in large trucks and spread and leveled
by some new-looking tractors. Ted suspected a considerable amount of money
was being spent there. During the following months more land was cleared, but
many trees were left, individually and in small groups. In a large space to
one side of the road several large metal buildings were constructed, while a
number of small houses appeared along several branches of the main road.

Ted stopped to talk to Ted a few times when he saw him near the road as he
passed, and met several more members of the community. It appeared there were
a number of women and children of various ages. He wondered if the children
went to school in the nearby town or were home-schooled as those in his group
were. Grant affirmed that they were.

So the two communities had lived, separated by perhaps a half mile of forest,
not having any interaction beyond an occasional chance meeting. Sometimes
members of the two communities would meet each other in town and introduce
themselves, and as far as anyone could tell there was nothing of a troubling

One day he met Grant in town, accompanied by another man whom he introduced as
Bill Clayton. Bill was, like Grant, an average-looking middle-aged man.

"In case you hear gunfire from our place" Grant said "it's just some of our
folks practicing. We built a small range, it's off the road a ways so I don't
know if you can hear or not. We hear a shot now and then, figure maybe you're

"We do" Ted said. "These woods are full of deer - they don't have much of a
season most years so there's a lot of them."

Ted wondered about the shooting. Other than the inhabitants usually being
armed there seemed nothing else out of the ordinary. And carrying a gun when
going into the woods was a prudent habit. He had learned that the place was
large, four hundred acres. They had only cleared about forty or so, but it
appeared expansion was continuing.

As summer passed into fall the community began to prepare for winter. The
main road seldom became unusable, but it did happen. All the inhabitants
stored sufficient food and other supplies to wait out several weeks if it
necessary. Their neighbor seemed to be doing likewise, as large box trucks
came in at times, presumably delivering cargo.

Ted assumed they had followed his recommendation for a water supply. The
first who came to live there had had a well drilled, and had added a second as
a backup before its capacity was needed. Over time two more larger wells been
added, with large-capacity storage tanks. Almost all the homes now had
running water, and completion of that project was not far off. Their only
dependence on the outside world was electricity, and a number of generators
provided backup for that. They were, he reflected, almost independent of the
outside world.

Further along the road, Grant Page and several of his group were meeting in
the headquarters of their group. The setup of the enclave was nearly complete,
and was quite habitable. They had hired much of the work done in the interest
of speed, and all the buildings had water and electricity, with plenty of
supplies for the winter. Only a few of them had been there the first winter,
and the remainder moving in during the summer as the construction work was

With him at the table were Bill Clayton, Douglas Stewart, Arthur Mitchell, and
Gerald Duncan, the four other men with whom he managed the community. They
had been elected by the two hundred and thirty-three adult members of what
they called simply the Tribe. The membership comprised a number of middle-
aged men like themselves, most of them married or at least with a partner,
thirty or so children, and about two dozen young couples who were mostly

The three of them, along with several of the older members, had begun forming
the group seven years earlier, initially as a discussion group focused on the
social and political state of the country. Before long they decided that
discussions were not going to accomplish anything, particularly if they were
dead or in prison, which appeared to be the eventual fate of those who did not
get in line and keep their mouths shut.

Their efforts eventually led to the formation of the Tribe, and it was not
long before the need for forming some sort of enclave became evident. Most of
the older members were financially well-off, some of them extremely so. When
they calculated that they could, by selling off their assets and pooling their
resources, fund a self-sustaining community where they could live without
interference from the outside, at least for a while. Most or all of them
believed that a time would come when they would fall prey to the government's
obsession with controlling the lives of every citizen. Once the vast majority
of the population had been herded into the cities, those who remained outside
could be rounded up and forced to comply, if they wished to live.

Those of the Tribe had decided not to accept that fate. Their creed, to the
degree they had one, was to die if the alternative became intolerable, and to
take as many of their enemies with them as they could. To this end they had
equipped themselves to fight, and regularly prepared for that eventuality.
They had not had much contact with the neighboring community thus far, but
they would soon learn they had common goals.

Carter watched as Jessica worked with two of the trainers. They were wearing
navy blue windbreakers, simulating police officers. One of them walked up to
the car where she sat, window down and hands on the steering wheel at the ten
and two positions. The other stood near the back of the car, one hand on his
holstered gun. The 'cop' at the window began the usual procedure.

"May I see your license and registration please?"

"It's in my purse," Jessica said, nodding towards the passenger seat.

"OK, take it out."

Slowly, without turning her body, she reached over and retrieved the purse.
Holding it up so he could easily see what she was doing, she retrieved the
small folder containing the requested items, extracted the license and handed
it to him. He examined it, then walked back to the other actor cop. A car
painted to resemble a police car was parked behind the car Jessica was in, and
he got in and sat for a while, while his partner walked around the vehicle
where Jessica sat, looking it over, then returned to the 'police' car. The
other 'cop' had emerged and the two stood talking for a few minutes.

After a while he returned to where Jessica was.

"Ma'am, would step out of the car, please?"

Jessica made a show of placing her purse back on the seat, then
slowly opened the door and got out.

"Turn around and put your hands on the car."

Jessica began to turn, to her left, blocking his view of what she was doing.
As she completed the turn she bent slightly at the waist, lowering her
shoulder and driving it upward into his chest. As they fell to the ground
together with her on top, she thrust a small revolver under his chin. He went
limp, arms outstretched, and lay still. The other actor drew his weapon and
assumed a shooting stance.

"Don't move or I'll fire! Drop your weapon!"

Jessica turned her head to face him with a cool smile.

"Or what?" she asked. "Screw up and he's dead, and maybe me too, but that won't
help him."

"OK, cut!"

That was Larry Driscoll, a battered old soldier who'd earned his look the hard
way. He'd worn the green beret, but opted for retirement as soon as he was
eligible for a pension. The idealistic young man who had enlisted after the
Vietnam war was over never thought such a debacle would be repeated, only to
find himself in a the same situation as those who had gone before. And with
the ongoing destruction of the armed forces by politics and social engineering,
he finished his twenty years and got out. Eventually he found his way into
the freeholders, becoming part of Mesa Victor.

"All right," he said as Jessica and the two men came over to join the group of
participants. "You all right, Ed?"

"I'm all right," said the man Jessica had just tangled with. "Pretty good shot
though, even when I was expecting it."

He took off his vest, which absorbed most of the energy of the blow.

"Excellent timing, too," he said grinning at Jessica.

She smiled.

"I do my best."

"OK, kids," Larry said, "if that ever has to happen - and none of us ever want
to find ourselves fighting the police, but if it all goes bad we will - one of
the things you'll have to overcome is the natural reluctance to resist, or
even attack, authority figures. We're all normal law-abiding people, and more
than most anything a police uniform represents that. The problem is that
when authority has gone bad it still looks the same.

"That's the first lesson, looking past what you see to what is behind it. The
first time you have to do it, if you ever do, it won't be easy, even when you've
practiced it. The second thing is, in a situation like this, you should assume
that the intention is to arrest you. We're all well-versed in avoiding any
suspicious behavior, so if they stop you you're going in. Once they have the
cuffs on you, it's over. Even now, when enemies of the state are arrested,
they're held without bail in the most secure facilities they have. Your
chances of getting free are pretty well non-existent. Even we would have trouble
cracking a supermax prison. Which is exactly where they'd put you.

"So, in situations like this, you have to make your move before the cuffs go on.
Larry, what would your next move have been if Jessica hadn't interrupted you?"

"The next step is a pat-down. If she had let me get that far I'd have found
the gun."

Jessica was still holding the gun.

"Let me see that," Larry said.

Jessica handed it over and he held it up. It was a molded plastic replica
with no moving parts, made for such police training. He picked up another gun
of the same size, functional one, from a nearby table. He released the
cylinder, held it up.

"Five shot, .38 caliber revolver," he said. "Just about a pound, and not much
bigger than some derringers..." picking up another gun and holding it up "so it's
fairly easy to hide. Some of us do like derringers too, they're somewhat
thinner but the trigger pull on the few double-actions available is usually pretty awful."

He inserted five cartridges into the gun, each made of plastic with a spring
under the primer location, made for dry-firing guns without damaging them. He
then held it pointing upward and rapidly squeezed the trigger five times.

"You can empty it in a couple of seconds," he said, "but hopefully you'll never
need to. This is a hideout gun, easy to conceal, and notice the hammer has no
spur so it won't snag in a pocket. This is probably one of the best, and I
know quite a few of us have them. There's a .44 special version, but it's
bigger - this one is ideal. And when you're practically touching your enemy,
one or two shots will do. Let's do it again. Jessica - Ed, you want to be
the victim again?"

Ed grinned. "No, let's let Phil give it a try."

They resumed their positions, with the cop actors switching places. This time
when Jessica made her move, she followed through by squeezing the trigger
twice as she pressed the gun against Phil's chin.

"Obviously, we're talking about a desperate situation here, one you hope never
to be in. If there were two cops and you tried that, the other one would
certainly shoot you once you had fired. Of course, there are any number of
possible variations. If you're detailing with two - or more adversaries - you
might try to get control of the one you have down, get him up in front of you
for a shield. If you have help on the way, and it gets there before the cops'
backup, that would be a good strategy."

Jessica and Phil returned to the group and she handed the gun back to Larry.
He selected another candidate, and two more volunteers put on the blue jackets
to play cop. There were about a dozen of them, about half of them women,
going through this and similar exercises with their more experienced trainers.
Most of them were about the same age as he and Jessica - thirties and forties.
Unless they were born into it, recruits were generally well into adult life by
the time they arrived.

Eventually Carter had a turn, and found it wasn't nearly as easy to process
the experience as he would have thought. Even though he had been comfortable with
rough physical activity from police training, in these exercises he was
actually practicing to kill - not in self defense but more like a criminal
trying to avoid arrest. He described the feeling to Larry afterward.

"That's not surprising," Larry said, "especially for a former cop. Most of them,
and there are quite a few, say that. One of the things we should do, I believe,
is have some of the women play the cop part. That's where you could really
get in trouble - hesitating because your adversary is a woman. And make no
mistake, a female cop will shoot you as quickly as a man, maybe more so. One
of the things that is covered up about police work is that, proportionally,
more bad shootings are committed by female cops."

Carter had actually been aware of that, and that it was a forbidden subject in
the business. Of course, it could work in their favor. Having women driving
could make travel by car less risky. He had a momentary chill as he thought
of Jessica, alone, on a lonely road. He thought of the situation that now
existed in the country and where it was likely to lead, and knowing that he
had chosen the side of the resistance and would have to deal with all of the
unpleasant possibilities. Unlike the millions who, like sheep, would follow
the judas goat into the slaughterhouse. They would have a short time of
blissful ignorance, and those like him and Jessica would have the same time
for hopes, doubts, and fears all ending with some as yet unknown and
unguessable conclusion.

Jessica always noticed the slightest of his mood changes. After the evening
meal, conducted as at most of these affairs, in a communal dining room, they
returned to their quarters. As usual, they sat for a while watching television,
and neither spoke much for a while. Finally Jessica turned the sound down and
looked over at him.

"Everything all right?" she asked.

"You don't miss a thing, do you?"

"Afraid not." She smiled, but it was more of an attempt at reassurance than
anything else. "Some of that got to you, I could see."

"Does it get to you too?"

"Sure it does. I've been to a couple of these, the ones where they teach the
evade and escape, it makes you think about some unpleasant things."

"We're actually practicing sticking a gun in someone's face and pulling the
trigger, someone who hasn't yet threatened us. That's the line that all people,
not just cops, have to be able to see. And are conditioned against crossing."

"It's not pleasant," she said. "That's why we try to prepare. If it happens
that way, as Larry said, if they get the cuffs on you it's over. We just have
to be able to make that decision before we reach the line, or I guess you
could say that they've moved the line."

"And there's a no man's land in there," Carter said. "At some point you may be
facing a cop who's just an ordinary guy doing his job, and is job is to arrest
whomever the state tells him to arrest. There's no malice in his intent. That's
the disquieting part. He dies because his superiors, who are probably not all
that evil either, are obeying their orders. There's a natural inclination to want to
cut the guy some slack, but if you do you end up in the gulag."

"Pretty much," Jessica said . "Of course by then, the way things are going,
most cops are not going to be innocent, even down at the street level. If
they haven't seen what's going on by then there's not much hope for them. And
if they have there's no reason to feel guilty over them.

"You're right, of course," Carter said. "I know at some point there are no more
excuses. No wonder there are so many sheeple. It's easier on the mind to not
pay attention."

Jessica smiled. A sad smile.

"Yeah. The one good thing is that while we have hope, the reason that hope
exists is still a possibility. The sheep die without ever having lived. I
wonder, if sheep could think, and knew what was happening to them, if they
would be angry and wish they could take one or two of the sheep-killers with
them. We can and, even if we lose, we'll take a lot of them with us."

The sat in silence for a while, watching the ubiquitous attractive young woman
saying words they could not understand with the sound so low. After a while
they got up and went to bed. Carter fell asleep with surprising ease.
Wondering about it later, he thought he had crossed some threshold in his mind,
into a place where his doubts could not follow.

Donald joined the group to watch the first use of the new runway.
An aircraft approaching and they
watched as the pilot set it down just short of their position and rolled past
before accelerating again and taking off. After several more touch-and-gos he
slowed to give a thumbs-up to the watchers before taking off for the
final time.

"That should make council meetings easier," said Donald. "And visiting other
freeholds in general. We've a pretty good network now, and we should be able
to put people where we need them quickly. And none too soon. Things seem to
heating up."

It had been only eight months since the elections had continued the existing
state of affairs, and the ruling party had become even more confident. As
expected, pressure was being applied to every remaining point of resistance to
the new order.

New restrictive gun laws were being passed in several states, with threats of
door-to-door confiscations, along with suggestions of checkpoints on borders with
neighboring states which did not adopt similar laws.

Some states had already prohibited home schooling, along with threats to
monitor private schools with auditors in the classrooms, particularly
religious schools.

A new federal police force was being formed to deal with 'trouble spots', and
was expected to have immunity from prosecution or lawsuits.

"I'm not sure we'll make it through this year without something blowing up,"
Donald said. "At the last Council meeting we had at least a half dozen
credible leads on organizations that are planning reprisals if they become victims,
and our information suggests that some of them are capable of doing some
serious damage. The thing we don't know how good they will be at not getting
caught. If they are, they'll be used for propaganda by the government."

"And justification for repression," said Jessica. "They couldn't wait to make
some new laws after the Oklahoma City affair, and when they passed the Patriot
Act they went wild. It wouldn't be surprising if they have some tricks planned
to justify tightening the screws."

"It's almost certain they will," Donald said.

"Could be difficult to tell who's who," Carter said. "The independent rebels,
the government false flags, and us."

"And that will work to our advantage," said Donald. "And at whatever point
we pitch in, they won't know where to look. In the case of an unknown attacker,
they'll choose a scapegoat, we've seen that before."

"Where do we fit in?" asked James.

"For now mostly in a support role," Donald replied. "My father, like several other
Council members, is quite wealthy. Wealth accumulated over many years, so it's
already accounted for as far as taxes go. He's just a moderately wealthy
retired farmer. So we mostly provide financial support. And now that we're a
stop on the air network, we can help out with transporting people and materiel

"Of course, we train and practice with the other freeholds so we're able to
provide security for ourselves here - but as you saw with your extraction, we
can participate in operations like that. And those will probably be important
as time goes by. And of course you know we store a lot of weapons and other
supplies here. But with our small numbers, we're mostly in a support role."

"One of the things about our position," said Jessica, "is that we're practically
invisible. We're just a family farm with a handful of employees, all the
papers in order. No reason to pay attention to us."

"Until the government starts seizing the farms," Carter said. "But that's a
ways off. After they get things really screwed up. Hopefully we succeed in
stopping them before that."

"As long as they don't trace any of our more visible colleagues here." said James.

"Right," Donald replied. "That's why security is so tight. Our official
existence is easy to see - our bank accounts, phones, vehicle registrations -
the unseen part is very tight. Burner phones and prepaid debit cards replaced
regularly, any interaction with other freeholds is clean. You and Tommy took
a charter flight out to Utah instead of a regular commercial flight. We drove
you to the airport and back. The weakest link is the charter, and it would
take a long time to check the records of every small operator."

