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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 3

cometake_promo_cover“Be not afraid for the terror by night…”  In part 2 of the Indivisible series, the nation boils in economic collapse and sectarian violence. The president withdraws into his flying bunker to implement his Amero Plan to restore order. Maiden Lane finds herself in peril beyond the government’s zone of control. Marzan is separated from his company during a firefight and rescues an orphaned boy. Jess Clayton defends her home and young daughter from repossession and armed looters.

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter Three

 

Jessica stood in a clearing on the crest of a high foothill and looked to the west. Clouds surged, boiling up over the mountains along the horizon. Mount Evans, normally a dome of glistening white, was obscured by haze. It was late afternoon. The approaching night was going to be completely dark as the front rolled east over the foothills and obscured the moon and stars. She had to make sure the candles were ready—just another thing to add to her endless list of to-dos. Precious few of the power transformers had been replaced since the radio flash had crippled the electrical grid. Jessica’s house had been without power for fifteen months.

She had hiked up the hill, just beyond the edge of her lot and across the road, to collect a bushel of the first of the spring dandelions. She would take them home, wash them in cool well water, dress the greens and flowers with vinegar and salt, and serve them as salad. Foraging was essential for stretching meals. In the coming month, the high meadows would turn gold and green with fields of dandelions. And soon after, the marsh cattails would shoot up. Their roots were a tolerable, starchy substitute for potatoes if they were cooked right.

She turned and looked east, across the meadow and marsh below, surrounded by the dormant pines and groves of still leafless aspens that stood in gray clusters along the hillsides. Farther east, beyond the layers of rolling, forested ridges, the high plains opened up as flat as glass, all the way to the eastern horizon. Denver sprawled out over it, a cobble of black and gray geometry. A blanket of brown haze hung over the city, a blended cloud of smoke and ash, generator exhaust, and dust kicked up by the warm spring winds. Columns of black billowed up from scattered, unresolved fires. Distant helicopters silently patrolled the heavy air, looking like little black wasps coming and going from their hive at Denver International Airport, which Jess could just make out as a cluster of white spires sitting at the very edge of the eastern horizon.

Jess would sometimes climb that same hill at night and look east across the city. The patchwork of sporadic city lights shimmered like the reflection of ten thousand amber stars on the surface of a placid lake. There were so few lights even then, despite the frantic Department of Homeland Security Americorps reconstruction effort. She had heard on the radio that fifty thousand men and women were employed in the government program to reconstruct Denver, but there was little to show for their hundred million man hours of toil except for the ubiquitous billboards heralding their glorious arrival. At night, the brightest beacon of all was the airport. Though the blackouts rolled in patches through the quilt of the city every night, the airport never stopped shining bright.

Jessica Vaughn’s neighborhood was not officially outside what was known as the zone of control—or ZOC—but being wooded, hilly, less-populous, and fertile territory for ambush, it was deemed lowest priority for Americorps reconstruction. The MRAPs of the Domestic Security Force didn’t roll up into the foothills unless absolutely necessary, and then only by massive mechanized convoy preceded by drones and covered above by the thump-thump-thumping of Black Hawk helicopters. The thumping of helicopter rotors was ever present. Jess heard them seven or eight times each day and almost as often at night.

Other than the occasional civilian car or sheriff’s patrol, the days and nights were otherwise bereft of the sounds of civilization; just the whine of wind or the mew of cow elk or screech of a fox…or the occasional rat-tat-tat-tat of distant small arms fire. No one drove much because gas was too costly and many of the automobiles, damaged by the radio flash, still required extensive repairs. Ration cards were required to purchase gasoline, but the gasoline was rarely available at the licensed stations permitted to sell it. To obtain gasoline or diesel, one needed to engage the black market with hard currency or something to barter. Plastic debit cards with federal imprints and green pieces of paper with dead presidents bought little or nothing, and even less than that outside the ZOC. When fiat money was obtained, it was spent as rapidly as possible as it was not known if or when the next round of devaluation would reduce its purchasing power. Because no one wanted it, those spending it were forced to pay premiums in order to get rid of it. The pernicious rise in prices continued at rates that outpaced the Federal Reserve’s printing press. The public loss of faith in the dollar compounded the difficulty the government faced in restoring price stability. As the dollar fell and fell, the Treasury Department was forced to officially devalue again and again in order to meet the trillions in debt requiring a roll over each quarter. Any attempt to restore confidence in the currency by decree, such as controlling the price of toilet paper, merely resulted in the shelves being cleaned out. The people who were supposed to be aided by the regulations found that while they once objected to the high price of squeezing the Charmin, now they couldn’t squeeze it at any price. But at least the government was “doing something.”

Foreign currency, coins, scrip, bullets, copper wire, and other commodities of value were hoarded by civilians whenever possible. The bad money had chased the good right out of the market and into personal vaults. This meant that the burden of securing one’s wealth now fell solely upon each household. Guns, although highly illegal, were widely owned. They were not brandished carelessly, but it was universally understood that everyone who was off the government reservation was capable of defending themselves.

Americans, so careless and apathetic before the collapse, had learned self-sufficiency and unlearned their trust in the State. The infinite reams of laws, controls, regulations, edicts, schedules, codes, taxes, fines, and levies went mostly unheeded. Unless a federal agent was offering them a meal or a bed or demanding something from behind the barrel of a gun, the government was simply ignored.

Jessica came down the hill towards her house with her basket of weeds. Her mother-in-law, Sharon, spotted her as she approached and shouted out the window. “Looks like it’s going to be cold, tonight,” she yelled.

“Probably windy, too.” Jess answered.

“Can we run the generator?”

“We’ve only got five gallons of gas left,” Jess answered.

“I guess we should try to save it, then.”

“Yes. For the water pump at least.”

“Maybe I can ask if I can ride with Mr. Croukamp down to the post office and see if I can get some more fuel, tomorrow. How much is it, now?”

“Ten NATO per gallon or fifteen feet of copper,” Jess answered. “But we’ve nearly spent all ours.”

“I’ve got a hundred dollars. How about that?”

“I thought you spent that,” Jess answered as she came down the driveway.

“My sister sent it.”