"So I guess we're playing a waiting game," said Tommy. "Are we doing any kind
of prep work while we wait, or is it still too early to know, the what and where?"

"Pretty much," replied Donald. "I expect the first sparks to be either the government
doing something over the line, probably provoking a response from dissidents.
It could take a long time, months even, for the government to respond in such
a case, but it's likely if they don't have a good suspect right away they'll
to the scapegoat route - just whack some outfit to send a message."

"Or," said Jessica, "if they have infiltrated any of these groups, and they
almost certainly have agents inside some of them, they'll do it from the inside.
That's a popular tactic, going way back."

"If they don't give up and quit right away, it could be a protracted conflict,"
Donald said, "before they even know we're here. How much we do
during that time depends on the need."

"While we're waiting," Tommy said, "James and I are going for a ride. There's
a lot of back roads out here to learn. We've been working on that."

"Staying for lunch?" asked Jessica. "It's not long."

"All right," said Tommy. "You convinced me."

"Couldn't have been hard," Jessica said.

The banter between Jessica most of the times was like that between siblings,
which they were close to being, at least in their feelings. Tommy's guilt
over her brother's death in Afghanistan, even though it was in no way his
fault, had drawn him back to Jessica and her father, and they in turn had
found in him some consolation for their loss, while Tommy found in Donald the
father missing from his life.

After lunch Tommy and James left while Jessica and Carter went with Donald to
his office to watch the news for a while. It had become a regular thing as
they tried to keep their perception of the situation current. At this point
it was relatively stable, if that was the right term. At least there had not
been any major events.

Thus, the usual news dominated. With the exception of the two or three
channels that actually reported news - where they were available, the major
satellite carriers were under pressure to drop one or the other or all of them -
there was not much coverage of crime. Apparently though, it was effectively
beyond any chance of being controlled. The police that were left on the
decimated forces were either unable or unwilling to do anything beyond show up
for work most of the time and try not to be involved in anything controversial.

Jessica thought of the young cop in Cincinnati who said outright that he wasn't
about to risk being killed or prosecuted for doing his job, and wondered how
many more had already done that. Selecting one of the mainstream channels,
they watched a segment about the first lady's appearance at a convention for
an organization for deviants, the name of which they had trouble keeping track of.

Apparently she had made a speech, but it wasn't included in the three minute
segment. A dumpy woman - at least it appeared to be a woman - with hair of
several colors not occurring in nature uttered a number of stock phrases and
then it was on to the next item, wherein Samantha the anchor and Laura the
reporter discussed an appearance by a group of parents opposed to something in
their school's curriculum. A brief shot of a crowd with signs and banners
overlaid that Laura's voice telling the audience that the crowd of religious
protesters had demonstrated for a couple of hours, mostly peacefully, before
leaving. No violence or arrests were reported. Then it was on to sports.

"They won't be mostly peaceful much longer," said Donald. "They won't give
them much more slack, especially opposing the schools. I was a little
surprised they went after the home schoolers so fast, but I guess they can't
tolerate even a few million unindoctrinated subjects. If this goes on long
enough, it will probably be made illegal at the national level. The supreme
court is either going to rubberstamp it or refuse to rule, which is more likely."

"I guess a lot of people will flee to free states while they can," said Jessica.
"Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas, but I can't see them holding out much longer.
If they don't get the fix in on elections in those states, the feds will just
come in and use force, won't they?"

"Most likely," Donald replied. "Not military, though. The states have nothing to
fight with - they'll just have federal grand juries indict them and send the
Marshals or whatever force, maybe something new, to arrest them. Or perhaps
even kill them. I would imagine they have sleepers ready to be activated."

"Sleepers?" Carter asked.

"They've had those for years," Donald said, "or at least foreign actors have.
And the government had them, without the knowledge of Congress or the President,
run by the intelligence agencies. Now they most likely won't bother to hide it."

"How do they work?" asked Carter. "I know the general idea, but do they have a
strategy or technique we can identify?"

"What we suspect," Donald said, "is something like the Reagan affair. We haven't
been able to show that Hinckley was one, but we know he fit a certain profile.
You get a guy who's unstable but can be controlled, keep him out of trouble
but always ready to be set off. Then when he does the deed and gets caught,
which he most likely will, he's written off as being crazy. And you'd have
him doing modestly strange things occasionally to build the image. That's why
some of us thought Hinckley might have been one. We'll probably never know.

"The ones used in the 'mass shootings' aren't really sleepers, they're just
unstable people who are targeted for programming. The proliferation of social
media has made it even easier - both to find them and program them. You get
one in a chat room somewhere usually, find out who he is and where he lives.
If he looks like a good candidate, work on him. Reinforce the paranoia, hate, fear,
whatever drives them. With the fuse lit, wait. In a certain number of cases,
the bomb will go off."

"That's been done?" asked Carter.

"We've got a few cases at ninety-nine plus certainty," Donald replied.

Carter was silent, as was Jessica, for a while.

"It's worse than you think, by the way," Donald said with a humorless smile.
"Arthur - you've met him Jessica - one of the founding members of the Council,
says that the reason there are so many conspiracy theorists is that there are
so many conspiracies. He's right.

"Of course, a sleeper in this case wouldn't have to worry about much - they'd
be used against the opposition, so the government they work for could just
cover for them - fake their death or escape or whatever, change their identity
if necessary, make them disappear."

"So a sleeper might, what?" asked Carter "Target opposition leaders?"

"Probably," Donald replied. "Visible leaders, those with a lot of supporters
or even getting a lot of favorable press, might be publicly killed to discourage others.
And if the killer was believed to be just a crazy person, the person would be
just as dead and his supporters get the message that what they're doing isn't
very healthy, and less likely someone takes his place.

"And since the government has been killing people for years, either quietly or
in staged events like Waco, there's likely to be even less restraint now."

"So these independent groups, it doesn't look like and of them are very
organized of disciplined," said Carter. "And apparently fairly easy for the
government to infiltrate. But I wonder if we can use any of them to our

"We'll try as we get opportunities," Donald replied. "It's a matter of watching
them, assessing the opportunities. If we see one about to do something we're
interested in having happen, we can provide help - information, materials,
weapons - but we have to deal with the infiltrators. Fortunately, we have
more ability to detect them or rather, we are disciplined enough to try.
These amateurs are too easily taken by infiltrators because they're operating
on emotion. There's no place for emotion with us."

"Do we have anything in the works?" asked Carter.

"Just what we were discussing. Maybe taking over one or more of these groups
and having them do some of our work. That requires undercover operations,
getting our people in there and in a position to influence them, while leaving
no tracks. So we're working that angle. Beyond that we're mostly waiting and

"That's the hard part," said Carter, looking over at Jessica. "Waiting for
what you know is coming, not knowing whether you want it to come and get it
over with or try to postpone if as long as possible."

"We're not likely to have a choice," she said.

"The last before the storm," Carter said.

"What's that?" Jessica asked.

"Something... something in a song I heard once. Something about facing the
storm, wishing you had been born in another time, or at least not in the one you're in."

"Don't we though? But we are the ones, and we have to stand up to it."

Ted Sandefeur was unloading the last box of supplies when he heard the vehicle
approaching. Looking up he saw that it was one of the late-model, but not
especially new, four-wheel-drive pickups favored by the people in the neighboring
settlement. He carried the box inside and set it on the kitchen table, gave
Martha a quick kiss.

"Be right back," he said, going back to the front door. He preferred to greet
the visitor out by the road, being cautious about strangers in or even
too near the house. The truck had just stopped, and as he approached he saw
that Grant Page was driving. Bill Clayton was on the passenger side.

"How ya doin', Ted?" Grant said. He spoke like the natives, although not quite
the accent of Ted and most of his neighbors. Well, not everyone spoke the
same these days anyway, he thought. People in town sounded a little

"Pretty good," Ted replied. "How about yourselves?"

"Good as can be, I guess," Grant replied. "Mind if we get out and visit a bit?
This truck's a little high off the ground."

"Sure, come on," said Ted, backing away from the door. The two men dismounted
and Bill came around to their side.

"Everybody make it through the winter all right?" Grant asked.

"Yeah, we did all right," Ted said. "You all do all right?"

"Yeah. We got the essential work done before the weather turned bad and had plenty
of supplies. We just holed up inside through the worst of it."

"That's what we do," Ted said. "Long as you're prepared there's not much to
worry about. The second winter we had was a bad one. Lucky it was the second,
we weren't ready for something like that the first year. This last one was
kind of bad, but nothing like, what was it six or seven years ago."

"I remember that one," said Grant. "We were still in Taylorville, electricity
was off for almost a week in most of town. One of the things that got us
thinking about setting up something more independent. The power grid is so
fragile, they have a bad time in one state the people two or three states over
get their power sent to fix their problem."

"Yeah," Ted said. "Martha's sister down in Texas said they had that one year.
Sent their power to California or Colorado or somewhere. We came out here hoping to get
away from all what's going on out there, and we're pretty happy with our choice."

"We were hoping that too," Bill said. "But it's not looking too good. That's
what we came over to talk about. Some of us have met a few of your people,
but we haven't mixed much. We were looking to maybe have a little more contact,
be better able to help each other out if necessary. We don't know much about
how your community works, or you about ours. You have some sort of leadership,
council, or something?"

"We have a council of elders," Ted replied. "We're a church, although some of us
are more, well you know, than others. But yeah, the council takes care of
business, I guess. We're all in agreement about following our leaders, so we
don't usually have any trouble."

"I see," said Grant. "We're not a church, but I guess you could say we're all
in agreement, and elect a committee to manage things. Bill and I are two of
the members. We'd like to have some kind of regular communications with you,
if your people don't object. Let each other know what's going on, share
information, things like that."

"It'd probably be good idea to see the council," Ted said. "If you want I can
take you up and meet one or two if they're around. Let's get in your truck
and I'll show you where."

They got in and Ted directed to them to the church, near the center of the area.
Several houses stood nearby, looking much like Ted's house of recycled
materials. None of the houses had garages, a few had carports,
mostly posts with a roof. It did not appear to be a prosperous community.

"Brother Pierce is home," Ted said. "Where that blue car is. You can just park
behind it and I'll introduce you."

Ted led them up on the porch to the door. An older man, Grant guessed in his
seventies, greeted them and invited them in. After they were seated on an old
couch, with Brother Pierce and Ted in two equally old recliners, he introduced

"I'm Luther Pierce," he said, "and it looks like you already know Ted. He told
us he'd met a couple of you. What can I do for you?"

"We came over to visit and introduce ourselves. We should have earlier, but I
guess we were a little busy last year. We came over to see if you would be
interested in having some kind of regular communications, perhaps have some of
our people get together occasionally so we know our neighbors. Ted has told
us you are a church - we aren't, or even all of the same faith, but we respect
all of you fellow men."

"Yes," said Luther. "We are a church. If you're worried about having a
madman with a cult next door we're not. We've come here to be together with people of
the same faith and to avoid the corruption of the outside. We certainly
wouldn't have any objection to socializing with your people. I'm sure you
wouldn't entertain any kind of offensive behavior, and our people are
sufficiently secure in their faith. Did you have anything in particular in

"Well, between the two communities there are quite a few of us," said Grant. "What are there,
two, three hundred of you?"

"Right around three hundred," Luther replied.

"We're about two hundred and thirty," Grant said. "I don't know if organizing
a big party for all of us would be practical. We might start by having your,
what did Ted say, council of elders meet with our governing committee and get
to know each other."

"Yes, we have a council," Luther said, "what some churches call deacons or
elders, that leads our community."

"There are only five on our governing committee," said Grant. "So it wouldn't
be a crowd."

"There are six other elders," said Luther. "I'm the tiebreaker. Not a good place to
be sometimes, but we manage. Perhaps we should get
together soon. We have a meeting after Sunday evening service, that's day
after tomorrow. I'll see when we can meet. Do you have a preference?"

"We're pretty flexible these days," replied Grant, "so any time you choose will be good."

"Very well, then," Luther said. "It was good meeting you gentlemen, and I look
forward to seeing you again."

"Can we give you a number to call?" asked Grant, wondering if he should presume
they used phones.

"Certainly," replied Luther. Grant handed him a business card with only his name
and a phone number. Bill handed him one of his as well.

After they left Luther looked at the cards. The mostly blank card was a light
shade of grey, with a symbol in the center. It was a spoked wheel, something
like a wagon wheel, with another circle around it. It didn't look like
anything he had ever seen, but he didn't deem it relevant. There was plenty
of time to learn about them, and they did not seem in any way sinister or

They dropped Ted off at his house and drove back to their enclave. When they
arrived it was near time for lunch, so they agreed to meet later at the
community center, a large multipurpose building near the center of the
settlement and used for various purposes, including business meetings.

"All right, guys," Arthur said. "Don't keep us in suspense. You made it back
alive, so they must not be dangerous."

"They don't seem to be," Grant replied. "As we suspected, it seems to be a
religious based group, in fact the leader described them as a church. But we
didn't see any overt signs of craziness. I guess the guy we met is the pastor,
maybe. Ted called him Brother Pierce. He assured us up front that they're
not a cult, just people wanting to be left alone."

Bill grinned. "He also assured us that he's not a madman," he said.

"That's reassuring," said Douglas.

"I believe that's probably the case," Grant said. "Isolated religious
communes get a lot of bad press, mostly made up by government agitators and
fed to their media outlets. Crazy religious cults are about as numerous as
white supremacist organizations. And most of them keep their crazy to
themselves and don't bother anyone else. In any case we'll learn more when we
meet them. Bill and I gave him our numbers, he's supposed to get back with us
next week."

"I wonder how well apprised they are, as to the overall situation," said Arthur.

"Religious groups, especially such as this, are generally inclined to be
pretty well up on current events," Arthur said. "Of course, how they react is
another matter. Most do more praying and maybe some proselytizing. Some
become preppers, and if they get noticed they're accused of being potential
insurrectionists. And that can lead to problems, especially when the government needs

"Yeah," Douglas said. "There's more and more surveillance on people buying
weapons, large quantities of food, and other supplies. Even purchases of
generators are being tracked, and fuel purchases. When we had the fuel topped
off when we got the tanks in, both the diesel and propane suppliers - their
truck drivers - told us they were having to fill out detailed reports - when,
where, how much - and it wasn't for their company. It was for the government."

"That would seem to portend a pretty dire situation," said Arthur. "I suspect
energy supplies are going to be squeezed a lot more. With the cities, even
small towns, they can just cut off the electricity. They'll be keeping an eye
on independent communities like ours."

"A reminder to get the wood heat provisioning up to speed quickly," Grant said.
"We've got enough trees to hold us forever. We just need to get the remaining
heaters online and some more wood storage built."

"I suppose probing questions about preparations should wait a while," said
Arthur, "unless they bring it up."

"Yeah," said Bill, "since we're not sure about their attitude, or if they even care.
They might not."

"That would seem to be the best policy," Arthur said. "If they're indifferent to
their fate - and some of these groups are, believing everything is preordained -
we'll have to let it go. We can try to protect them, help them out with
supplies, but if they're resigned to events that's their right."

"In that case," said Arthur, "the best strategy is to adjourn and have a beer or
two. And see how the builders are coming on those sheds."

The builder didn't know what the large open-sided sheds were for, and they
could have been for anything for all he knew. That their eventual fate was to
be filled with cords of wood. He had a reputation for minding his own business
and intended to keep it.

"Darrell, check this out," Jessica called.

Carter replaced the cork in the wine bottle and carried the two glasses he had
just filled into the living room where Jessica was watching the television. He
handed her a glass and sat down to watch.

The scene on the television screen looked like any of the numerous ones they
had seen in recent times, but it appeared to be in a rural area. Police
vehicles and others painted black and dark olive, like military equipment were
shown against a background of smoke and flames, apparently emanating from at
least a couple of houses. He caught the ongoing narrative as he arrived.

"...we are being told that this was a joint operation of local, state, and
federal authorities. At this time we have not been able to speak with anyone
involved as the operation is still underway. Back to you, Angela."

"Still no Savannah?" asked Carter "What's up?"

"Raid on suspected terrorists, if you can believe that," Jessica replied.

"I can believe someone said that."

"...identities of any of the people inside," the anchor he guessed was Angela
was saying.