“That should get us a gallon,” Jess answered as she lifted the garage and pulled the starter cord on the generator. “We need to bring some wood in for tonight, and some water, too. Can you send Brooke out with the tote?” The generator turned over and sputtered to life, blue exhaust puffing out; its roar drowned out the sound of the well pump’s pressure switch which clicked on soon after. The exhaust flooded the garage, then wafted out the door to be carried away by the breeze and comingle with the brown cloud hanging just a few miles east. It would only be run for five minutes, just long enough to pressurize the water lines and enable them to fill their jugs and flush three toilets times. The crude setup would not have even been possible had Mr. Croukamp not done the electrical work for them.

The door opened and Brooke appeared, all three feet of her, cheeks tanned, her brown hair braided into two taut pigtails. She was dressed in a pink and kelly green fleece and worn Winnie-the-Pooh sneakers. Her used clothes were purchased for the bargain price of three hundred dollars at the bazaar held at the post office parking lot. Almost anything could be bought or bartered for at the bazaar. In addition to clothes and gasoline, sundries and produce, firewood, ammunition, tools, hardware, luxuries like chocolate and alcohol and cannabis, and even labor could be obtained. If it wasn’t available on a particular day, then one could write it on the big board and someone would bring it the next.

Jess wasn’t thinking about the bazaar, though. She was looking at Brooke’s tiny, shining face. Little Brooke had known no other life than the one scratched out in the foothills: frigid dark winters, hunger, helicopters, chores that demanded too much from the small hands of such a young child. She had learned how to dress herself and how to recognize letters and stack wood. She watched her mother shoot a pistol and split a log with a maul and clean and dress a chicken and a deer. But the little lady revealed no memory of her father which pained Jess, greatly. What Brooke learned of him would be a myth—the legend of a man constructed from the spoken memories of others with the spaces in between those words filled in with her imagination. Perhaps, Jess hoped, that would make her father larger than life, which is the only reward the dead can hope for.

Brooke trotted out towards her, dragging the tote behind. Jess turned to the woodpile by the side of the house, scanning the diminished mound of splits for the driest, choicest pieces to lug into the house for the cold, cloudy night ahead. The pile was hidden from the road on the side of the house as opportunistic thieves, trolling neighborhoods for easy loot, might otherwise see it and return to raid it in the night. With the pile by the side of the house, away from the road, Jess had a chance to hear them carrying it off and intervene before they took too much.

She had never been forced to decide if it was necessary to shoot someone over wood, and she was grateful for that. Should a man be killed for stealing? If the thieves ever came, she would be confronted with that dilemma. She knew she would have to decide before she ever drew her pistol. This and other matters of survival tormented her through many nights as she laid awake in bed with her daughter and mother-in-law at her side. One should not draw a gun unless one has accepted the consequences of firing it. Without that conviction, a gun may fire at you before you resolve your indecision. She wondered what Vaughn would think of it all. He would say he would draw and shoot the thieves, but she knew her husband, and she knew his male bluster masked a thoughtful, cautious man who wouldn’t be cavalier about taking a life. A woman’s mind is not afflicted by the perceived utility of bluster like a man’s is.

Rumors had been circulating of armed bandits, but despite the Firearms and Neighborhood Security Act—which survived a constitutional legal challenge and resulted in a nationwide program for the confiscation of civilian firearms—most of the populace was armed. It took only one thief getting his kneecap blown off by shot from a twelve-gauge to dampen the firewood thievery racket. The Constitution may theoretically mean whatever the court says it means, but the rulings of the State’s high priests, festooned in their flowing black robes, are vaporized in an instant by the thunderbolts of reality. Governments legislate within their own, insular perception of reality. The people, however, were now existing entirely in another. When the choice is whether to either abide by some subjective concept like the law versus freezing to death, the law, as it is ascribed by the lawmakers, becomes irrelevant.

Jess had Brooke bring the tote with her to the pile. Together, they filled it with pine and lugged it back to the garage and up the outside stairs. They dumped the wood there and went back down. It was going to take three trips to gather enough for the cold April night if they wanted to be cozy. Oh, to be cozy! Cozy was impossible in the winter. It required too much wood for the fire to achieve it when the insulation of clouds had blown off and it was three degrees outside and the wind was howling. On those nights, they would endure a fifty-degree house, sharing their bed and body heat under layers of blankets. The house cooled in the wee hours when the fire burned down, so much so that when they woke, they could see their frozen breath as they lay in their bed. But the winter was over. This was April and the nights barely dipped below freezing. They would snuggle into bed while the silent, flickering firelight in the portal glass of the stove radiated its comforting warmth. Being able to throw off the covers and sweat herself to sleep was a much longed-for indulgence for Jess, signaling triumph over winter. The three of them had earned it.

Jess reached down to lift the tote. Straining to pull it up, she turned and then walked towards the garage to shut off the generator. Brooke followed. Her neighbor, Mr. Croukamp, had wired it in exchange for a thousand NATOs—.556 rounds. That arrangement was their first meaningful interaction and they had grown close ever since. It was a costly investment for Jess, double her annual firewood purchase, but buying a cistern and having water of dubious potable quality delivered by truck would have been much more expensive over time.

There were so many things to do without on-demand electricity. Every chore was done manually. Water required a pump powered by a gasoline generator. The wood stove had to be constantly fed. Clothes had to be hand washed and line-dried and mended with needle and thread. Lights had to be hand-lit. Words had to be handwritten. To make money to buy food and other essentials the three of them would stack neighbors’ firewood, tend their animals, shovel snow and horse shit, pull weeds from gardens, and make mail deliveries—which was illegal even though postmen stopped making rounds months earlier.

Mr. Croukamp fared somewhat better. He remained in his home, defiant, a stubborn, grizzled, tested old man. He had a working truck, a mid-1970s pickup with rusted out wheel wells and a cracked windshield. It rattled and rumbled along, smoking, misfiring, evoking the same traits as its owner. Croukamp used it to make deliveries and drive to jobs and to taxi neighbors about. For a fee, of course. He earned a good amount with it, enough to keep the truck fueled, his pantry stocked, and his property maintained. When he wasn’t driving, he was hanging barbed wire, mending his network of fences, canning vegetables that he grew in his green house, and tending his chickens and securing their coops against the foxes and cougars and two-legged thieves. Croukamp lived alone and he preferred life that way, but he performed many services for Jessica. Originally he did so out of pity, then out of his sense of duty, and then finally out of a feeling of fellowship with the struggling women. His socializing consisted of giving advice on everything from how to make dandelion salad to how to clean and dress a deer.