"We have some names, Angela, based on the addresses. We don't know at this
time if any of them are inside. There were four houses on this small rural
plot, in a relatively secluded location."

The smoke was suddenly dispersed briefly by a landing helicopter. It was the
same dark almost-black grey as some of the other vehicles. It settled into an
open area mostly obscured by the fire and the vehicles between it and the
camera. They could see just the rotor as it slowed and stopped.

" this time, Danica."

"No," replied the on-site reporter. "We're waiting for confirmation on the
identities of the residents. All we have at this point are the names of the
owners in public records."

"How nice," said Jessica. "They check first."

"Danica's a new one," Carter said. "Don't hear that often."

"You guys." Jessica smiled. "You think they make up names?"

"Probably. Can't top Jessica, though."

"I could have been a television news star," she said.

"You're better looking too, naturally I might add."

Teasing aside, both of them were seriously in love, and the ever-darkening
clouds over their world were the more tragic for it. They watched the screen,
knowing that other lives were being affected even now.

They sipped wine and watched the unfolding the story. Their plan to spend a
quiet evening together and perhaps sleep late was dampened. Whatever they
were watching was not good. Few things were these days.

By the time the wine was finished and it was time for bed, a reasonably
concrete narrative was established. It would of course be modified as needed as
time passed, but it would probably be at least the outline. The problem being
that even the parrots in the news business had to be trained, and in their
eagerness to be first they still gave prefiltered accounts while an event was
in progress. But since the audience had an attention that extended no further
than the previous day's lunch it was easy enough to handle.

It seemed that a small rural settlement of several related families was
suspected of being involved in one or more - that could be decided later -
conspiracies to commit acts of 'domestic terrorism' against as-yet-unspecified
government targets. Naturally a undercover agent had managed to get inside
the plotting just in time to alert authorities.

The rest was routine - search warrants were obtained, personnel from the
relevant agencies were armed and equipped to investigate and dispatched to the
site. As authorities surrounded the 'compound' those inside refused to allow
entry. At some point shots were fired from inside the compound and a police
vehicle was damaged.

However, return fire from the task force, including high-explosive and
incendiary grenades set fire to some of the houses, at which point a number of
men inside began firing on the task force. The battle ended when the fire
from inside ceased, and after receiving on response to repeated calls to the
occupants, members of the task force began to enter and clear the area.

The preliminary report was that eleven adult males and three adult females,
along with one minor male were dead. Seven children were found in a storm
shelter that had escaped the destruction.

A few on-site interviews followed, mostly with authority types - a state
police officer, a spokesman for Homeland Security, a couple of residents from
down the road who most likely only saw the vehicles go by, heard the noise and
saw the smoke, but you always wanted some local color.

"Well, they didn't say anything about survivors other than the children," said
Carer. "You know what that means."

"There were never supposed to be any survivors," Jessica said. "Which should
tells us something about the ones who did it. They would have known about the

"Yeah, it's certain they would, with an insider. Whom I presume was
conveniently not there when it happened."

"Presumably," said Jessica. "But you never know - depending on who it was, he
may have been expendable. And knew too much. After Ruby Ridge and Waco, and
some others there were survivors who refuted the official version. Even
though they were were suppressed by the news media even then,
no witnesses is better if you can arrange it. And these people will."

One of the last interviewee was the county sheriff. He disavowed knowledge of
the affair and stressed that no member of is department had been involved.
Since it was outside the city limits apparently no local authorities had been

"He may not be sheriff for long," Carter said. "One way or another."

"He could be one of those who aren't going along," said Jessica. "There's
still some resistance there, hopeless as it ultimately is. If he is they
may not have asked him, or even let him know it was happening."

With the event over as far as the news was concerned, they went to bed. But
sleep did not come easily. With each passing day the specter of the final
conflict, in whatever form it might take, loomed higher and darker on the

The next day the four of them gathered with Donald at breakfast, as they often
did. The news of the previous day was the only subject - it was a significant
development meriting close examination.

"Well," said Donald, "we certainly learned something, and it's not good. The
malevolence of the regime is clear. This was a massacre, pure and simple. It
can only be a warning to anyone thinking of resistance. We're still
investigating, so we don't have a lot of details on the commune that was
destroyed, but I had a couple of calls last confirming that it was targeted
for such a purpose. We have a freehold near there, and they were aware of the
place and its people, had looked into it. They tell me it was in no way
planning anything, and the mole was nothing more than an agent provocateur
sent in to set them up. It's been a common tool for a while now."

"Do we know anything about him?" asked Tommy. "Or her?"

"Good point," said Donald. "Don't assume a sex when looking at suspects. We
know women have been used in the past, to get close to a man in an organization.
They tend to be majority male in terms of membership, so female agents, or
informants are sometimes used. Of course, to actually provoke some kind of action,
even if it's just enough to get some recordings of discussions or preparation
attempts, an agent would have to be in fairly deep - not just a girlfriend of
a member."

"What sort of action are we looking at," Jessica asked, "if any?"

"That's a good question," said Donald. "At this point, we're just
investigating. If we find cause and opportunity for action, that's something
we'll be looking at."

"If someone recently joined them," said Carter, "and turns out to be the lone
survivor, he would bear looking into. Do we have people on the ground in the

"Vienna Prime is about an hour away," said Donald. "The first call I got was
from them. They were aware of the place, knew a little about the people but
didn't consider them much more than a group of preppers, possibly well armed,
but that's not unusual. As far as they knew they weren't up to anything that
should have attracted any special attention. They've got a couple of people
going over that way to look around. But that's about all so far."

"The sheriff denied any involvement," said Jessica. "They almost always
involve the local law, usually just for show. Wonder if they asked him and he
refused, or if they didn't want him around."

"I'm sure we'll find out," said Donald. "Vienna is in the next county, but it's
rural Tennessee, and all the LE types talk to each other. It'll be interesting
to know."

"How does this affect our strategy?" asked Jessica.

"Interestingly," said Donald, "it gives us an opportunity do implement what we
call Plan X-ray, which was at one time believed unworkable, and very likely
still is. That is to engage the enemy at opportunities like this, make them
pay a price each time, and see if they can at least be stalled, giving us time
to pursue other methods, in terms of avoiding the big one.

"In this case, we would retaliate, in one of two or three ways. In one case,
we would simply take out an enemy installation and a number of personnel,
probably trying for a two or three to one kill ratio. See if they back off -
the Oklahoma City affair did moderate their methods for a time - even though
they did it, that fact probably wasn't known to the policymakers. If they do,
there might be a period of such exchanges until something turns one way or the

"You don't believe we'll beat them at that game?" asked Carter.

"No, we don't. But only because those who've set the course aren't suffering
the consequences. All the agencies are just pawns, expendable in the big picture."

"So we eventually end up at the big one?"

"Most likely. We can delay the inevitable, but we can't prevent it."

"And while that's going on?" asked Jessica.

"One thing we're looking at," said Donald, "is organizing some of these groups,
some of the more capable and disciplined ones, to carry out attacks
independent of us. It could weaken the enemy while conserving our resources, but
more importantly keep us under the radar. When we're ready to strike, it will
come out of nowhere. Plan x-ray could buy time to get resources in position."

"We have some viable candidates, I suppose," said Carter.

"Some fairly solid ones," Donald replied, "and we're working on more. The way
it looks, they probably won't really drop the hammer until after the next
election. If it confirms the trend, they'll feel invincible. They won't
start running the trucks to the camps until some time after that. But our
insiders tell us that even now lists are being compiled, and it's a low bar to
get on one. We're talking about belonging to a dissident organization, being
seen at demonstrations, even writing letters to members of congress. So after
the start of year after next, if the trend continues, we move."

They sat in silence for a few moments. In perhaps less than two years, they,
and their country, could be on the cusp of a leap into the unknown. At worst,
they would lose and the country would go into the darkness, perhaps never to
return. Certainly not in the lifetimes of their descendants for generations.

Generations, Carter thought. In another life he and Jessica would get married,
have children and watch them grow up and have children of their own. Whether
they would even live another two years was questionable.

Jessica, sitting close enough to touch, put her hand on his knee. Trying not
to be conspicuous, Carter put his hand on hers. Tommy and James were lost in
their own thoughts.

"We'll have to go forward a step at a time," said Donald. "When we're idle we
have time to worry and doubt. Let's see where we stand." He turned the sound
up on the television, which was turned to a non-stop news channel.

The previous day's events had already been downgraded to an hourly segment of
a few minutes, and there was not much new. At least no of any importance.

It seemed that few in the surrounding area knew much about them - apparently
they kept to themselves. Which was suspicious, according to one of the guests,
an analyst with some think tank. To another guest the questions about
domestic terrorists and white supremacy were presented and responded to in the
usual way.

The local sheriff was asked why he had not known about the activities or if he
had even been suspicious. He rather acerbically that apparently no one had
known and wondered if there even were any. He said the informant might know
and wondered where he was.

Apparently that question wasn't on the list and the anchor had to ad lib it to
the next guest. He was apparently prepared, however, and simply replied that
the identity of the informant was not known and it was up the the agency to
release that information.

"If we find out that the FBI, or whoever, planted someone in there to
manufacture an incident, and he could be identified," asked Carter, "what would
be likely to happen to him? Wonder if any of these people have next-of-kin
that would be interested."

"That would be one way," said Donald. "Let's do some research of our own while
we're waiting on input from our colleagues."

"Thanks for inviting us," Grant said. "You've met Bill already. These are the other
members of our committee - Douglas Stewart, Arthur Mitchell, and Gerald Duncan.
Gentlemen, this is Luther Pierce - do you have a title or is Luther OK?"

"Luther is fine," Luther replied, smiling. "And we just call each brother and
sister, nothing fancy." He introduced his colleagues and asked if the guests
would like refreshments. They all accepted the proffered iced tea, which was
quite good.

"My wife passed away the year after we came here," he said. "I've learned how
to take care of things, but I'm not much of a cook, or good at making tea. I
keep it simple, black coffee and strong sweet tea."

"This is good," said Grant. "I'm not that good at it myself."

"Well, then," Luther said, "shall we get down to business? Are there any items
in particular you'd like to discuss?"

"Not especially," Grant replied, apparently being looked to as the leader since he
had made the overture. "We wanted to formally introduce ourselves, and if you
have any curiosity about us we'll try to answer your questions. And to offer
any assistance we can, should you ever need it. Feel free to call on us at any

"Thank you," said Luther. "We live a fairly simple life here, try to keep out
of the outside world as much as we can. At the risk of sounding like one of
those fanatics you hear about a lot, it is quite frankly a wicked and corrupt

"We're certainly in agreement there," said Grant. "We're after the same thing.
We're not all of the same faith, so we're not a church. But we do want to be
away from the, as you say, wickedness and corruption. There are a couple
dozen children who are home-schooled. I'm guessing you do the same with any
children you have."

"We do," Luther replied. "We have about thirty."

"You're probably wondering how much longer that will be allowed," said Arthur.
"Some states have already made it illegal, and the federal government is
putting pressure on the remaining ones to stop it. Which brings us to
something we'd like to get your ideas on.

"As you've observed, the situation out there is bad and getting worse fast.
We and people like us are probably going to have to make some hard choices
before much more time goes by. And we don't know how it's going to play out.
Do you have any plans for dealing with the future?

"I don't know if you've heard about it, but yesterday there a bad incident in
Tennessee. From what we've been able to learn so far, it seems like they were
making an example of someone. To warn the rest of us. If it's that bad now,
it's hard to see how any of us are going to be able to avoid conflict."

"We trust God," said Luther. "We don't know what will happen, or if He intends
for things to change, or in what ways. So we wait and watch. If at some time we have to act,
whether it is to hide or fight, we trust Him to guide us."

"We understand," Douglas said. "We have already made our decision, and we
respect yours - whatever it may be. Since we don't know yet how the in the
end the crisis will climax, so to speak, we have to watch events unfold and
react as we decide is right."

"We understand as well," said Luther. "As you say, it's a matter of waiting for now."

"You've probably seen that we're armed around the place most of the time,"
said Grant. "Those of us that are out and around in the open, at least.
There aren't supposed to be any dangerous animals out here, other than some
bears. You don't want to run up on a bear with cubs."

"Or a cougar," said one of the elders. "They've been seen, supposedly, within
twenty, thirty miles of here. Over around Lynchtown."

"That could be dangerous," said Grant. "They've eaten a few people from time
to time, out west mostly. Anyway, we may carry a handgun or even a rifle
sometimes, but that's about it. As for future problems, however, we are
prepared. We have a sizable arsenal - we're serious about defending ourselves
if we have to. As they say, better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
If you do that, you still die in the end, but your life in between isn't very

"We understand," said Luther. "We have debated the issue and continue to. We
will come to a decision with God's help." He smiled. "As for being on you knees,
it's not always not a bad thing."

"I understand," said Grant. "We'll respect whatever decision you make."

"Is there anything else you wish to discuss?" asked Luther.

"No, that should cover it for now," Grant said. "As we say, anything we can ever do for you, don't hesitate
to call us."

"And we we offer our assistance in any way we can," said Luther.

"Well, we'll be on our way," said Grant. "And let you get back to work."

They shook hands all around and Grant and his colleagues left.

They drove back over to their enclave and went into the meeting house and sat
down to discuss the visit.

"Seems like reasonably a sane bunch," said Arthur.

"Seems so," Douglas said. "You never know with people with a religious
doctrine underpinning their lifestyle.""

"True," said Gerald. "Of course, there's a lot of exaggeration and even
outright lies in what you hear. Our enemies call dissenters cultists, or white
supremacists, almost as a first resort. I'm waiting to hear that that bunch
over in Tennessee yesterday was a religious cult."

"If that's what they're doing now, and just getting started, it's going to get
bad by the time they get here.

"Yeah," said Arthur. "It looks a lot like they just went in there and killed a
bunch of people, as a warning."

"Well, then we know pretty much how it ends," Bill said. "If the next election
just reinforces their control then it's over. They're already working on
those FEMA camps, mainly putting up fences around them. And guard towers.
And they're doing it right out in the open, not caring who sees it.

"We're screwed and we know it. We came out here, hoping it wouldn't get this
bad. But we know it's going to. And I don't think any of us see any way out.
Do we?"

After a moment of silence Grant spoke.

"I've been kicking this around for a while and still don't know what to do
with it," he said. "But tell me what you think. There've been rumors, I'm
sure you've heard them. It's probably crazy because it sounds too good to be
true, but the idea is that there is some sort of big operation that no one
knows about, at least in terms of who it is, how it works. But supposedly
there's a plan to somehow take over the central power structure - Congress,
the President, and do something really disruptive that leaves them open for a
takeover. Like I said, too good to be true."

"Yeah," said Arthur. "There's been some of that, just in the last two, maybe
three months. It was maybe a handful of sites, in the comments on some
articles, someone would mention it. It got my attention because of a common
element that stays consistent, as if it's being done by some sort of
organization. Or a very busy individual.

"You never know," Grant said, "but I have to wonder what chance something like
that has. It would have to be big, well-funded and disciplined, to remain
secret for long."

"Apparently it's something planned as an absolute last resort," said Grant,
"when there's no hope for a peaceful solution, rather than go down quietly they
do down fighting. There seem to be a couple of consistent factors though -
the terms 'Samson Option' and 'Mike Charlie'

"Yeah," said Bill. "I've seen that. I suppose they could be using that media
to pass messages."

"The Samson Option is interesting," Arthur said. "That's long been known, at
least to those who pay attention to these things, as a reference to the
Israeli doctrine of mutual assured destruction. If they were ever again in a
hopeless position, instead of committing mass suicide as they did at Masada,
they would destroy their enemies and as much of the rest of the world as they
could with their nuclear weapons. Like Samson pulling down the temple and
taking his enemies with him."

"That's something I could believe," said Douglas. "Some of the resistance
that is a little out there would try something like that. Not that any one or
two of them would do a lot of damage. I suppose someone uniting a large
number of them could. How hard is it to make bombs, drive trucks into
buildings? Terrorist tactics are hard to defeat, especially when new ones
appear as quickly as you prepare to deal with the old ones. The problem is that most
of them have no discipline. They're operating on emotion, and that's their

"Maybe we should dig into this," said Bill. "Get some of the young more tech-
savvy guys to help. We might be able to pick up patterns, get an idea of how
real it is, and if so, what it is. If we're going down, maybe we can link up
with some others like us and make a bigger impact."

"OK," said Grant. "If this proves to be something real, it's worth
investigating, and being part of if that's possible."

Jessica slowed the Trailblazer slightly as they approached what looked like a
group of houses to the right side of the road ahead. They were probably five
or six miles from the small town they had just passed through, and the area
was mostly fields, with an occasional house on one side or the other, usually
with an outbuilding or two.

"This looks like it," said Carter. "Chapman Trailer Park."

The sign providing the identification was old, apparently a four by eight
sheet of plywood between two posts. It was, however, in good repair given its
apparent age.

There were two roads running into the park itself, through four rows of old
mobile homes. A few spaces were empty, several held large travel trailers of
the sort people sometimes lived in in mobile home parks. The vehicle count
was approximately two per dwelling.

Jessica passed the two roads and turned into a driveway at a modest house with
a detached garage and several small outbuildings. She stopped and
killed the engine.

"Looks like we're here," she said. "Just about the middle of nowhere."

They were far from any major population center. Carter reflected that in a
place like this and thousands of others around the country, people of
independent means could live quietly and unnoticed. Unless of course the
government forced them into its net.

The almost complete conversion to digital money had been prodded to completion
to 'shortages' of coins and currency and the forced accounting of any sums in
excess of a thousand dollars. Even here in the hinterlands almost all
commerce was digital - a drink and bag of chips in a convenience store was
paid for with a card, and the stores often couldn't, or wouldn't, give change
on a purchase. From clerks not being able to count change to not having any
to count, Carter thought. How much further do we, or can we fall.


Jessica was opening the door and he wondered how long they had been stopped.
He had become lost in his thoughts more often lately.

He got out and accompanied her towards the house, intercepted on the way by a
young man and woman emerging from the garage. They looked about the ages of
Carter and Jessica, the woman a little younger than the man. She greeted them
with an enthusiastic smile.

"Jessica! Good to see you. And this is Darrell, right?"

"Right," Jessica replied. "Darrell, this is Rebecca and Henry. Hope I got that
right since we've never met."

"Right," said Roger. He was about Carter's age, fit and healthy-looking as all
freeholders seemed to be. Rebecca was about Jessica's age. They had been
given only names and descriptions when the meeting was set up, transmitting
pictures was a needless risk. They were on one of a number of visits they
would be making during the months ahead. With the rapidly deteriorating
situation improving networking was essential. The need to make people
disappear, as they had done with James, could become more important. Which
was the reason for the visit.

The trailer park was actually the Emerald Ridge freehold, a small group of
about forty men and women, most of them in partnerships, married or otherwise,
and a handful of older men, most of them with wives. The
appearance of the facility was that of a small rural trailer park, and nothing
about it or the behavior of its residents was likely to attract attention.
Occasional inquiries about available rentals were told there was no vacancies.

The previous owners had retired and moved away some years ago, and the
freehold had purchased the property. Natural attrition would have emptied the
place of its original occupants eventually, but they were told the place was
being closed and given notice to vacate. In order to keep the matter from
attracting unwanted attention and to get control more quickly, they bought
some of the homes for more than they were worth gave other incentives. In
less than a year the place was empty and they could begin work. The freehold
had a base, in a most improbable location and with a most innocent appearance.

Roger and Rebecca had invited them in and they were sitting around the large
dining room table, sipping glasses of the strong sweet tea Carter had some to
appreciate since he had become involved with the freeholders. A couple of
their comrades were on the way over.

"We don't live here," Rebecca told them. "This is our headquarters. We live
over in the park with everyone else. It's got plenty of room for meetings,
storage, whatever we need. There are a couple of shops and storage buildings
out back. The former owner was a guy who liked to tinker. He built the
windmills back there, we still use them for charging an emergency battery bank
for the house and the other buildings. There's a big pond back there, about
five or six acres, so we have a good supply of fish for regular use and water
for emergencies. We put in a good-sized chicken yard back there as well, so
it keeps our cost of living down.

"We're not especially wealthy - I know some of the freeholds are financed by
wealthy people - but we're just regular folks."

"I'll just go ahead and plead guilty." said Jessica with a smile.

"I know you're kidding, but no guilt is necessary," Rebecca said. "Believe me,
without that money this would never have happened. We're happy to give
whatever assistance we can."

They heard a door open, and shortly a couple of young men entered. Both
looked to be in their late twenties, dressed in the jeans and long-sleeved
khaki shirts so common among freeholders. The shirts usually had a military
look, with double flapped pockets and sometimes epaulets.

"Hi guys," said Rebecca. "This is Bryan and Justin. Seth should be here shortly."

"He went to town this morning to get the feed and some other stuff. Should be
back by now," Justin said.

"Probably got behind a tractor or two," said Roger. "We're in planting season."

Jessica and Carter had been behind a couple on their way in, and having to
follow one for long could be annoying but they were part of living in an agricultural area. Bryan and Justin helped themselves to
tea, which seemed to be about the only thing people drank wherever Carter had
been. Having been accustomed to the bland offerings in restaurants he found
the type people made at home almost addictive.

The door opened again and an older man, presumably Seth, entered the room. He
was considerably older, probably in his late sixties, maybe older. With men
in good physical condition, the look of age could come late. Seth greeted
Carter and Jessica, got a glass of tea and sat down.

"I'm one of the old geezers hereabouts," he said. "Got together with a few of
my old cronies a few years back and whatever we talked about it always ended
up complaining about the government. Roger and Rebecca here were with some of
their friends and family talking about the same thing. We both realized that
it was bad and getting worse, eventually ended up getting this thing together.

"It was while we were trying to decide what to do that Seth showed up. He was
originally with a group up in the hills, had some good ideas but was too
erratic to accomplish anything, and he joined up with us. It wasn't much
later that their place was raided by the feds, arrested and hauled off, some
of them may still be in prison."

"There were some members who were too loud," Seth said. "Made some enemies
with the local law, threatened some politicians, things like that. The feds
raided the place, brought some drugs and illegal guns to plant, and those guys
were finished. I was looking for someone to join, that was smart enough to
stay low and not be noticed. This looked like a good place."

"Seth had been hanging out with a guy from Cedar Ridge, about the time he hooked
up with us." said Roger. "I don't know if you know them."

"I may have heard it, my father is on the Council and knows a lot of them,"
said Jessica.

"Well," said Roger, "it's over in Oklahoma, without a cedar or a ridge
anywhere near. A lot of us use names that can't be a clue to where we are.
There aren't any ridges around here - the nearest is Crowley's Ridge up in the
northeast part of the state. And no emeralds either, as far as we know.

"Anyway, the Council checked us out over several years. We wondered about
some of the people we 'just happened to run into' back then - they were
evaluating us - and eventually they extended an invitation. Cedar Ridge
is one of small several freeholds in this area, not big enough to have its own
Council representative, that send a delegate."

"So you're up to date on everything," said Jessica. "And you know why we're
now in a preparation mode, beyond helping each other learn useful things,
getting equipped. We're getting to know each other's territory as well, in
case we find ourselves on joint operations. We'd like to spend a couple of
days with you going around and learning the area. We could work in a trip to,
how far away is Cedar Ridge?"

"Just over in Oklahoma," said Seth. "About two hours".

"We could drive over day after tomorrow, spend a day there and still be
back home by the weekend," said Jessica.

"Well," Roger said, "why don't we get the tour started. We'll show you around
the place and then drive around the area. Tomorrow morning you can leave and
be there in time for lunch. We'll have Seth give them a heads-up."

The five of them took Jessica and Carter on a circuit of the park, which was
four rows of mobile homes lining the long sides of the rectangular drive.
After a few hours they had met a couple dozen of the residents, and were shown
several empty, or at least unoccupied, trailers that were used for storage and
work areas. A couple of them housed small armories - racks of rifles and
shotguns, a sizable collection of handguns. Most residents owned a number of
both handguns and long guns, but the armory included a number that could be
given to anyone lacking one in the case of an emergency.

In one of the caches Roger displayed a rack of M-1 carbines. He handed two to
Jessica and Carter. Carter was unfamiliar with the weapon, while Jessica had
fired them on several occasions. They were popular with the Freeholders.

"The M-1 has been around quite a while," Seth said. "World War II, Korea, and
used some in Vietnam. They must have made millions of them, and they're still
being made, though not for military use.

"A few years ago military surplus ones were going for two, maybe three hundred
each. Now they're over a thousand. I was lucky enough to get a bunch of them
back then. Got reloading equipment, so we're pretty well set on these."

A couple of trailers were almost full of food, survival supplies prepared for
long-term storage.

"We've got wells to supply water, and some storage big storage tanks," Roger
told them. "And a pretty good supply of fuel for the generators. We could
hold out here for quite a while if things break down. Although it looks like
that may not be the big problem."

They toured the remaining area before returning to the house for lunch. After
lunch Carter and Jessica got into a an old Ford Expedition that allowed six of
them to ride. Henry and Rebecca sat up front, with Carter and Jessica on the
left side of the remaining rows while Bryan and Justin sat on the other side.
After a quick tour of the town they left on the main street which became a
state highway heading west. The country was almost entirely farm fields, with
an occasional house. They passed through a couple of small places large
enough to have a sign announcing the name and population, the larger of the
two seemed to have a population of 133, if the sign was correct.

About an hour out they turned around and headed back.

"Cedar Ridge is about an hour and a half that way," Roger told them.

Going back through town they drove about an hour in the other direction, then
took a road north, and eventually turned west again. A few more changes in
direction left Carter and Jessica completely lost.

"As you can see," said Roger, "it's easy go get lost out here if you don't live here."

"Kind of like our area," said Carter. "Or I guess, anywhere away from the cities."

"Yeah," Roger said. "So much of the population is concentrated in the cities,
especially on the coasts, there's not much out here. A lot of the country has
less than ten people per square mile, or even one. We hope that means those
of us out here will escape attention for a while, as the government deals with
the population centers."

"Of course," said Jessica, "the ultimate goal is to have all the population in
controlled areas. Those outside will be forced, one way or another, to move.
We hope it takes a while, even after the takeover is complete, giving us time
to work on our ultimate project."

"The big one," said Rebecca, in a serious tone.

"In the end, yes," replied Jessica. "We're being left with no choice."

As darkness approached they headed back towards home. After dinner and a
brief look at the news, which had nothing of significance, Carter and Jessica
were shown to a trailer used for guest quarters. They were both tired from
the long drives on the country roads, and fell asleep easily.

The next day after breakfast they said their goodbyes and headed for Cedar Ridge.
Using the directions they had been given they arrived a little after eleven,
As they neared the top of one of the wooded hills, a gate blocked the road.
As they approached, a man stepped out of a small group of trees and opened it,
closing it behind them. They continued another quarter mile or so, around a
couple of curves, and into a small woods covering about forty acres
or so.

The trees were in most places just close enough that a motor vehicle could not
easily pass between them. There were only two points of entry,
one being the road they were on and the other exiting one side at
approximately ninety degrees to it. Cleared spaces within
the grove contained houses and a few larger buildings.

As they approached the first intersection a young man who had been watching
them approach stepped to the side of the road and held his hand up. Jessica
lowered the window.

"Hello," he said. "Welcome to Cedar Ridge. I'm Carl. Let me get my ride
and I'll show you the way."

An ATV was parked nearby. He mounted it and drove out into the road in front
of them. Jessica followed him to one of the large, plain-looking metal buildings of sort present at
many freeholds. Functionality and economy was important, appearance was not.
Inside he showed them to a small conference room where the other leaders were
already seated. There were four of them and Carl introduced them.

"Roger over at Emerald Ridge called and told us you were coming," said Carl.
"He described you and your vehicle, so we were able to have lookouts along the
last few miles. No reason anything should happen to you but we can't be too

"That's true," Jessica said. "It's surprising that we've been able to maintain
secrecy for so long - I suspect that's going to become more difficult."

"That's almost certain," said Eric, a middle-aged man. He was neatly dressed
in the common garb of the majority of freeholders, but looked like a
businessman who was accustomed to an office, or perhaps a doctor. "I'm afraid
we're close to the edge, and the edge is at the end of next year, or early the
year after."

"That's the consensus overall," said Harold. Harold was, like Eric, middle-
aged and had a distinguished look. Of the remaining two men, one resembled
Eric and Harold, the other was, like Carl a younger man. Carter guessed them
in their late twenties, one of them possibly in his early thirties. The other
older man was named Russell, and the other young man was named Frank. Carter
thought one or perhaps both were former military. Which proved to be correct.

"Until last year, after the election, Harold, Russell, and I were still living
in town running our businesses," Eric said. "We were part of the original
freehold, but primarily financed and helped manage it. Our political activity
brought us together with Carl and Frank, both ex-military and concerned about
the future. Carl had left recently enough to have experienced the
attempts to turn the military into a tool for an incoming socialist government.
He and others like him got out as soon as they could, and a lot of them
started looking for a way to survive what was coming.

"The three of us had had contact with a couple of guys from Copper Canyon for
a while and they helped us to set up an organization that could get an
invitation to join the freeholds. We were fortunate enough to have the money to finance
it, and we looked at it as a safe place to go if things fell apart. As the
inevitability of that became apparent, we built it up to what we have now,
forty-four members.

"Only about half of us live here. The others still have their jobs, businesses,
outside - over in McAlester and a couple of small towns. The three of us sold
everything about two years ago, we've got enough to keep this going for a lot
longer than the country is likely to last. We've been stockpiling supplies, we
could sit up here for a long time if no one bothered us, but that's unlikely
to happen."

"No," Jessica said. "They won't leave you alone. All the freeholds are under
the radar, so far, and maintaining that status will be essential to our
success in the end."

"How likely do you think we'll have a hundred percent response?" asked Frank.
"Your father have any idea?"

"We haven't discussed it much," said Jessica, "but he seems optimistic. Our
vetting process obviously works for security, I'd think we've got a good force.
And since we'll be up against the wall - fight or flight - I don't believe too
many, if any, will run."

"Let's hope not," Carl said. "The hardest decision for some won't be whether
to resist when attacked. It's firing the first shot. Deliberately killing
someone who isn't an immediate threat, is a hard line for all of us to cross,
otherwise we would be like them. Yet it may come to that."

"And from the looks of things," said Russell, "it will. None of us can see a
way around it. We may be able to deal with some of the errand boys, but in the end we'll
have to cut off the head of the snake."

And that, Carter and Jessica both knew, would test them to their limits.
Physical and mental preparation for battle could overcome most challenges, but
the moral question, even with the answer known, could be difficult to act upon.

All were silent for a few moments, all pondering the gravity of the situation. Then Carl
pushed back his chair and got up.

"It's about time for lunch," he said. "I'm sure our guests like to eat as much
as we do."

"Well, not as much as some of us," said Russell, giving him a playful elbow in
the ribs. "We pretty much fend for ourselves around here. Let's see what we
can find."

There was a kitchen with a pantry down the hall, much like a break room in an
office building. "Pizza would be quick," said Russell.

"Sounds good," Jessica replied.

A pair of large countertop ovens with a two-pizza capacity were quickly loaded
and activated. Shortly they were sitting around two of the large round tables,
eating pizza and drinking sodas from the refrigerator. Jessica was seated at
the table with Carl and Frank, while Carter sat with the three older men.

"We've known Jessica's father for a while," said Russell. "Sierra Verde is a
mostly a family affair. Are you related?"

"Not quite," replied Carter. He told them briefly of his incarceration and
meeting Tommy in prison, and his subsequent recruitment.

"I remember that case," said Russell. "That was one of several back a few
years ago. That was one of the things that drove us crazy - these cities were
really being run by crazy people, or really sick, or both."

"Yeah," Carter said. "We were all just cops doing our job, not having time to
look around and see what was happening. Until it happened to us."

"Eventually it stopped because cops stopped taking chances," said Eric. "They'd
let a criminal walk away rather than shoot, some even got killed that way.
And more and more just looked the other way, and crime got worse. There weren't
any decent cops left."

"That's where they've got this new federal agency," said Carter. "Supposedly
to deal with those places, but the idea is for it to grow until all law
enforcement is federal. Which is part of the plan. Then they can
round up the opposition at their leisure."