As Jess piled more wood, she noticed Croukamp poking around in the matted prairie grass in the draw dividing their properties. She waved but he didn’t see her. Brooke followed quietly behind as Jess stacked another bundle of splits and lifted the tote over her shoulder. She lumbered up the steps with it and unloaded it at the door, then went back to the pile for another. There weren’t enough decent pieces left for the third load so she would have to split more.

She looked around for her maul. Finding it, she picked it up and stood it on its iron head. She righted a bucked log on a wide stump, then took hold of the axe with two hands. She let the heavy head hang down, allowing it to build momentum using its weight, then she arced it back and up overhead, letting the heavy maul and momentum do most of the work. The blade hit dead center on the end of the pine and it cracked half way down sending out shards of bark. She noticed Brooke was standing too close. Thinking of the damage an airborne splinter could do to an eye, she cautioned her to stand back. Brooke backed away. “Further.” Brooke retreated. Jess gripped the handle and with her foot braced on the bucked log, she gave the maul a yank which released the head.

She paused and examined the deep fracture she had made and imagined, for an instant, that it was the skull of a DSF trooper. Just like the ones who murdered her husband. She gripped the maul and swung again, sending a third of the log tumbling off to the side—a jawbone or skull fragment set loose in her imagination. She took a breath. She swung again, breaking apart the remaining piece. She stacked another upright on the stump and cleaved it with one blow, imagining bone fragments and dislodged teeth flying out, blowing back and grazing her exposed skin. Jess had split five cords of wood that year. It had a profound effect on her body, a tautness and hardness that she felt and noticed when she looked in her reflection in the windows. Her shoulders had broadened and her posture had firmed. Triceps had formed where there was once just delicate flesh. The burn from swinging the axe that initially came after only three or four swings, didn’t come until after several dozen blows now.

She heard a car came up the road. She recognized the sound of it. The next log she would split would be that of a bankster’s head. There might not be any mail delivery due to the lawlessness and transportation costs, but the banks still sent their debt collectors. They came by her house every month. There were usually three of them, two in charcoal slacks, white dress shirts and ties, looking like Jehovah’s Witnesses. The third was a security detail, typically an off-duty sheriff’s deputy.

In the winter, Jess had swapped some NATO for one ounce of silver which was, remarkably, enough to cover three mortgage payments. But she was behind by twelve. Her original intent was to pay off the house with Vaughn’s life insurance proceeds but it had already been fifteen months since Vaughn’s murder. She was convinced the insurance company was intentionally stalling before they would pay up. With the mass inflation, every day that passed diminished the real value of the payout. The insurance companies and banks took advantage of the circumstances and stalled payments to reap the financial benefit of paying their debts with less valuable money. Originally furious and feeling helpless, Jess eventually cooled. Her solution came to her and she decided that she could play their game, too. She bought the silver rounds on the advice of Croukamp and hid them in a coffee can in the wall of her kitchen. With the rate of price increases—prices doubling every three months or so—her silver would be worth as much as six mortgage payments by the end of summer, and twelve by winter.

Jess was beginning to think like a banker. But unbeknownst to her, Congress had passed a bill called the CPA—the Creditor Protection Act—which was going to double the remaining principle balance of mortgages on December 31st, in order to make things fair for the banks. Congress was convinced it was good policy that banks be guaranteed they would be paid something for their outstanding loans, in inflation-adjusted terms. The homeowner lobby howled in outrage at having their principle balances doubled by congressional fiat, but Congress passed it anyway, citing economic necessity. “If inflation destroys the value of loans, then no one will lend anymore! Credit is the lifeblood of the economy. Without credit, the economy will die! Our national security is at risk! We must pass the bill!” they screeched while they quietly counted their re-election campaign contributions. Clearly, the half dozen remaining mortgage lenders had more Washington influence than the hundred million outraged homeowners. But that’s democracy. When asked about the CPA at his presser, the president said, “No one should be allowed to benefit unfairly from the inflation. We all have to make shared sacrifices for future generations.” After two days had passed, the public outrage cooled and Americans moved on to the next distraction in the news cycle: Chinese hackers.

The approaching car slowed at Jess’s driveway. She filled her tote with the fresh splits. She curled the load up to her chest, feeling the strain in her tendons, the hardening of her forearms, and the new power in her back as she pulled herself upright. She searched around for Brooke. She looked towards the wellhead, then to the house and then towards the drive. The banker’s pickup was coming down her driveway and tiny Brooke stood directly its path. Jess shouted as she dropped the tote and ran towards her. Brooke was transfixed on the approaching car. Cars were so rare that she did not understand the danger of being run over by one. Jess sprinted towards Brooke, shouting her name. Brooke didn’t move. The car careened towards her. Jess ran yelling and flailing. The car continued. Brooke remained in its path. Twenty feet. Ten feet. Five feet. Finally, the driver saw the child and braked, stopping only a foot from catastrophe. Jess reached Brooke, took her arm and dragged her from the pavement.

The door opened and the driver, a thin, pale fellow, hopped out. He was dressed in charcoal slacks and a white dress shirt and tie, just as Jess had expected. Two others remained inside the vehicle.

“What do you want?” Jess shouted, heart pounding, thinking at that instant that she should have grabbed the maul before chasing after her daughter. The visitor looked at Jess and grinned. “Can I help you?” Jess asked again.

“I certainly hope so,” he responded.

“What’s your name?” Jess asked as she pulled Brooke close into her side. The agent approached and extended his hand but Jess refused to shake it. “Please identify yourself.”

“I’ve been here before. I am Officer Hiserman.”

“Officer? Officer of what?”

“I’m with the FDFR, the Federal Department of Forbearance Recapture.”

“I don’t know what that is,” Jess replied.

“I’m here about your mortgage.” Hiserman took out his wallet, removed his card, and offered it to Jess. She took it. It read: “Officer of Collections.”

“Oh, I remember you. I thought you worked for the bank.”

“I do.”

“This card says you work for the feds.”

“I work for them, too. I’ve been deputized by the U.S. Treasury Department.”

“I don’t have your payment, yet. I’m still waiting on my husband’s life insurance payout.”

“I guessed as much. Still, I have to make my rounds.”