"Or so they think," said Eric. "We're mostly, just about all of us, out here
in the boonies. They have no idea where to look, for us anyway. They'll go
after any independent groups, or individuals, that get their attention. But,
if we are successful, they'll never know we're here until we hit them. And
maybe not even then."

"Certainly the outliers will come in handy, both for drawing resources that
could be used against us and providing cover," Harold said. "As long as they have visible targets,
there's no reason to look elsewhere."

After they were finished and the dishes consigned to the dishwasher, they went
on a tour of the place. Several of what looked like old army jeeps were
parked in the lot, and they got in with Jessica in the front seat of one and
Carter in the same position in the other. Carl and Frank drove, with the
others in the back seats.

"Where do you get Jeeps?" Carter asked Frank. "They look like old military jeeps."

"Yeah. Some of the later ones from the Vietnam era. Lot of them came on the
market when they replaced them with the Humvees. They work well for us, cheap
and easy to maintain, and can go places the Humvees can't."

Their hosts showed them several concealed bunkers with supplies of small arms,
mostly rifles and shotguns, but a few grenade launchers with a generous supply
of ammunition, and an assortment of other items including a large amount of C-4,
and hundreds of hand grenades.

"No need to ask a couple of ex-army guys where to get this stuff," Carter said.

Frank grinned. "It's amazing how much stuff the Army loses. I imagine some
of the other freeholds have stuff, as many ex-military as there are."

The ring of trees surrounding the area, spaced so that passage through them
was only possible on foot or a vehicle no larger than a motorcycle. The ring
was almost a hundred yards deep, and Frank pointed out that any intruders
coming through the ring would be shot at by defenders behind the trees, moving
from one tree to another after each shot. They could retreat a considerable
distance if the enemy was gaining ground.

"We could take down a considerable force before they get close to the center,"
he said.

Along the way they met a number of the members, mostly younger men, some with
opposite-sex companions, and a dozen or so older men and women.

"Some of us old guys," one of them, a retired sheriff's deputy who had worked
in the next county over for years, said. "Probably too old to fight except from
a stationary position, but we'll do what we can."

The tour ended back at the administration area, where a couple of small guest
houses were located. After dinner with their hosts Carter and Jessica retired
to one of them.

The next morning they left early - the drive to Chillicothe would be at least
seven hours, perhaps more depending on traffic. After a quick breakfast they
said their good-byes and headed back.

After passing through McAlester on I-44, they settled in for the long cruise.
Both were somewhat subdued, but that was becoming more normal.

"You all right?" asked Jessica, without looking over.

"Good question," he replied. "It's getting hard to know anything these days,
to think about how we're going to get through this. You ever think about how
big this is, if it goes the way we expect?"

"Sure," she replied. "It's scary. Is it for you?"

"Yeah. I've never really felt that way. I was apprehensive sometimes, lots
of times, anticipating an operation, dealing with things going wrong. But
this is bigger than anything that should even exist."

"Strangely enough," said Jessica, "the enemy almost certainly isn't expecting it. They're
sure it's all locked up. And being conscienceless, they don't lose any sleep
over anything they do."

"They're overthrowing a government, enslaving a society of hundreds of millions,"
said Carter, "and it's just business as usual for them. They'll imprison, kill,
enslave millions without any self-doubt at all, and we're going to have to
make ourselves do what has to be done, if we can."

"Well," said Jessica, "we know people are capable of that kind of evil. Hitler,
Stalin, Mao. The one thing that remains to be seen is whether those on the
side of right can be ruthless enough to save themselves, and the millions of
sheep who don't even deserve it."

"It's never really been done, what we're planning," Carter said. "You talked about Michael
Collins, who did it on a very small scale. We really don't know what will

"No," said Jessica. "We don't. I guess the only consolation is that not doing
it will be the end of us."

After lunch Carter and Jessica, along with Tommy and James, were in Donald's
office, watching the news. Despite the majority of it being propaganda these
days, it at least contained factual items about government activity. They
were closely monitoring legislation, watching for signs that the final assault
was imminent.

Legislation and court rulings on first and second amendment issues in
particular were watched closely, as were those regarding education. The
likely coming ban on home education, and the likely restrictions on private
schools, was expected to be a pivotal development. There were now millions of
people who had removed their children from the public schools and some,
particularly the ones who had formed separate communities, would resist.

"The least favorable situation," Donald said, "as the Council sees it, is for
some of the serious incursions to occur before the election. We're hoping they'll
wait until afterward, to ensure they're firmly in control. If they do, the
dam breaking will be all the more forceful."

"The things happening now, like the incident in Tennessee, or the camp out in
Kentucky," Tommy said. "Are those unrelated to us, we're not moving yet?"

"No," Donald replied. "There is some stuff like that happening on its own, and
there will probably continue to be some. We're not inciting any of the independents
yet, although we are in contact with some of the ones more inclined to
restraint. The ones we can work with will be waiting for a signal.

"One important thing is that once the decision is made, we'll wait for a while
after the election. Let things calm down, and wait for the best opportunity."

He turned the sound up on the television as a familiar face appeared.

"McCormick," said Carter. "What's that bastard up to now?"

Despite being crippled by Carter's attack just before the previous election,
or more likely because of it, McCormick had been handily elected to the Senate and,
again probably due to his dramatic story, was a rapidly rising star. Ever
the demagogue, he quickly joined the worst rabble-rousing of the recent
arrivals, attaching himself to the most radical causes. Home education had
become one of his favorite targets.

Although he was able to us a walker or even a cane to walk, he elected to use
a wheelchair when appearing in public. Not that the occasional photo or video
of him walking didn't occasionally surface - they only appeared in the fringe

"... and the uncontrolled indoctrination of these young children by parents
who are white supremacists, practitioners of hateful religions, cannot be
prevented while they are allowed to hide in their communes, away from public
view, with no responsible control. So I join Senator Cooper in sponsoring
Senate Bill 395, the Child Education Integrity Act, to protect the
constitutional right of our nation's children to an suitable education."

"And the sheeple will eat it up," said Carter. "How do we breed stupidity out
of the population when this is over?"

"If we succeed," said Donald, "it will be forced out of them. The same way it was
bred into them by the welfare state, the next generations will have no choice
but to be responsible. The kind of people who survived two hundred years ago
will be the new survivors."

"This guy is more evil than I ever imagined," Carter said. "Back then he was
just another opportunistic politician, now there's no doubt about what he is. I
wish I could have aimed higher. Next time I will."

"Next time?" Jessica asked.

"If it's the big one, I should be the one." said Carter.

"You don't have to do that to yourself," she said. "There will be plenty of
men to do the job. There's only a handful of us here - do you think we should
let ourselves be shorthanded here?"

"Our only defense is secrecy," said Carter. "If we're exposed, there's nothing
that can protect us. The materiel will have been dispensed before the
operation begins - I won't be needed here."

He was right, she knew. Five or six people could not defend the freehold it
it came under attack - its only protection was secrecy. And the weapons and
other equipment they were safeguarding would have already been issued to their
users. It was useless to argue, and he father wasn't going to get involved.

"If you go, I'm going with you," she said, knowing it was unlikely to dissuade
him, but hoping to talk him out of it later.

McCormick had been replaced by an analyst of some sort. Certainly, he said,
the democracy was threatened by renegade parents indoctrinating their children
with racism and hate.
A safe and orderly society could not survive such unregulated activities.

"They'll get it through for sure this time. Even if they don't have both
houses filibuster-proof, the remaining opposition is so spineless they won't
block it this time," Donald said. "And if they do they'll find a way around
it - or just ignore the rules."

The news had shifted to coverage of the forest fires in the west. As usual,
California was leading, but Washington and Oregon were doing their share.
Years of refusing to manage the forests properly made the fires an annual
occurrence, almost as predictable as hurricanes on the east coast, but there
was still constant news coverage.

"They haven't seen anything yet," said Donald.

The four of them looked at him silently, Carter thinking he knew what what was
implied, but they waited.

"At whatever point we pull the trigger," Donald said, "it's all or nothing. We
aren't leaving anything on the table. You already know we'll be attacking the
infrastructure - highways, power lines, water supplies - any other
distractions that can be useful will be exploited.

"And not just forests. There are now some large agricultural estates in the
hands of our enemies. You start a wheat field burning at the right time, and
not only do the owner harm, enough of them would raise wheat prices, and some
of them are farmers with large acreage of wheat. You could burn rice fields
as well, when it's ready to harvest, and probably corn. But we would only
attack farms owned by known enemies."

Carter had learned long ago that it was to be total war, by every and any
means possible. He thought of the country broken and burning in hundreds of
places, a country already unable to deal with the occasional accident or bad
weather. They could bring the country to its knees, and coupled with the
destruction of the government, could anyone predict the outcome.

"How much of a plan do we have frozen?" he asked.

"Essentially, all of it," Donald replied. "Not all the details are set in stone, but
those are elements dependent on variables like when something happens or where
someone is at any given time. But when it's time to go, it's time to go."

"So we're looking at seven, a little less, months to the election," said
Jessica. "Two more, a little over, until the inauguration. Then, perhaps, a
few months after that."

"Right," said Donald. "Actually a little more. Depends on what they do. If,
as it appears, they'll drop the hammer right away, we'll lie low for a while
and get our contacts in the various organizations we can influence to do the
same. They won't see the calm before the storm for what it is - they'll be
relaxing and congratulating themselves on how easy it was."

"So we're looking at about a year," said Carter. "What final preparations are
we doing?"

"Primarily visiting a few more freeholds and meeting some of the people you'll
be working with. One place I want you to go is to Silver Lake .
It's one of the more interesting ones, and is going to play a major part in
the final act. I talked with Alexander at the last meeting, and he's
interested in putting you through a course. You'll find it interesting."

"That our only clue?" asked Jessica.

"For now," said Donald, smiling. "In fact, I'd like for whoever goes first
to return the same day the other pair leaves, so no spoilers. Who goes first?"

"Of course we all do," said Jessica. "All right, Tommy, you and James go. We
can handle the suspense. When do we go?"

"It's already arranged," said Donald. "We set it up the last meeting - I'll
call and let him know you're coming."

"One other thing," said Donald. "When the time comes, we'll be supplying some of
the teams with supplies. We'll get the requests when they're ready, some of
them will be picking them up here on their way to the target. We need to see
that the inventories are up to date and the merchandise is in shape."

They watched the news for a while longer. There was not much more news of
interest to them. The usual litany of murders - generally only the top two or
three cities rated reporting. The record for the day was apparently Chicago
again, while New York took second place. Memphis, usually not in the top
three made the cut with four confirmed dead and the possibility of more.

"You have to wonder," said Jessica, "what's going to happen there when it all
goes down. They've got it easy now - don't have to work, food and shelter
supplied with enough left for expensive Chinese sneakers and plenty of drugs.
You know, it's funny we talk about having the lights and water cut off and no
food, but what happens when the drug supply gets shut off?"

"Some would say it serves them right," said Carter. "Including me. But
these aren't the real evil - they're just the human debris that piles up after
the scum that run the place. But I wouldn't be surprised if they kill each
other in even greater numbers when the lights go out."

"And their masters won't care," said Donald. "They don't care now and
probably would welcome a thinning of the underclass. The productive people
they plan to enslave will be more useful. If they're dropping like flies from
starvation, disease and violence it won't matter. Especially with the other
problems they'll be having by then."

"We'd better let you get back to work," said Jessica. "We probably need to
get out of here and relax a little. Got any ideas?"

"James and I were thinking about calling up a couple of girls we know and
going over to Saint Joe, grab a pizza or something. Mainly just take take a
drive somewhere. Why don't you come along?"

"Sounds good," said Jessica. "We'll have to take two vehicles, so we've got
backup. We'll wait for you at home, follow you to.. are these girls in town?"

"Yeah," Tommy replied. "We'll pick them up on the way."

Jessica and Carter drove over to her house to get ready, then sat down to wait
for Tommy and James.

"James seems comfortable going out in public," she said, "but I can't help but
worry sometimes. I know he's not likely to be picked up by any surveillance
here, or probably even in Saint Joe. But I'm always nervous."

"That's not like you," Carter said, "but I guess when you're it's a matter of a
wanted criminal, technically, some apprehension can't be avoided. He's
changed his appearance sufficiently that his own mother probably wouldn't
recognize him. As for cameras, who knows. It's best to avoid places where
they might be."

"Yeah," said Jessica. "I'd guess the chances that there's a nationwide search
on for him is unlikely, except for routine entry in the various databases that
are looking for many people. His best protection is that if anyone comes
looking for him, there's plenty of time to hide him before they even start
searching. They probably would show up and ask if we knew him."

The doorbell rang and they got up to go. They got in the Taurus and followed
Tommy and James in one of the Trailblazers. They stopped in Chillicothe to
pick up Tommy and James' dates. Carter and Jessica stayed in the car as the
two young women got into the vehicle and they started the drive to St. Joseph.

St. Joseph was a small city, with a population of around 70,000. But in
sparsely populated Missouri, with most of the population in St. Louis and
Kansas City to the south, it was the nearest city of any size to most of the
northern part of the state. On a Wednesday night it was not especially busy,
and they parked their vehicles side by side in the parking lot of a pizza

Tommy introduced Carter and Jessica to the two women, who appeared to be at
most in their late twenties. Jessica knew Tommy had a few casual female
acquaintances in the area, and guessed he had by now introduced James to one
or more. They had to be cautious about relationships with outsiders, but he
had enough experience to handle himself, and she was sure James followed his

Customer traffic was light and they easily found a table that would seat the
six of them. The food ordered, they sipped their drinks and engaged in small
talk. Beyond divulging that Carter and Jessica were employed at MacArthur
Farms, there was little discussion of their personal lives. As they watched
the two, Jessica had the unpleasant thought that James might talk in his sleep.
That could cause a problem. On the way back she mentioned it to Carter.

"Yeah," he said. "I hadn't thought of that. Not sure how many people do it. Do I?"

"Yeah, but it's mumbles. Nothing coherent."

"Let's hope his is too, if he does. And we have to assume there is some
sleeping together. It would probably be a good idea if he found an excuse not to."

"Yeah," Jessica said. "I definitely need to talk to him about it."

By the time they were back home they were both tired enough to go directly to
bed, and sleep came quickly and easily.

Carter and Jessica waited in the car, watching the sky. The ETA Tommy had given
when he called had just passed, and the incoming flight should be landing soon.
Before long the small dot in the western sky grew to the size that showed it
to be an airplane. The St. Joseph airport wasn't especially busy so it was
probably them.

Ironically, Carter thought, the airport housed a Missouri Air National Guard
airlift wing, which had supplied U.S. forces in the Middle East wars. It was
now being used to transport some of the warriors who would bring down that

The Piper Navajo rolled past their position and turned from the runway onto a
taxiway headed their way. After Tommy and James disembarked the pilots, two
of them Carter noticed, took the aircraft to refuel. Carter and Jessica
removed their luggage and Tommy and James put theirs, they would return home
in the car.

"I can't wait to get there," Jessica said. "It must be pretty good - Dad doesn't
play games."

"I'm sure it will be," said Tommy. "But there's a practical reason for the secrecy.
Every minute from here on is dead serious."

Tommy and James waited until the aircraft was ready and Carter and Jessica had
stowed their luggage and boarded.

"Welcome aboard," the younger of the two pilots greeted them. "I'm Aaron, and
the AC is Stephen. Welcome to Silver Lake Air. We'll be in the air for just
over two hours. So let's get you strapped in and we'll get going."

A few minutes later they were climbing into the bright late summer sky, the
Great Plains sliding beneath them as they flew west. They didn't know the
destination, so reticent had Donald been. Even Jessica was not familiar with
Silver Lake, and apparently her father had never had occasion to mention it.
She wondered what was not different.

"You know what AC is, don't you?" Jessica asked.

"I was guessing Aircraft Commander," he replied. "I'm learning."

"You've learned a lot in a short time. I was pretty much born into it, and
Tommy has been around a while. You and James have had to get acclimated quickly."

"Yeah," he said. "But we could have all the time in the world and not be ready
for the reality of it when it's happening."

"Someone, probably more than someone, said that no plan survives first contact
with the enemy," Jessica said. "Tommy and Jerry both said that any certainty
goes out the window when the action starts."

Carter looked over at her, catchint the change in her mood. He started to speak,
then waited.

"Sorry," she said. "I think about Jerry all the time but rarely say his name.
Even with Dad and Tommy we don't talk about him much. I guess all this has us
preoccupied. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if he were still here."

"Are you still determined to go after McCormick? You don't have to - there's
enough for us to do."

"Would you?" he asked.

"Probably," she admitted. "But you can't do it alone. You'll need help
finding him, getting him in a position to..."

"Kill him?"

"Can you do that?"

"He isn't just a contemptible miscreant who sent an innocent man to prison and
destroyed his life to advance his career. You've seen how deeply he's into
this regime, he won't just be destroying one life - what they're trying to
do will affect millions. And he probably doesn't believe anything he says,
just parrots it for his masters. And that's the real evil."

"So it isn't personal any more?"

"Of course it is." He turned to smile at her. "I'd be lying if I said it isn't.
But, I had the chance to end it before, and I left him alive as a punishment.
But it's time for him to go, with the rest."

They looked out the windows for a while, the enormity of their country laid
out beneath them. Their enemies wanted it all, for whatever reasons their
twisted minds conceived. Most of them lived in cities on the coasts and saw
the rest of the country when they flew over it. All the freeholders wanted
was freedom for people, freedom from fear, exploitation, all the things the
enemy would inflict.

"There's no way to understand those people," she said. "None of what they do
makes any sense, unless you're deranged. Why are some people obsessed with
the desire to control other people's lives?"

"If you find out, let me know," replied Carter. "The only thing that makes sense
is they're mentally ill. And dictators historically, at least in modern times,
have been crazy. Hitler, Stalin, and little ones like Amin and the other
African and South Americans, are at the very least paranoid, and some
demonstrably insane."

"The insane rise to the top," Jessica said. "Of course they spend their lives
climbing, and pushing the competition off the ladder at every opportunity. It
certainly isn't indicative of normal minds."

"And being narcissists, they never consider the consequences," Carter said.
"If they get what they want, total control, they'll start in killing each other.
After any revolution is successful, the revolutionaries begin fighting among
themselves. Not so different from the Mafia - they kill each other off at an
appalling rate, yet each one thinks it won't happen to him."

"That won't do us much good," Jessica said. "But it should assuage any guilt
we feel beforehand. If there's guilt afterward, we'll have to live with it."

They fell silent for a while, and Carter began to feel drowsy. They had
gotten up early to meet their incoming comrades, and the sound of the engines
lulled him to sleep. Jessica was also tired, and looking over at him sleeping,
she laid her head back against the seat and closed her eyes.

He awoke as the co-pilot looked around the bulkhead and said "We'll be landing
in about ten minutes. Buckle up if you're not."

He looked out the window as the aircraft began a descent, bringing them closer
to the rural landscape. The area didn't look very developed, and as the
aircraft rolled along the runway he could see that there were no buildings
outside, only trees. They turned and traversed the taxiway to what was
apparently the only building except for several hangars that looked about the
size for accommodating two or three small aircraft. A few more aircraft were
tied down in the parking area.

When they stopped he saw a car outside, an older but immaculate luxury car of
some sort. Never much of a car nut, he wasn't sure what kind it was. The co-
pilot opened the passenger door and lowered the steps, standing by to help
them descend.

"Welcome to Forrest City, Colorado," he said. "Your car is waiting, and it's
been a pleasure to serve you."

"Thanks," Jessica said. "It was a nice trip."

"Enjoy your stay," said Aaron.

The two men standing by the car had come over and helped them carry their
luggage. The car looked like a regular passenger car stretched a couple of
feet to make more room for the passengers. The badge on the trunk lid
proclaimed it to be a Fifth Avenue

As they drove away Carter saw that the airport was in a hilly area, with the
nearby down mostly a few hundred feet lower.

"I'm Harry," the man in the passenger seat said as they got underway. "And
Mark is driving."

Mark turned briefly to acknowledge the introduction.

"In case they didn't tell you," Jessica said, "I'm Jessica and this is Darrell."

"Mr. Thompson gave us your names and descriptions," Harry said. "It's not
likely anyone would hijack the plane replace you, but we can't be too careful.
If you don't need to stop in town for anything we'll go around it. We're out
in the country a ways."

"We're fine," said Jessica.

The road from the airport took them along the edge of town, which didn't seem

"Is that Forrest City?" Carter asked.

"Such as it is," Harry replied. "Population eleven thousand or so. They have a
reasonably good airport because of a couple of big factories here, the execs
like to fly their jets in. Like most freeholds, Silver Lake is pretty self
contained. When we need something they don't have here we usually go
over to Westminster."

They followed a two-lane highway for several miles before turning onto another
paved road that with a closed gate just far enough from the road to allow a
vehicle to stop and wait for it to be opened. Harry produced a small hand-
held radio and pushed the talk button. It looked like the same type he had
seen in use on trips to other freeholds.

"Malachi. Go ahead." came the voice at the other end.

"Pelican one," said Harry.

"How many fish did you catch?"

"Eighty-three," Harry replied.

In a few seconds the gate opened and Mark drove through. About a hundred
yards further on the road turned slightly and they were in a forest, of large
old trees but with the undergrowth cleared so it looked to be easily
traversable on foot. After a few more turns in the road they were well out of
sight of the highway, and a large building loomed before them.

It was, Carter judged, about two hundred feet across and three floors high.
It had an old look to it, but was in pristine condition. A large entrance at
the center was inset a good twenty feet or so, forming a large sheltered area
in front of the large doors. A large circular drive passed in front of the

"Here we are," said Mark as Stephen stopped the car. Mark got out and opened
the door for Jessica, who was on the side nearest the entrance, while Carter
opened his door and got out. Stephen remained with the car. As they carried
their luggage towards the entrance, the doors opened and two uniformed men
emerged, taking their bags. A third man in a suit appeared.

"Please follow me," he said. Carter saw Mark returning to the car, and the men
carrying their bags followed.

"Your name isn't Alfred, is it?" asked Jessica.

"Not at all," their guide laughed. "Although I am English. Hugh Dowling, late
of Her Majesty's Yorkshire Regiment, at your service. I suppose, is the old bat still
alive? In any case, for all the theatrics, we're quite serious here, and one of my
functions is personal guard for my employer, whom you are about to
meet. Not that he much needs my services in the area, as you will see."

They had traversed a corridor floored with what looked like dark slate tiles,
and stood before an elevator. Hugh pressed the button, and the door opened.
Hugh motioned for them to enter. After the doors closed he pressed the button
for the third floor and the elevator quickly and smoothly ascended.

"Your luggage is being taken to your room," Hugh said. "Mr. Garrison is in his
office at the end of the hall. He's expecting you."

"This is a little comic bookish," said Jessica. "Well, let's do it."

They walked the short distance to the door, which opened just as they reached
it. A tall distinguished-looking man stood there.

"William Garrison at your service," he said, moving aside and motioning
them to take the two chairs in from of the large, expensive-looking desk. In
fact, everything in the office looked expensive, even the wall paint exuded an
air of quality. Carter noted that he had not offered to shake
hands, something quite a few of the freeholders also eschewed.

As they seated themselves he walked around and sat down. He looked down at
the desk for a few moments. Carter saw that he was older than he had first
thought. He appeared to be in his seventies, as old as Jessica's grandfather.
He was wearing khaki trousers and shirt, of the military cut favored by most
freeholders. The belt was navy blue web with a silver roller buckle of a type
used in military uniforms. He was several inches little taller than Carter's was five feet seven.

He looked up, as if he had forgotten what he was doing.

"Jessica, Darrell, it's good to meet you at last. You've likely never heard
of me - my part in this is fairly secret, as are some others - but you father
and I go back a good ways, to the beginning. He's told me a lot about you,
and especially since you came on board, Darrell, I've been wanting to meet you.

Evidently quite a lot, thought Carter. Hugh had told them their luggage was
taken to their room - that they would be sleeping together would have been known.

"Tommy and James found their time here quite enlightening, and I'm sure you
will as well. As to the rather, shall we say, dramatic atmosphere - well, to the world I'm
an eccentric and extremely wealthy old man with a big estate and is values his
privacy. Which it true but only part of the story. If only the gossips knew
what goes on here, well, you'll see.

"Unlike many of today's billionaires, most of whom got where they are by luck - or even less admirable methods -
or in other cases taking advantage of people smarter than them but too trusting, I got rich the
old fashioned way. Like Sam Walton, who was likely the last honest
businessman of such stature. Even among today's magnates who did have the
practical skills to start their businesses, most of the wealth came from the
current climate of investor madness, with trillions of dollars coming from the
investment of working peoples being thrown around by the fund managers, a few,
very few of them became wealthy to the point they can't even realistically
visualize what their wealth means.

"Like the Middle East oil merchants, who have so little understanding of
things that they literally bought expensive cars and abandoned them on the
streets when they ran of gas. They buy expensive artworks, enormous yachts,
anything that struck their fancy because they had what seemed like an endless
supply of money.

"Of course, eventually reality as caught up to some of them, to some extent,
but to the new crop of billionaires in America, it hasn't come yet. Even when the
stock markets, where the wealth really is - in the perception of investors -
fluctuate they aren't concerned. A few billions out of hundreds - they don't
care. Only when the golden goose dies do they notice.

"In any case, that's nothing you didn't already know. As for me, I got into
a good business back in the late seventies, early eighties. This was just
before the microprocessor revolution changed the whole information technology
picture and just about everything could be bought off the shelf, and usually
quite inexpensively. There was a lot of money in custom development in banking,
accounting, retail - we sold software packages, mini-computers, software,
maintenance contracts - it was quite lucrative. With a couple of partners I
started up such a company and within a few years we were all millionaires. Not a
big deal today, but back then a guy with even a few million was rich.

"We got in at the right time and were able to ride it for nine or ten years,
and then we sold at the right time. Just before everything became commoditized,
all off-the-shelf with support outsourced to India, the larger companies in
that market were buying up the smaller ones at ridiculous prices. So we sold
and left with a big pile of money. I settled down to investing and growing my
fortune. It's easier when you start out with a lot, as long as you don't get
foolish or really unlucky.

"But as you've observed, over the last few years things have fallen apart fast.
Even after the nineties, even after 2016, it looked like there was hope. Some
of us thought there would be years of back-and-forth between the parties,
occasional reversal of the decay followed by more decay, and so on. But after
2020 we knew the jig was up. It was just going to a matter of how fast they
moved. And they're moving fast.

"So, we're up against it. We're at the water's edge - soon the die will be cast."

He leaned back in his chair and looked over at them, not waiting for a
response but thinking. Finally he spoke again.

"I know you've been over this with Donald. The reason he wanted you to come
here was for a final bit of conditioning, that may save you in the times ahead,
and save our mission. Come, I have something to show you."

Grant Page and Bill Clayton had driven over the neighboring community to see how
things stood with them. They had called Luther earlier, and he greeted them
as they parked their truck and went to the door. After the usual minimal
pleasantries were exchanged - none of them being given to idle talk - they sat
down to talk.

Their main interest was in the church community's reaction to the recent news,
particularly with respect to the upcoming election. The primaries were almost
wrapped up, but they all agreed that the election was no longer in question.

"We're interested in what you're thinking about what the Democrat candidates
are saying," Grant said, "in particular about the home school issue, and the
likely action on guns."

"I'm sure you're hearing the same thing we do," said Luther. They're promising
to end education outside of public schools, and to put private schools not under
government regulation. And of course the Republicans are opposed, but they
are too few to stop anything. So I'd guess that once the new government is in
next January, it will start soon after."

"Same here," said Grant. "Do you have a plan? For when they come to enforce it?"

"We're discussing it," Luther replied, "and praying. We don't know yet how we'll
deal with it. A lot depends on how fast they move. If they come around
looking for our children right away, they it's likely there will be trouble
right away. They probably won't try to enforce it until the next school year

"Probably," said Grant. "It may be they'll spend the remainder of the current
year and the summer preparing, and then we'll see how they go about it. They
probably don't have the means, yet, to find every child that isn't in the
public schools. They're probably close though, and if most people comply they
won't have to many to look for."

"Sadly, many will," said Luther. "I expect there will be just the small groups
like us to be rounded up."

"And when they show up at your gates demanding your children?"

"The only thing I can say with certainty is that our children will not be in
harm's way," Luther replied. "We'll have them somewhere safe if it looks like
violence will occur."

"You plan to refuse then?" asked Bill.

"If we surrender our children, they will be sent to government schools to be
indoctrinated in submission to the state. If we do not, and we resist, we
will be killed or imprisoned, and our children still be taken. We will have
given up our lives or freedom without accomplishing anything. Unless you know
of a better way."

"Short of hiding out in the wilderness, even more remote than this, we don't
know of one," said Bill. "At this point it's looking a lot like we may go down
fighting, take as many of them as we can with us. At least there will be some

"You are not yet determined on this course?" Luther asked.

"It just doesn't look like there will be any other choices," Bill replied.

"The other major item," said Grant, "is guns. That's the other big thing. They're
promising to essentially disarm the population. Probably very restrictive laws,
like Australia did a few years back - nothing more than single shot or double
shotguns, bolt action rifles, and no handguns without a license. And
everything registered. I'd expect a lot more resistance to that."

"I'm sure there will be," said Luther. "I wonder which will come first?"

"Yeah," said Grant. "You'd think they would go after the guns first thing, to
make the rest easier. But that can take a while, and each faction wants its
own agenda to have priority. And those who want do capture the children don't
want to wait."

"Is your attitude the same as with the children?" asked Bill. "When they come
for your guns?"

"Afraid so," Luther replied. "When that starts, it's about over anyway. With no
organized resistance, they can pick off the resisters at their leisure. And
there's no point in living for just a few more miserable years."

"That's about the way we see it," said Grant. "If it's the end, then so be it."

"Something you may or may not know about," said Grant, "is that there some
rumors out there - none we've been able to confirm - but there are more
and more of them as time goes by. There seem to be some indications that
there is a big operation of some sort, maybe capable of preventing what's

"It sounds too good to be true, and may well be. But a persistent thread that
they plan to use independent groups like us to augment their operations when
they make their move. So we're watching that, hoping it's true, and preparing
to play whatever part we may. I don't know how much you monitor the talk on
the internet, but we have people working on analyzing it, trying to figure out
what it means, if anything. In any case, we'll let you know what we find."

"We appreciate that," said Luther. "We don't have that ability, and we just
try to get through our lives as best we can in these days, trying to do what
is right."

"We understand," Grant said. "One other thing you might notice at some point.
We've been making a trail from our place up to here. It's not that noticeable
if you aren't looking for it, just a little brush clearing where necessary and
some markers. In an emergency, people could pass, on foot, from one place to
the other without being seen from the road. Since we never know what may
happen in the future, it could prove useful."

"We'll keep that in mind as well," said Luther.

Returning to their place Grant and Bill held a meeting with the other leaders.
After filling them in on their visit, the talk turned to the chatter they had
discussed a couple of weeks earlier.

"Any more info on Samson or Mike Charlie?" asked Grant.

"We've picked some interesting things," said Gerald. "As you know, Jeff is one
of the sharpest guys around on this stuff. He and a couple of the guys have
developed some tools for finding patterns of activity over the internet."

Jeff was Gerald's son and a systems analyst of considerable abilities. He
and several of the younger men in the community provided its technical needs.

"They've fingerprinted the relevant references to Samson and Mike Charlie, and
gone back to see where they first appeared and what growth there has been. We
should probably go get them to give us a more detailed presentation, but
briefly, it looks like it went from nothing to having a considerable presence
in just a matter of about five or six months.

"It mostly appears in chat sessions centered on doomsday scenarios. It's a
pretty diverse group of interested types - preppers, off-grid types,
resistance groups. Resistance as in planning for a totalitarian takeover.
Needless to say, their outlook is universally pessimistic.

"Most of what they've seen seems to be suggesting delaying direct action until
a signal is received. Almost as if someone is trying to keep the various
groups out there, at least some of them, in a sort of holding pattern."

"It does look that way," said Arthur. "As with most
things, we can only wait and see. It would be encouraging to find that there
is some sort of organized strategy we could join with."