“So is that all?” Jess asked, attempting to slide off back to her wood pile with Brooke.

“I need to serve you this,” Hiserman said as he produced an envelope and presented Jess with it.

“What is it?”

“It is your sixty day notice to vacate the premises.”

Jess laughed.

“I do apologize,” Hiserman continued. “The bank has decided to take possession of the property.”

Jess laughed again. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Pardon me?”

“You know I’m about to receive a payment large enough to pay this place off, with interest. Why would you want this house when you could get your money?”

“I only work in forbearance recapture, ma’am. I don’t get to see the repossession metrics.”

“Let me guess, then,” Jess said. “You plan to hold on to it because you’ve made a deal to sell it back to the government for a profit.”

“I’m just the messenger, ma’am. You’ve been served. You’ve got sixty days.”

“Well I’m not going anywhere.”

“If you’re still here, I’m afraid we’ll be forced to evict you under the supervision of DSF.”

“What about the sheriff’s department? They’re supposed to handle evictions.”

“Not anymore.”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving. You’ll get your money.”

“Look,” Hiserman said in a patronizing tone, “it’s not realistic to take a stand against your lender. You have a small daughter and all. This place is just not worth it.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means this is no place to raise a small child. You should be in the city, closer to the aid centers. Look around. It’s Road Warrior out here.”

“It’s not dangerous here. It just takes hard work.”

“I’m not so sure Child Protective Services would agree.”

“Now what the hell does that mean?” Jess asked.

“Calm down, ma’am. Calm down. I’m not the enemy. I’m just doing my job.”

“You people always say that. ‘I’m just doing my job.’ If you’re not responsible for your actions then who is?”

“What does he want from us?” shouted Sharon from the house.

“Nothing,” Jess answered. “It’s under control.” She turned back to Hiserman. “So will that be all, then?”

“Yes. But can I ask you a question?”

“No,” Jess answered as she started away.

“Why are you out here?”

Jess stormed off without answering.

“This is no place to raise a child, ma’am,” Hiserman shouted.

Jess went around the back of the house to calm herself, out of view.

“I think we can be professional about all this,” Hiserman shouted.

Jess muttered to herself under her breath.

“That’s how adults would behave,” Hiserman continued.

Jessica’s rage built.

“Have a nice day, ma’am.”

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 2

cometake_promo_cover“Be not afraid for the terror by night…”  In part 2 of the Indivisible series, the nation boils in economic collapse and sectarian violence. The president withdraws into his flying bunker to implement his Amero Plan to restore order. Maiden Lane finds herself in peril beyond the government’s zone of control. Marzan is separated from his company during a firefight and rescues an orphaned boy. Jess Clayton defends her home and young daughter from repossession and armed looters.

READ FOR FREE IN ITS ENTIRETY! NEW CHAPTERS TO BE POSTED WEEKLY.

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter Two

 

Five hundred thousand people gathered on the National Mall beneath the five hundred-foot-tall Masonic phallus dedicated to the memory of George Washington. They waved placards and shouted slogans calling for more government-funded jobs programs, the resignation of the president, and free money—and why not? The cronies had all gotten theirs. How about some cash for the great unwashed? These middle-class people were reeling; they were economic refugees from the unabated financial crises that had wiped out their savings, increased prices fifty times over, and wrecked their lives. Some hurled curses and raged, but the vast majority stood quietly and politely clapped as each speaker got up at the podium before the reflecting pond and actualized their “I have a dream” moments. No media was present and the demonstration was invisible to the rest of the country. When their permit expired at 8 p.m., battalions of Americorps and mounted police in riot gear converged, hosing the protestors down with skunk water and tossing flashbang grenades into the clusters of humanity. By 10 p.m., it was all over, and an army of migrant workers and garbage trucks was on scene cleaning up the mess left behind. Suffice it to say, the peaceful demonstration failed to convince the president to resign.

Maiden Lane’s alarm went off at 4:15 the next morning. She threw her feet onto the floor and levered herself up out of bed with the vigor of an Olympic gymnast. In ten minutes, she was on her stationary bike, grinding out the miles, bronze quadriceps flexing, sweat beading and dripping off her body, black spandexed breasts heaving, inhaling, chest expanding, exhaling, abs flexing. She finished at 5:00, and began washing and exfoliating and shaving in her twenty-five-square-foot, cobalt-tiled shower. She dried and straightened her hair, applied her makeup, and dressed. Breakfast was a poached egg. She scrolled AmericaOne.com as she spooned the egg’s yolk and sipped her special blend coffee, beans hand-picked by an actual Incan field laborer…although he was not named Juan Valdez.

“Drones Dis-Employ Thousands of Troops reported the headline. Just after that: “Statistics Show Teen Pregnancy Declines by Age 25,” and below that: “President Unveils Massive Package.” She clicked on the television…

 

“…So how would you describe the present situation?” an androgynous anchor asked his guest. “Are we winning the war?”

The Secretary of Homeland Security hesitated. “Um, yes. We are winning but we don’t call this operation a war. It’s very important to draw that distinction. A war involves nation states, some degree of combat symmetry. Geneva Convention and all that. This is what we call insurgency counter-insurgency. ICI for short. So it’s not a war. But to answer your first question, yes we are winning. We’re in what you would call ‘mop up’ operations. Large numbers of the terrorist leadership have been taken out. At last count, twenty-nine of thirty-five of our most wanted have been killed or captured. The insurgency leadership has been wiped out. We are continuing to hunt down and scatter the remaining cells. We’ve infiltrated several of the more significant ones and are ‘in their huddle,’ as we like to say. The country has been saved by the tireless efforts of the tens of thousands of patriots in Homeland Security, FBI, armed forces and police.”

“And the president, too,” added the anchor.

“Absolutely. We have had the full support of the president every step of the way, and will going forward. He had to make some very difficult decisions at times, but they turned out to be the right ones. We fully expect complete order to be restored before winter.”

“Some have argued that the response was heavy-handed and that the insurrection, if I can call it that, might have been dealt with in another way.”

“Can I just say that we are operating in real world situations out there. There are known unknowns, but many unknown unknowns and even unknown knowns and known knowns. The task is daunting and complex. The insurgents—sorry, let’s call them what they are: the terrorists—they have some advantages related to terrain, logistics, small sympathetic local populations…”

“Now you make it sound like they’re winning.”

“No. Not at all. I’m just trying to say that the situation is complex and often requires rapid, forceful response. A soft touch or nudge isn’t going to get things done. This is the real world. Things have to be dealt with in a manner which leadership feels gives us the best chance for success. These are terrorists we’re dealing with here. They abide by no known rules. They use mines to kill and maim our troops and destroy our assets. They shoot at our men and women in uniform. They are uncooperative and hostile. There is no diplomatic resolution here. We can second guess things, play Monday morning quarterback, but we are all in strong agreement that everything that was done and is being done has been necessary. We are trying to win a war.”

“I thought you just said it wasn’t a war.”

“Right. I don’t mean war in the traditional sense. Not a war war. I meant that in the broader sense that this is part of the war on terror but more specifically a full scale ICI…but not a war…”

 

Mae heard a car pull up. She looked across her reclaimed mill wood vintage oak table, over the porcelain Tiffany’s tea service and the internet-connected DeLonghi Toaster Oven with integrated panini press, under the pleated shade crafted of Egyptian Ertegun cotton and through the triple-paned, argon-infused, green-rated glass of her kitchen window. A driver popped out of the limo parked on the street, clamored up the steps, and rang the doorbell of her brownstone. Mae tossed her titanium egg dish, silver spoon and un-slipped and unglazed English clay designer coffee mug into the hand-hammered copper sink and darted to the door. She handed the chauffeur her suitcase and went down to the car, descending the stone stairs with intense purpose, a furrow creasing her brow. Her posture was erect but her movements were fluid. The driver followed, scurrying behind. She stopped at the door looking annoyed as he passed her and set her bag down to open the door. T was waiting inside.

“Good morning,” he said without raising his eyes from his mobile, his greeting drowned out by the helicopter thumping that had just erupted overhead.

She slid in elegantly, preventing her hem from retracting and exposing anything beyond her upper thigh. The door closed with a suction sound, sealing out the external racket. She took out her phone as T remained preoccupied with his. The car sped away

It took over an hour and a half to travel the five miles to Reagan National Airport. Passing through the Rock Creek Gate had always been an ordeal, ever since it had been erected in the wake of the dollar devaluation—or “dollar reset” as the government officially coined it. The checkpoint backed cars up all the way to Virginia Avenue NW. Thankfully, the Treasury Department merited a patrician-class escort that evaded most of the queue. The limo escaped over the slow-rolling Potomac and onto the George Washington. They eventually wheeled onto the tarmac at Reagan, pulling under a purple awning a hundred steps from the cyan underbelly of the president’s personal modified C5. The door opened with a reverse suction sound and the noise of jets and helicopters flooded in.

“So this is the new Air Force One,” Mae remarked as she stepped out of the car.

“Wait until you see the inside,” T remarked. He had not spoken the entire ride and was still reading his phone as he got out of the car. Mae came up close beside him, invading his space as if they were a couple. He walked with her that way up the escalator, past the marine honor guard and through the portal door into the president’s personal flying bunker.

“What do you think?” T finally asked as Mae absorbed the interior that reminded her of a boutique.

“It doesn’t feel like we’re on an airplane,” she answered.

T pointed. “Go that way, through that door.”

She walked through a lobby of small sofas, delicate glass lamps and brass-framed mirrors, a Van Goghish canvas, a Zulu mask, a silver platter cradling a petrified dinosaur egg, a framed reproduction of the Emancipation Proclamation and a signed photograph of the president standing on a golf course with Snoop Dog and Matt Damon. They pushed through the bi-fold doors emblazoned with the presidential seal. Before them were four rows of leather seats that reclined and swiveled 360 degrees and were equipped with flip-out LED screens. They passed through another bi-fold door with the seal. Through it, they found an aisle with enclosures on either side, each with two more seats. These fully reclined into a bed with extendable privacy blinders on either side. Mae and T found their assigned enclosure, marked with a nameplate, and stowed their carry-ons.

“I can’t believe you brought me along, T. This is amazing. What a terrific experience.”

“The president wanted to reward you for your efforts…for taking one for the team.”

“Not sure why he would be impressed. It didn’t end so well with Tsang.”

“We put you through a great deal, Mae. We knew it was a suicide mission of sorts.”

“Pardon me,” interrupted a gentleman wearing a tuxedo and white gloves. “Is there anything I can get you? Appetizers? Beverages?”

“I’ll have a Bookers,” answered T.

“And the Madame?”

Mae looked at T before responding. He nodded.

“A vodka martini. Belvedere if you have it. Up. Blue cheese stuffed olives…Bella di Cerignolas. If not, then dry with just a twist of lemon.”

“Of course, Madame.”

The waiter withdrew, replaced shortly after by a diminutive man with receding hair and a rigid but narrow posture. “Good morning,” he said, in an over-compensating baritone.

“Have you met?” T asked Mae.

“Not officially,” Mae answered as she extended her hand to the president’s chief of staff.

“Gabe, this is Maiden Lane, my top deputy.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Mae,” Gabe replied. “Great show with PBC. The president is well aware of how difficult that situation was.”

“What did I tell you?” T said, looking meaningfully at Mae.

Despite the praise, Mae felt uncomfortable shaking Gabe’s child-sized, delicate hand. She gazed down to avoid prolonged eye contact but had time to notice he was wearing lifts.When standing, she guessed she was a full head taller than him, taller than that in heels. The handshake lasted too long and she sensed that he was aware of her discomfort. She smiled and he withdrew his hand.

“So do you know the schedule?” Gabe asked. He continued without waiting for an answer. “At 0800, the president will have his coffee and breakfast and watch an hour of AmericaOne. We’ll convene in the romper room at 0900. T, you’re slated for 9:05. You’ll have seven minutes to brief him on your proposal. Don’t go over. You need to leave time for Q & A, too. By 9:45, we’ll be into domestic security issues so you two can excuse yourselves. Just ghost away. No announcement is necessary. Until then, make yourselves comfortable.”

“How long will we be airborne?” T asked.

“We stop every twelve hours to empty the tanks and refuel. We’ll more or less be flying a big figure eight over the middle of the country, returning to either Andrews or Reagan on the 14th.”

“How is it decided which?”