"Wonder if there's a way for this to work in the other direction?" said Bill.
"For interested parties to contact whomever this Samson operation is, if it
exists, and see how we can help."

"I have to wonder what such a plan would look like," Douglas said. "Exactly
how would you go about taking down the U.S. government, illegitimate as it may
be, once it firmly established. It has control of all military and law
enforcement resources, including the state and local levels by then - and what
could they do anyway - just how would you attack them?"

"My only thought is that there would have to be some really big, under-the-
radar operation already prepared, funded and manned," Arthur said. "An
invisible army with considerable resources, positioned to strike at an
opportune time. What that would look like I have no idea."

"It's difficult to envision," said Grant. "Assuming you had everything set up,
how do you go about removing the existing government and replacing it with one
that can function?"

"That could be either easier or harder than one would think," said Douglas.
"It might seem next to impossible, even if you succeeded in, shall we say,
removing the existing power structure - or at least crippling it to the point
if impotence - how would a new government, assuming the people were waiting in
the wings, even, take over and stay in power?"

"We're definitely uncharted waters," said Grant. "I guess you have to start
with doing the deed. How do you shut down the existing government?"

"OK," Arthur said, "what is the federal government? President, Congress, and
the Supreme Court. You can dismiss the Court because it has no power at all
if the other two branches decide to ignore it. Or even just the president, as we've seen
Its rulings have to be enforced by the executive branch. Next you have Congress,
which has no power to carry out an action, only to make laws which again must
be enforced by the executive branch.

"And you can't just walk in and replace the president. And if you could the
vice president would take his place, and removing the entire chain of
succession, the House and Senate leaders and all the Cabinet officers would
require nuking the place and even then you couldn't guarantee the outcome."

"I'd say in the situation we're looking at," said Douglas, "you would have to
have some way to use the minimum amount of force to make the changes happen in
a more or less legitimate manner."

"What would that be?" inquired Bill.

"Well," said Douglas, "suppose you would go into DC at the right time, Congress
in session and relative calm, and suddenly oh, about half of the members of
each house suddenly drop dead. So, no governing going on for a while, until
all the seats are refilled. Now, initially they would be filled by
appointments by the governors, meaning the replacements would be just as bad.
Or maybe not, if they got the idea that continuing the policies of their
predecessors might not be a good idea. With me so far?"

"Go ahead," said Grant, the others nodding.

"So, you let the new congress assemble. At this point it'll be harder to to
in and eliminate the new ones if they act up. Not that it can't be done, but
a better idea is to be causing enough trouble elsewhere in the country that
they can't get back on balance."

"So what happens then?" asked Arthur. "At this point we've got at least two
things. One, someone has just knocked off a couple hundred members of congress.
Assuming that could actually be done. So you've got the country in chaos,
which apparently is the idea. Two, Congress can't actually do anything to
help the regime - that's completely the President."

"Right," said Douglas. "Now see if I'm getting close to the idea. The
manhunt for the assassins is a separate issue. Even if nothing else happened
they would be trying to find the killers. It consumes massive resources,
resources that would otherwise be used to suppress dissenters. Meanwhile,
suppose this great conspiracy exists and is working toward its goal. What next?"

"Since the President is in charge, and it's completely his baby, he has to
deal with everything that happens. Martial law is no good - they don't know
where to use it, and they can't shut down the entire country. Sure, the big
cities can to some degree be controlled, but what if the threat isn't coming
from there?

"Now stay with me - I think there may be something here. Suppose that while
the feds are chasing the assassins, other stuff starts happening. Buildings
get bombed, stuff like that. It wouldn't take much to have the feds chasing
their tails and getting nothing done. And since martial law isn't feasible,
what do they do?"

"You got me," said Grant. "I don't think any of us has an idea."

"And neither will they," Douglas said. "Interesting situation."

"This doesn't include all the spontaneous stuff," said Gerald "Organic
activity as Jeff calls it. Happens naturally in response to the environment."

"There's that, too," said Douglas. "Added to an already irresoluble situation.
Once the military option - which will no doubt be attempted, constitution be
damned - fails, what do they do?"

"Assuming, and that's obviously unwise," Gerald said, "that the person occupying
the presidency has, or his advisers have, the ability to deal realistically
with the situation - they will at some point agree to negotiate. Assuming
again, that the option is available. I would guess that at some point whoever
is doing this will issue demands."

"Presuming again," said Bill, "that whoever the advisers are - and I'd have to
say that even now the advisers are actually running the show - aren't
suicidally obstinate, they'll advise him to negotiate. But that depends on
whether they are smart enough to know the jig is up."

"Yeah," Grant said. "A lot of them are genuinely dumb, and don't know it. And
a stupid enemy can be the more dangerous. A lot of the Nazis were very
intelligent men, and knew early when all was lost. We may be facing an enemy
who does not have a grasp on reality - they may do like Hitler and stick it
out to the end."

"And then what?" asked Arthur. "At that point I'd expect the military to take
a hand. And that would probably not end well. Especially with the shape they're
in. It would be best to avoid that.

"I wish we knew more about it, and whoever this outfit may be, if it
exists. Maybe we could get some idea of where things stand."

"We'll stay on it, of course," said Gerald "We're getting bits here and there.
It may be that as the time approaches, if we're right about their timetable,

William led Carter and Jessica from his office to a right turn in the corridor,
toward the back of the building. At the end was a pair of glass doors.
Opening one he held it for them to pass, and
they found themselves on a balcony overlooking a wide green field, with
patches of trees here and there, two small groups of buildings, and some paved
paths running among them.

"I am a very wealthy man," he said, "and with not a lot of time remaining to
spend my money. Not that money has had much meaning for me for quite a few
years, except as a means to an end. I was married at one time. Two children,
a boy and a girl, about your age, Jessica. They were not quite teenagers when
my wife left me, and of course the children went with her. She made the
divorce more acrimonious than it should have been, and my relationship with my
children was somewhat distant until they were adults and could make their own

"In any case, they are both having what I hope are happy lives of their own.
And I would like for them to continue to do so, and their children. But as
you know, that is unlikely to happen unless things change. I intend to use as
much life as I have left to effect such changes."

He paused, looking out over the area before them. They watched as troops of
men emerged from the two groups of buildings, lining up in formations of four
rows each. One group was dressed in what looked like military camouflage, the
other in matching black outfits. Carter thought they looked like ninjas, or
at least like ninjas in movies. And indeed, they were wearing the
stereotypical swords. The men in camouflage had rifles slung on their shoulders.

"These are, you might say, my household guard," William said. "I call them
the Ninja and the Rangers. More to the point, while they provide security at
this time, that is not their ultimate purpose. About two hundred, maybe more,
of the freeholds' personnel have come here, as you have, for advanced training.
At some point in the future, they will be assigned targets. They are an
important part of our final operations."

He didn't have to explain. They already knew what would happen if things came
to the expected conclusion. Jessica knew when they decided to be a part of it
her father wanted them to have the best possible chance of survival. There
was no time now for recriminations, even if she had had any. Even without
Carter's vendetta, staying behind was probably never an option. They would be
unleashing a force of stealth warriors on the enemy, mostly in the nation's
capitol but in some other areas as well.

"Let's do down and meet them," William said.

They went back to the elevator and descended to the ground floor, and to an
exit at the back. As they emerged, two men approached. One was in black, the
other in camouflage. The man in black bowed, the one in camouflage saluted.
William returned the bow and salute.

"Jessica, Darrell," said William "this is Miyamoto Sakashi and Colonel Michael
Schneider, commanders of the Ninja and the Rangers. I leave you in their most
capable hands. I'll be seeing you occasionally over the next few days, but
for the most part they will be working to impart to you as much of their
knowledge and experience as possible."

William returned to the house, leaving them with their the two warriors of two
very different types.

"Well," said Michael, "let's do it. This way."

They followed them first to the side where Sakashi's men were standing.

"This is Jessica, and Darrell," Sakashi said in the perfect English of one
whose whose American ancestry was at least a couple of generations. The
ninjas all bowed in unison, and Jessica and Carter instinctively responded in

"Let's go meet my men," Michael said, "and we'll get started."

A similar introduction followed on the Ranger side of the field, and they went
with Sakashi and Michael into a small building that apparently functioned as
an office. They sat down in the small group of chairs in front of the desk.

"Miyamoto and I command the Ninja and Ranger platoons," said Michael. "There
are two hundred of us, four twenty-five man units in each platoon. Each platoon is divided into
eight squads of six. That's how they operate, in regular duty here and in
likely future operations. There are some differences in the Ninjas, which I'll
let Miyamoto explain.

"As for us, we are Mr. Randalls security force, and has he has said, part of
the ultimate contingency force. A little about my men - we're all former
special forces, mostly army. I retired as an army Colonel a few years back
and came to work for Mr. Randall, and have since created the Ranger force.
Miyamoto will give you a rundown on his side."

"Thank you, Michael," said Miyamoto. "You might find referring to my platoon
as ninjas to be somewhat theatrical, they are in fact trained to a very high
level of what are often regarded as the ninja arts. Stealth, hand-to-hand
combat, guerilla tactics, whatever it take to carry out a strike against a,
usually, more powerful enemy. All of us are of Japanese ancestry, our
families having lived in this country for generations. We are all determined,
as are Michael's men, to preserve what our ancestors and yours built and seek
to preserve."

"We'll be on the front lines when the time comes," Michael said. "Meanwhile,
we'll do our best to prepare you for that time. What we'll do over the next
few days is give you advanced training in both the covert martial arts of the
ninja and the conventional military weapons and tactics. So I'm going to
leave you with Miyamoto for the next couple days."

For the remainder of the day and the next two days, they joined the ninjas in
their regular practice, learning some new fighting techniques but mostly the
use of escape and evasion, improvised weapons and other skills of the shadow

Despite the nature of their work and the legends attacked to the term, these
men were all quite normal in their demeanor away from the practice floor or
yard. Jessica for the first time was the only woman among a large group of men,
but found nothing uncomfortable about it. She was accustomed to being just
one of the guys among her fellow freeholders, only now they were all men.
Whether they had any idea of her relationship with Carter, none acted in any
improper. Not that she expected anything different - the freeholders way of
life was based on respect for their comrades and never being presumptuous.

They certainly did not treat her with kid gloves, however, again in keeping
with the way things were done. She and Carter both acquired the usual
complement of bruises and scrapes during the activities. They did some
exercises with the cliched ninja tools, but as Miyamoto told them the ninja
connection was more for effect than anything else. They might wear a black
outfit when stalking a target at night or penetrating a facility, and they
certainly would use some of the traditional weapons and techniques, but the
ninja way was spiritual and philosophical.

He did, however, present each of them with a daisho, a matched set of the
swords once carried by the samurai.

"Each of us has a set," he told them. "Even though they are a symbol of the
samurai, while we're taking liberties we might as well do this. We would use these in
combat under the right conditions, as we would any weapon. You may, at some
time in the future, find them useful."

They had dinner with William each evening, joined by Hugh and and once by the
leader of another small, in numbers, freehold that was like theirs and
Williams quit wealthy. Theodore Turner was, like William, a man who made a
fortune at a relatively early age and retired to work for the rescue of
the republic. Like William, he used his fortune to finance a group of
personnel who would be useful in the coming fight, while working on useful
projects while waiting. An experienced pilot and owner of several aircraft,
he provided routine air transport for the league, and would play an
important role in events to come.

He was well acquainted with Jessica's father as well, as a member of the
Council they saw each other regularly. He was interested by Donald's
construction of a runway at Sierra Verde.

"That will certainly prove useful," he said. "Especially as you and your
other comrades will be involved in the action at the center of the battle. I
would have liked to meet them - yours is an interesting story. And I'm glad
they were fortunate enough to get hold of you, Darrell. I'd guess that you
are as well."

Carter allowed that he was, but not much beyond that.

"I understand, to the degree that I can without being there, your feelings,"
he said. "I understand your other colleague was in a similar situation when
you... acquired him."

"What they did to me," Carter said. "I couldn't watch that happen again. And
it gave us a chance to poke the bear and do a logistics exercise at the same time."

"Which apparently went flawlessly," said William. "As for the bear, he's still
angry. We've monitored the situation to see what reaction is. And we
occasionally stir things up. We have someone call in to a local talk show or
drop a tip to the local news to send them on a wild-goose chase. More for our
own amusement than anything else, but things like that could be used to divert
resources at an opportune time in the future."

"To be fair," said Jessica, "they had no way of anticipating it. So they weren't
prepared for it."

"Of course," said Carter, "the next poor guy gets in a jam like that, they'll
lock him up without bail. But I guess a cop that finds himself in the situation,
is probably asking for it. By now everyone should be warned."

"It would seem that they are," said Theodore. "Cops, the ones that are left,
aren't taking chances. There have been numerous cases of them watching the
perpetrator escape rather than fire on them. Apparently if it's a choice of
losing your job or going to prison, it's not hard for most of them to make."

"Yeah," Carter said. "The cities are pretty much jungles now.
The ones that can get out have done so, the rich are safe behind their gates
and armed security, and the animals are killing each other off."

"We should be so lucky," said Theodore. "Even at the rate they're going it'll
take forever. They still propagate too fast."

"We'll see what happens when they're cut off," said William. "I suspect that
alone could sap the government's resources to the breaking point. With what we'll
throw at them.."

He didn't need to finish the sentence. While it was difficult to predict an
outcome, it appeared that the regime was at the cliff's edge and had no idea
of what was coming, and without even a plan, it would be quickly overwhelmed.

"The real challenge will be preventing something worse from replacing it," said
Theodore. "I suspect that our greatest risk is when the regime is helplessly
facing complete chaos and has to act. Probably the worst thing that can
happen is for the military to come in on their side. We could probably still
keep them off-balance more or less permanently, but at a much higher cost."

"How prepared are we to deal with that situation?" asked Jessica.

"We're not completely at a loss," William replied. "The top-level generals are
the most political - that's how they get four, even three stars. The ones
just below, especially the ones nearing retirement, are more reasonable. More
likely to follow their conscience. And despite the destruction of the
military ethos over the past twenty years or so, it remains surprisingly
strong in the ranks.

"We have quite a few contacts there, and it's likely that if the forces -
that would be primarily the Army, the others have not much of a role to play in
internal affairs - are given the choice of trying to continue in the same
direction and continuing chaos or returning to constitutional rule and having
order restored very quickly will choose the latter."

"It's a matter of getting the picture in front of them," said Theodore, "and
being able to demonstrate that we are the ones with the power to end it. That
will be the crucial factor. At some point negotiations will have to happen,
and we will have to have a way to make them happen without endangering ourselves."

"So," Jessica said, "on a scale of one to ten as they say, what's the outlook?"

"If we're able to carry out most of our objectives," said Theodore, "eliminating
a large number of the troublemakers, creating a state of fear and confusion in the Capitol,
and demonstrating our destructive power - we can probably bring them to the
table. Adding in the chaos created by free-lance opportunists, and the
independent ones that we have some influence with, we're confident they will
make some offer to talk, hopefully fairly soon. But that depends on how
many rational minds are left up there, in any positions of influence."

"If you were, let's say, a cabinet member, or maybe a high-level military type,"
Carter said, "and you were in a meeting discussing what's going on - after we've
started the attack - what would you be telling the president?"

"There was a time," said William, "when I would think they would tell him the
truth insofar as they knew it. Particularly the military men. Now, they
would most likely say whatever they think he wants to hear, even if they know

"So it will probably take longer for them to come around," Jessica said.

"Most likely," said William. "Unfortunately that will cause more people to
suffer, but not nearly as many as we do nothing."

"Yeah," Carter said. "It looks like we're carrying the load alone. For seven
billion people."

"In the end," said Theodore, "we can only do as our conscience dictates. Most
of those billions probably aren't worth saving. If they were they would do
something. It's surprising there are as many of us as there are. This
country really is, as Reagan said, the last, best hope. Actually, that hope
is us."

"He also said if we fail we are looking at a thousand year of darkness," said
William. "And I believe he was right. There's no way to see that not happening
if this country falls."

Carter and Jessica would spend the next two days working with Colonel Schneider's
unit, which was more of the sort of combat they had practiced in sessions at
other freeholds.

The Rangers focused more on advanced hand-to-hand and close-quarters shooting,
primarily with lightweight carbines and with some handgun practice. Carter
had become quite proficient with his .45, but quickly adapted to the somewhat
lighter .40 caliber pistols they favored. The larger magazine capacity would
be useful in the situations they were likely to encounter.

"The .40 was a good thing to have come along when it did," Michael said. "The
venerable .45 was in danger of becoming extinct in the 1980s, which would not
have been a good thing. The increasingly popular nine millimeter was becoming
the universal standard, but it was not reliable in stopping an attacker. Jeff
Cooper, one of the pioneers in handgun combat, developed a good compromise in
the ten millimeter. It eventually became the .40 caliber. The bullet it
still lighter than the .45 but heavier than the nine, and it's wider and still
fast. So you can still get reliable one-shot stops."

He took a pair of carbines from a rack and handed one to each of them.

"Also in .40 caliber," he said, "and shares magazines with the pistols. And of
course a little more velocity. In the kind of operations we're likely to be
involved in, these are likely what we'll be using."

"We used some of these at Cripple Creek," said Jessica. "Handle real well."

"They do that," said Michael. "We'll practice some maneuvers, indoors and out,
to get you accustomed to the kind of action we may see in streets and inside

Over the the next two days they went through a variety of such scenarios,
including laser tag and paintball battles, giving them,
of Jessica anyway, the feeling of shooting to kill a human adversary. Even
for Carter, who had carried out a deliberate sniper attack, learned some
things about himself in these exercises.

The night before they departed, Miyamoto and Schneider joined them as they
dined with William and Theodore, and afterwards had a couple of drinks
together before retiring.

"The way it looks," William said, "is that we will, in a few months, be
embarking on the most momentous, for lack of a better word, event since the
founding of the nation. It will be, if it succeeds, a rebirth, because of how
far we have fallen. Most of us at the Council have said at one time or
another that our own government has gone far beyond the provocations of the
English overlords. They embarked on a war for far less that what the
government has been doing to its citizens for many years.

"And if we fail, there will likely be nothing to be reborn. The present
rulers will, as some have said, burn down the country just to rule the
ashes. We must ensure there is something more than ashes left. Which is why
the Council, after much debate - years in fact - arrived at the plan we will
be executing.

"We hope the death and destruction will can be minimized, and our best hope
for that is to so decisively and thoroughly damage the system that somewhere,
down the line, reasonable people will be making the decisions. People who,
even if they disagree with us, hate us even, will see the ashes that are their
future if they do not come to the table. We pray that can be done."

He paused for a moment and looked around at the group, then continued.

"The one assuagement of our emotions is that when that time comes, we will
have already done everything possible to avoid it. By that time matters will
have progressed to the point that there will be no need to seek justification.
It will be burned into us, as it is now. The killings and
imprisonment of dissenters has been going on, on a small scale and in relative
quiet. Once the restraints are gone there will be no question."

"William and I will be at the epicenter," said Theodore. "Jessica, you father
will be part of the command and control team. I understand that you and
Darrell intend to be on the ground in the initial attack. And your reasons.
I have to ask you, Darrell, are you certain this is the right thing to do?
The job will be done with or without you."

Carter was silent, looking over to meet Jessica's eyes. She betrayed no
emotion, but he knew it was there and what it was. He looked at Miyamoto and
Michael, and back to Theodore and William.

"No," he said. "I'm not sure. In fact I'm sure it's not. If even a small
part of the operation is tainted by emotion, that's an unnecessary risk and
not a good thing. I'd come to regard McCormick as the ultimate in evil, and
maybe he is - at least to the same level as the worst of them - he just hasn't
been at it as long. I won't jeopardize the mission."

There's plenty for you to do regardless," said William. "The added training
you received here is likely to be crucial to our success at some point.
Miyamoto and Michael represent two very different ways of doing things - but
both will be vital to our success. As you probably suspect, they'll be in the
first strike. And what that is, we don't know. We have some ideas and have
analyzed various strategies, but we're still refining the final plans.

"It's been said by military men that no battle plan survives first contact
with the enemy. In this case, the battle plan likely won't exist until it's

"Tomorrow you'll be going home. I hope we've enhanced your survival chances,
and if we don't see you again before then, we'll hope for a reunion at a later
date and do everything to still be alive, except surrender."

Their coffee cups empty, Carter and Jessica sat for a while in the kitchen. The
sun was well up, the October day was cloudless. The expanse of bermuda lawn
around the houses would soon turn brown, signalling the approaching winter. This
winter was likely to be different for them at least. The upcoming election,
with its outcome almost certain, was expected to be the last one before the

"Ready?" she asked.

They were going over to Donald's house for an operations meeting, a regular
occurrence these days.

"Ready," he replied, picking up their cups and taking them to the sink.

At the door he paused, turned, and put his arms around her. It was something
they seemed not to find much time for recently. The future that loomed before
them, no matter how well it ended, was likely to change them permanently.
Indeed, it already had. They stood like that, her head on his shoulder, not
wanting to look into each other's eyes just now. Finally they let go and
turned to go.

The League had solidified its battle plans for the most likely scenarios, and
was preparing for the positioning of assets in the most crucial area - the
nation's capitol. In addition, areas around the country where strikes would
be executed, if necessary, to encourage a recalcitrant enemy to behave, were
being surveyed and targets selected. The sort of campaign envisioned would be
too fantastic to believe, if it were exposed, yet all the pieces necessary were
already available and ready for deployment.

Carter and Jessica, along with Tommy and James, helped Donald with the logistics
planning. Donald had a large map, about four by five feet, on a wall of the
office. Several smaller, but still large maps showed the Capitol and parts of
the district. The large map showed the locations of the freeholds, albeit
camouflaged as ordinary locations. Only a person with detailed knowledge of
an area would spot them, and would likely regard them as errors.

These maps, particularly the largest, would be useful for planning movements of
personnel and materiel. A smaller map, but still the size of a large poster,
lay on a table. Marks with various colors of ink identified the locations of
affiliated organizations - not part of the league but in contact and in varying
degrees, involved in operations to occur during the coming insurrection.

And that is what it would be, and the Council did not mince words. As the
nation's founders had known that they were, in the eyes of the British Empire,
committing treason, so they would technically be committing treason. The fact
that the government was no longer constitutionally legitimate would not matter.
If they failed they would pay a high price.

"What we have here," Donald said as they looked at the large map, "is something
beyond anything likely to be conceivable in the minds of our enemies. Over two
hundred geographically dispersed bases, most of them both well camouflaged and
remote from population centers. Close to eighteen thousand personnel.

"Over a hundred connections to various dissident organizations, all of them
of a militant nature - we have no use for socio-political activity, it's too
late for that - almost all of them in agreement to wait for a signal before
acting. A few dozen more are not so controlled but can likely be used when we
provide them with targets and the means to strike.

"All of the outside resources are of course not guaranteed to be reliable. Some
of them may act on their own, too soon, and be eliminated. Others may get cold
feet. But we expect many of them will perform.

"The unpredictable part is the reaction. Considering the kind of people we are
dealing with, expecting a quick resolution is not realistic. Until the worst of
them are neutralized - either by us or their own kind, assuming that at some
point cooler heads prevail - a settlement will not occur. And the only one we
will accept is a restoration of constitutional rule. So at this point the only
thing we know is that there will be a war. Unless some miracle happens after

They all knew there would be no miracle. The sort of people - most of them
sociopaths - would be unable to conceptualize being defeated. Most of them
would fight to the bitter end, but they relied on others to do their fighting.
Only when the troops had had enough and refused to follow orders or
deserted, could they be dealt with.

"Where do we fit in?" asked Jessica "Since we're not going after the target we
planned on, we don't have a mission."

Carter had decided not to pursue his vendetta against the man who had put him in
prison, leaving him to whatever fate he was destined for. So there was no need
for him to be in the Capitol for the initial strike.

"You still want to be there?" asked Donald.

"I'd like to," Carter said without looking at Jessica. He was fairly certain she
didn't want him to go, and it was no longer necessary. "But only if there's
something useful for me to do."

"We'll be shipping some weapons and supplies out of here," Donald said.
Or people. If this deteriorates into a guerilla war and goes on for a while,
being able to get our people out of the action when they're compromised will
include having places to hide them. Or for that matter, prisoners."

"Prisoners?" asked Tommy. "Here?"

"Conceivably," replied Donald. "Or to other freeholds. we'd prefer not to, given our
limited personnel. I suspect if we did we'd need to add some staff. Which we may
do anyway, or be providing temporary accommodations for our own people. If this
thing drags out, we can expect anything."

"We could hide people in the grain bins," said Jessica. "Just about the last
pace anyone would look, and impossible to escape from. Not very comfortable,
but not exactly inhumane."

"One of the things we have to consider," said Donald, "is that some of our people
may be captured. Holding some prisoners could help there, if they're important enough."

"What happens if this place is compromised?" asked Jessica.

"If that should happen," said Donald, "we would be relocated. Whether together or
not depends on the circumstances."

"I was thinking of Dalton and Mary," she said. "And grandfather."

"They'll be taken care of at the start," Donald said. "They are aware, in a
general way, of the plan. They know that when the time comes they will be taken
to a safe place, a place where they can live their remaining years in safety and
comfort, with a trust fund for insurance. As for Dad, he's considering something
similar. His health has been declining, as you've no doubt noticed. As
much as he would like to be there at the end, it may not be possible. As
with Dalton and Mary, he'll be safe out of harm's way. I'm hoping it won't be a
long affair, and one day we can tell him about it, until he ends is days in the
freedom he worked for."

Donald had brought a small box, which now sat on the table in front of him. He
took a handful of items from it and dropped them on the table before them.

"Always carry one of these and have several more readily available," he said.

Carter looked at one. It was a small enamel shield, about an inch high and a
little over half as wide, divided into four sections. The upper left section
contained a large gold "M", with a large gold "C" in the lower right. The upper
right contained an image of an oak tree, with a torch in the lower left.

"This design has no special significance" Donald said. "It's simply a design
one of us came up with when we were looking for a unique identifying symbol
that was unlikely to be already in circulation. Alan Clarey of Sunset Valley
designed it, said the initials aren't his, they represent Michael Collins,
revered as the founder of the Irish Free State, liberating it from British rule.
Our model of insurrection is based somewhat on his, albeit on a much larger scale."

"Yeah, Jessica enlightened me," said Carter. "He must have had nerves of steel."

"As we must," Donald said. "Had Collins failed, he would have faced the hangman,
as Benjamin Franklin warned his fellow patriots, should they fail. They didn't
fail and neither shall we."

Part 3
    When you come out of the storm, you  
    won't be the same person that walked  
    in. That's what the storm is all about.  
    Haruki Murakami  
   I answered that the die was now cast; I had  
   passed the Rubicon. Swim or sink, live or  
   die, survive or perish with my country was  
   my unalterable determination.  
    John Adams  

Chapter 42 -- LIFLUOHRJHJC
Grant Page's phone buzzed. Luther's name was on the screen, and he swiped the
answer button.

"Grant here."

"Hello, Grant. This is Luther. Would it be possible to have a meeting soon?"

"Sure," Grant replied. "We're all here just now, when's a good time?"

"As soon as possible. Can we meet over here?"

"Just a second," said Grant. "Let me check."

Bill and Arthur were with him. He called Gerald and Douglas to confirm their

"OK, it looks good," Grant said. "Half hour do it?"

"That's fine," Luther replied. "We'll see you shortly."

They had had occasional conversations over the past few months, mostly about
the continuing deterioration of the situation. Already new firearms laws
were making their way through Congress, largely unchallenged. The minority
party had never been willing to fight without superior numbers, and had not
had those in years. The process of confiscation was merely awaiting final
approval, and only then could anyone know how it would go.

The 'education reform' law was now on the books, and by the beginning of the
next school year all children under the age of eighteen would be required to
attend an approved school. Private schools were for the present allowed, but
would require a license. Thus shutting them down would be simply a matter of paperwork.

It was the latter, Grant and his fellows suspected, that Luther wanted to
discuss. They themselves had not yet decided on a course of action for their
own children, and the coming end of the current school term would signal a
time for decision. The government would likely begin the process of rounding
up the home-schooled children for registration well before the beginning of
the next.

It was certainly the most pressing, Grant thought. They got up and went out
to where their vehicles were parked, awaiting the arrival of their comrades.
Once they had arrived, they got into two of the trucks and drove over to Luther's
community. Luther and all of the elders were there, and they sat down to talk.

"You've probably guessed what we wish to discuss," Luther said. "as you will
be dealing with the same matter, presumably."

"The schools," said Grant. "Yes, we seem to be up against it, or soon will be."

"Have you reached a decision?" Luther asked.

"No, we haven't," Grant replied. "But we'll have to soon. I'm guessing you're
not planning to turn your children over to the state."

"No, we aren't," said Luther. "As I said before, if we resist they kill us or
put us in prison and take our children anyway. If we don't we will watch them
take them."

"The only other option," said Bill, "for those who can afford it, is to put them
in private schools. And most people can't afford it, and it would be a brief
respite, if any at all. The approved schools will sooner or later have to do
the same indoctrination as the government schools."

"We don't see a way out," said Luther. "Perhaps we could hide our children,
for a time, but even giving over to a life like hunted animals they must
eventually find us."

"Probably hiding them, unless you give in, is the last resort," Arthur said. "We
don't know, of course, what form the enforcement will take. They have records
of all, or most, home-schooled children because they have to be registered.
They'll go to their homes and check on them. Out here in the wilderness we
may not be found for a while, but eventually..."

"So we hide, for as long as we can," said Luther. "And then whatever happens,
happens. Perhaps it is the end. We pray to know what the right action is,
but perhaps it is to just wait for the end. Probably every generation for the
past two millenia has thought it was living in the last days. Perhaps we are
that one."

"Perhaps," Arthur said. "And perhaps not. There are still weeks, maybe months
of continued development of these things, and each day we learn more about
what we are up against. For all the good it does us."

"The other thing," said Gerald, "which might actually come earlier, we don't know,
is the gun seizures. It's almost certain it will happen, but we don't know at
what point they'll actually start coming to doors to take them."

"Yes," said Luther. "And again, it's either surrender or die, or worse. We've
already had reports of arrests, sometimes of large groups of people, and
they don't seem to be heard from again. And they were just taking part in
protests and demonstrations."

"Well, we know they've been arresting people and holding them without bail for
such offenses, going back close to twenty years now," Arthur said. "There
were fewer of them, so it wasn't so noticeable as now. Sometimes hundreds
have been taken away, to who knows where. Of course there are plenty of
places to hold them, the government has so many unused facilities just waiting
for use. It's likely many, perhaps most of them will never be seen again. We
do seem to be at the edge, with no way to go back."

"What will you do?" asked Luther.

"At the end? Fight. Take as many of them with us as we can.
That may not be your philosophy, but whoever comes after us is already
condemned, whether or not he claims to like what he is doing. They can always

"That's a decision no one should have to make," said Luther. "Still, even if
we run and hide, if they are determined to hunt us down, then at some point we
will have to make it."

"At lease we'll have a choice," Arthur said. "For centuries, indeed millenia,
people have not had that choice. When the Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, the
Muslims and the Mongols overran their lands, they were usually just killed or
sent into slavery without having a chance to fight. People had a chance to
resist the Nazis and failed, and after them the Russians and Chinese
enslaved their people, again without much chance of resistance. But I believe I'll
stick with sending a few of them on ahead of me when I go."

"Make a last stand at your camp?" asked Luther.

"Possibly," said Arthur. "Or we may have the opportunity to do some mischief
before they get to us."

"How is that?" asked Luther.

"Something we've become aware of in recent months." said Arthur. "We still
don't know much, but there have been rumors of an organized resistance, one
that has been in the works for some time. We began to get hints, as I say, a
few months ago but haven't been able to confirm anything. But recently we
were contacted by a rather interesting person, rather mysterious but we're
grasping at straws here, so we've humored him.

"Essentially what he has told us is that very soon - he didn't say how soon -
things will begin to happen. Things that we will recognize as signs of their
work. He says that at that point, we may be contacted and given an
opportunity to join the battle. Beyond that, not much. But he did seem both
serious and sane. So we're passing that along, for what it's worth.

"Who knows?" said Luther. "It certainly seems to be out of our hands now."

"Perhaps," said Arthur.

He took