“The president prefers a coin flip. For now, relax. Get some work done. Enjoy the amenities. There’s a full service bar. There’s a gym. I hear that you work out religiously, Mae. There’s also a golf simulator, a bowling alley with a gyroscopically balanced lane, and a movie theater—although Forteson’s probably getting the DoD feeds down there. Have you met him, Mae?”

“Arman Forteson?”

“Uh, no. His heir, David. You know what? I think you should go down there and talk to Forte. I bet you two’ll hit it off. He’s a quite a rising star, not unlike yourself.”

“I thought he was running the family business,” Mae said.

T rolled his eyes.

“Sepulcorp more or less runs itself. David’s considerable talents were called into service.” Gabe continued. “He’s being groomed by DoD and possibly the president for a cabinet appointment.”

“Impressive.”

“I’m going to steal T for a while if you don’t mind. Go say hello to Forte.”

“Where’s the theater, again?” Mae asked.

“Go that way, then take the escalator down. You can’t miss it.”

Mae got up and Gabe pushed his way into their berth and sat in her chair.

“Oh, but I just ordered,” she said.

“We’ll have it sent down,” T answered before directing his full attention to the chief of staff.

Mae stepped out past the partition into the aisle and made her way aft. She passed ten partitions populated by White House well-to-dos scanning their mobile devices, nursing beverages or napping. She walked around a conference chamber, through a lounge, and found a spiral escalator. At the bottom, she came upon a double doorway opening into a dark chamber. She walked in. There were twenty plush seats in the theater. AmericaOne Business Channel was playing on a giant screen. An anchor with glistening eyes and translucent teeth read the news. One person was sitting in the second row.

 

“In other news, the Bureau of Labor Statistics just released the unemployment numbers and it’s great news for America! The unemployment rate has dropped for the third month in a row to just under twelve percent. When asked for comment, the White House released a memo praising the efforts of the Council for Economic Recovery, citing the 300,000 jobs created last month alone. The Industry Infrastructure and Security Program is strengthening the country’s economy and security with public partnerships. 200,000 new law enforcement officers are expected to be on the streets by year’s end, working to keep us all safe. The White House memo also praised the resilience and patience of the American people.

Yesterday, the first lady gave the commencement address at the Americorps graduation ceremony. She reminded the class of nearly four thousand of their momentous duty to defend democracy and their responsibility to the democratically-elected government of our great republic. She reminded the eighteen and nineteen year olds of the power that comes from the right attitude and that anti-government speech is hate speech that should always be confronted or reported whenever it is encountered.

And finally, as part of our ‘America Strong’ segment…”

 

“David Forteson?” Mae interrupted.

He turned. “Yes. Who’s there? Is that Linda?”

“No.” She stepped into the theater so that her eyes could adjust. “My name is Maiden Lane, Mae for short. I work for T.”

Forteson hit the remote, pausing the network feed. He pressed another and the lights came up. He turned and looked her over, but he wasn’t ogling. Then his face brightened. “Oh yes, I’ve heard about you.”

He stood and moved into the aisle and approached. He was tall and thin and in his mid-forties. His appearance and posture was crisp, and he was sharply dressed in a charcoal suit. With his black hair greased back, he invoked the image of Jay Gatsby that Mae had held in her mind ever since she read Fitzgerald’s novel as a teenager. At that moment, she regretted that she was wearing conservative navy blue.

“Oh? So what have you heard about me?” she asked.

“Ha,” Forteson smirked. “They say that you’re T’s honey badger.”

“Honey badger?”

“That’s right,” he said as he glided towards her.

“A rodent?” she asked.

“No. No. No. Badgers aren’t rodents. They are ruthless, tenacious, fearless and resourceful predators. They devour rodents. That is, if there’s nothing more worthwhile to prey upon.”

” I guess I’m supposed to take that as a compliment?” Mae asked, looking unimpressed.

“Of course,” he answered. “Is this your first time?”

“On Air Force One?”

Forteson grinned. “Yes.”

“It is. And you?”

“This will be my fourth flying bunker tour. But hopefully the last in my current capacity.”

“Why’s that?”

“Years of planning and hard work are coming together.”

“Ooh, a plan,” Mae replied with playful mockery. “Do tell me more.”

Forteson pursed his lips and rubbed his chin. “I suppose it’s many plans, actually. Three main ones, anyway. A three-legged stool, as they say. Economics, politics, security. Security is predominant.”

“You’re being vague. I must be prying. I imagine you know a great deal about security. That is Sepulcorp’s business. Won’t you be taking it over, soon?”

“I think my father’s intending to run things into his eighties. I don’t intend to wait around that long. I’ve said too much. I’m boring you. Did you come down here to watch AmericaOne?”

“I’m surprised someone like you watches it.”

“Why?” Forteson asked.

“It’s engineered for mass consumption.”

“If I was being frank, I would describe it as propaganda, myself.”

“You’re not uncomfortable using that term while sitting on Air Force One?” Mae asked.

“It is what it is, Mae. Times like these demand blunt pragmatism. Honesty between members of the leadership is crucial for continuity of government.”

“But not for the masses?”

“God no. An honest dialogue with the public is impossible. The public can’t even comprehend a TV sitcom. Expecting the hoard to grasp the realities and demands of saving this republic would be like trying to convince a three-year-old to choose broccoli over ice cream.”

Mae laughed. “So they get bread and circuses, instead?”

“I liken it more to religion. Everyone is getting the calling.”

“So why do you watch it?”

“For its brilliance. I enjoy watching how they navigate the precarious minefield of molding public consciousness. If the media is too forceful, too demanding, their message will be resisted. In a sense, the media is a barometer of the public. They still have to give the masses what they want…even if they want them to hear the Gospel.”

“Sounds theoretical to me,” Mae said.

“Trust me. You really can discern the attitude of the public by the media they’re willing to digest.”

“I guess I always thought it was the other way around. I thought the media manufactured public consensus.”

“It does. But it has to tell them what they want to hear in order to do it. You must think I’m a bore, Ms. Lane. Have you seen the rest of Air Force One?”

“Actually no. We just boarded.”

“Then please allow me to give you a tour.”

Forteson walked Mae out of the theater, guiding her with one hand placed just faintly upon the small of her back.

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Indivisible: Come and Take It, Chapter 1

cometake_promo_cover“Be not afraid for the terror by night…”  In part 2 of the Indivisible series, the nation boils in economic collapse and sectarian violence. The president withdraws into his flying bunker to implement his Amero Plan to restore order. Maiden Lane finds herself in peril beyond the government’s zone of control. Marzan is separated from his company during a firefight and rescues an orphaned boy. Jess Clayton defends her home and young daughter from repossession and armed looters.

READ FOR FREE IN ITS ENTIRETY! NEW CHAPTERS TO BE POSTED WEEKLY.

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“They take up arms against their ruler; but in this they deceive themselves, for experience will prove that they will have actually worsened their lot.”

—Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Chapter One

 

At 0300 hours. Bravo Company piled into three CH-47D Chinook helicopters and lifted off from the tarmac of Montrose Regional Airport, abandoning the friendly confines of Camp Constantine. The ensuing flight covered less than twenty miles, barely enough time for the pimply-faced conscripts of the Domestic Security Force to pray: “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by.” Their predawn mission signaled the beginning of Operation Uncompahgre III, the third official attempt by the Domestic Security Force and I Corps to capture and or degrade the leadership of the insurgency in the sector.

It was moonless and the ground below was as black as a dream, the void broken only by the reflection of starlight on the waters of spindly creeks and a lonely reservoir far below. Domestic combatants, or Doc, were down there. They controlled the wilderness. To the nineteen- and twenty-year-old privates fulfilling their national service requirement of one year of military service, Doc was a single entity, an evil wight, mysterious and ghostlike,, lurking in the woods and caves, living off air and dirt, existing only to hunt and kill DSF personnel. Many conscripts had made it through an entire yearlong tour and never got to see one alive in the wild. But anyone stationed near a forward operating base, like Camp Constantine, in the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin states would be subject to their wrath, manifested in the forms of roadside bombings, sniper fire, and sabotage. Rushed through an abbreviated, four-week boot camp, the recruits were inculcated with a heavy dose of fear and hatred of Doc; he was ruthless, cunning, battle-hardened, and worst of all– a traitor.

Bravo Company landed in the darkness, on a hastily constructed sandbag firebase atop Hill 301 called Camp Grit.Bravo Company’s mission was to advance into the wilderness to locate, engage, and annihilate the enemy. But they underestimated the ruggedness of the terrain and were forced to wait for sufficient light. They finally embarked at 0500. Second Platoon, nicknamed “The Skullcrushers,” marched south-southeast along the ridgeline that rose towards Sheep Mountain which burst upwards through the tree line eight klicks away.

The march was arduous and slow-paced as the platoon took great care not to bunch up at the obstacles or spread themselves too thin. The barely discernible trail meandered and climbed, flanked by firs, spruce, and aspen. Spires of tawny granite formed into ridgelines and thrust skyward in all directions. Some were still patched with snow that would not melt before winter. Evergreens clung to the high shelves of rock. The gulches and valleys were a Mirkwood of dark forest. The ridge occasionally provided a vantage point to glimpse the turbulent lands they invaded. The summer sun climbed and the temperature rose as the patrol pushed on. By midmorning, the ruckus of chirping birds that had accompanied them before daybreak had subsided into a din of breezes sweeping through the tree tops. The succulent, waxy aspen leaves flickered and danced.

The advance was halted briefly when the point spotted four objects in the cliffs across the valley which, from two thousand yards away, could not be ruled out as enemy combatants. The conscripts crouched and took cover, their young, fearful eyes widening.  The sergeant examined the target with his field glasses. “Is it Doc?” asked the lieutenant. Sarge rolled the focusing wheel as he searched. The conscripts’ faces whitened as they waited for his verdict. “Sarge?”

“No.”

The conscripts sighed in relief.

“Just bighorn sheep.”

Second Platoon continued on, under a canopy of blue sky and slow-moving splashes of white cloud. By 0900 they reached the point where Sheep Mountain rose upwards through the tree line just before them. They stopped to rest and hydrate and it was there that a specialist discovered a cairn. He called to Sarge who examined the pile up close, then began carefully removing the stones that did not appear to be concealing or holding or levering down wires or triggers of any kind. When he had removed about half the pile he discovered a canvas surface. He stopped at that point to consult with the lieutenant.

“What do you think it is?” Sarge asked.

“Dunno. Ammo cache. RPGs. Rifles. Frags. Have a private check it out.”

“Maybe we just go ahead, blow that fucker up, and move on.”

“Was I not clear?”

“Lieutenant, we ain’t got any techs and we got no blast suit.”

“We’re not debating this, sergeant. We’re deep in Doc’s turf and I got half a platoon filled with boy scouts. I won’t be drawing any extra attention to us. Get it checked out.”

“Yes, sir,” Sarge muttered as he turned and pointed to a specialist named Rogers. “Get over here.” Rogers approached. “I need you to go check out that pile of rocks over there. Tell me what’s under that canvas.”

“Fuck that, Sarge. That’s a booby trap if I’ve ever seen one.”

“It ain’t no booby trap, Rogers.”

“It sure enough looks like one to me.”

“The only booby trap that’s ever gonna get you is one that’s stuffed inside a basketball.”

“Man, you’re a racist mother­fucker. Figures you’d pick a brother to get blowed up. There ain’t no way I’m poking around in that. It’s a trap.”

“That’s an order.”

“Fuck you.”

“I’ll deal with you back at base.”

“I got something you can deal with,” answered Rogers as he grabbed his crotch.

“Get lost.” Sarge turned back to the other men. “Fouts! Where’s Fouts?”

“Right here, Sarge. And it’s Faust, sir.”

“Fouts, I need you to go check out that pile of rocks over there and tell me what’s under that canvas.”

“No way, Sarge. I’m single digit midget. I got seven more days of this bullshit.”

“You get over there and check it out. That’s a direct order.”

“Nope.”

“What kind of fucking army is this?” grumbled Sarge.

The lieutenant grabbed Sarge by the shoulder and yanked him around. “Do not give orders that won’t be obeyed. These turds see that and they’ll lose respect.”

“You learn that at OCS school?” Sarge asked.

“Get one of them cherries to do it.”

Sarge turned back to the platoon and called one of the new conscripts forward. “Honey Tits, get over to that pile of rocks and check it out.”.”

Honey Tits, a private whose legal surname was Ochs, was a pasty-faced and fleshy draftee recently plucked from the melodramatic Madison Wisconsin emo and transgender subculture. He had sulked into his induction with his fingernails still polished black.

“Yes, sir,” he gulped, already panting.

“Drag your faggoty fat ass over there and check it out. Tell me what’s buried in there. And don’t get blowed up.”

“Sarge…?”

“Move!”

Ochs tiptoed towards the cairn, setting his rifle down once he had reached it. He carefully examined the pile for protruding wires or anything resembling an IED. He had no clue what that might be, but he visually scoured the pile anyway. Once he was satisfied that there was no evidence of a buried bomb, he took a seat, Indian style. He wiped the sweat off his palms, then looked back once more at Sarge and the others some twenty yards off, as if to say “goodbye and nice knowing you.” He turned back to the pile and gulped in fixated anticipation. He reached his hand down and touched a stone. He moved it carefully, and when he realized that he had not been ‘blowed up,’ he set it on the ground to the side. He sighed, deeply. Then Ochs reached down and took another stone off. And when he found himself still intact after that, he took off another, and another, and another. Each stone came off quicker than the previous and after a couple dozen, he had most of the canvas exposed. He took out his knife and carefully poked a hole in the canvas and looked in. He glanced back at the platoon. All their eyes were upon him. He widened the hole and pulled it open and looked in again. He froze.

“What is it?” Sarge shouted.

Ochs didn’t respond.

“Honey Tits, what the fuck is it?”

Ochs looked back towards Sarge. His face was grim.

The soldiers watching raised their rifles and crouched lower behind cover.

“What the fuck is it, Ochs?” barked the sergeant.

Ochs’ lip quivered.

“Go check it out,” ordered the lieutenant.

Sarge growled, then jogged up to the catatonic Ochs.

“What’s wrong?” he asked

“Look,” Ochs mumbled as he pointed into the hole in the canvas.

Sarge looked in and saw what Ochs saw.

“Is that a face?” he asked.

“What the fuck is it?” shouted the lieutenant from the cover of a tree trunk.

“It looks like a corpse,” shouted Sarge. “Doc must have buried him here.” He turned back to Ochs. “Dig him out.”

“Sarge…?” he asked, looking scared.

“Don’t be a pussy. It’s just a dead body. Dig him out.”

The lieutenant ordered Rogers and Faust to the pile of stones to assist. Ochs sat with sweat rolling off his forehead, down his blotchy face and into his collar while the other two men removed the remaining stones and tore open the bag revealing the complete, decomposing body.

“Who do you think he is?” asked Sarge.

“Dead Doc,” answered Faust.

“That’s what they look like?” asked Ochs.

“What’d you think they looked like? Fucking leprechauns or something?”

“Check him for tags. Find his wallet,” Sarge ordered.

Rogers knelt down and rolled the stiff body exposing the moist, decomposing underside. The smell knocked them back and they pulled their t-shirts up and over their noses. Rogers gagged as he reached into the corpse’s back pocket and found his soggy wallet. He let the body fall back and held the wallet out for the sergeant who snatched it from him and thumbed through it, taking out an ID.

“It says here this is…holy shit…,” Sarge collected himself and continued. “It says: Captain Alan A. Rick, U.S. Army.” He turned and shouted. “Hey lieutenant, we found us the infamous Captain Rick. He got himself dead.”

The lieutenant scrambled up to the grave arriving just as Faust had begun to urinate on the corpse.

“Knock that shit off,” Sarge ordered.

Faust aimed in another direction. “Why so grumpy, Sarge?”

“Shut up, Fouts,” Sarge ordered. “Show some respect.”

“You mind if I go back to the unit, sir?” Ochs mumbled.

“Go. Beat it.”

Ochs sulked back to the platoon while the four remaining men stared down at the sunken eye sockets and brown, mummified face of the dead man.

“What do you want to do with it?” asked Sarge. “Want us to bag him?”

“No. Leave him. I’ll call in the coordinates.” The lieutenant knelt down and set the dead man’s hand on a rock. He took out his knife and with a succession of chops he removed the dead man’s index finger at the second joint and put it in his pocket. “For DNA ID,” he explained.

“Captain Rick’s dead,” Sarge commented. “Guess we can all head back to Camp Grit. Mission accomplished.”

“You’re a funny guy, Sarge. We’re moving out in five.””

The platoon marched onwards towards Sheep Mountain, now looming large before them. The midday sun surrendered to the boiling gray clouds that rolled in from the west. Then it rained. The storm didn’t qualify as a deluge, but the dampness, coupled with the cool high altitude air, increased the misery index of the platoon. Thunder boomed, echoing up the slopes from below, but the lightning bolts were obscured in the haze. The trail turned to mud. The cold drizzle seeped into their clothes, mixed with their warm sweat and ran in rivulets down their skin into their boots, soaking their socks and chilling their toes. Visibility dropped to a few yards. Between the clasps of thunder and beyond the patter of raindrops and slogging footfalls was a thickening silence, as if the mist itself had swallowed up the sounds of the rest of the world.

After two hours, the clouds began to disperse and the sun reappeared, although lower and less intense than before. The blue-green hues of the forest, the taupe and gray of the granite escarpments and the blues and whites of the sky intensified as if cleansed and polished by the rain. The air was washed of dust and pollen and smelled only of clean pine and sweet ozone. Insectivorous birds flitted and darted between the trees, plucking their meals off the bark and stone. The deer were coming out, grazing on the rain-softened grasses.

With the clearing of the haze returned the sounds of the world. The frump, frump, frump, of heavy ordnance permeated the cool air, coming from perhaps two miles away. First Platoon must have spotted the enemy and had called in the mortars. Rogers and Faust and Ochs scanned through the trees to the far ridges for the source of conflict as they trudged along. Their hands gripped their cool rifles. Their wet clothes clung to their skin; the declining sun was insufficient to dry them. The ravens appeared, cawing and click-clacking and squawking in the tree tops. Then the birds scattered. Soon after, the Kiowa helicopters, relics from bygone days, desperately de-mothballed and placed back into service, crossed the sky overhead flying towards the sound of battle. They were scanning the canopy with their thermal imaging. Moments later, their M134s would be shredding the enemy terrain with a hundred rounds of 7.62 per second. The snare roll of distant Gatlin guns boosted the spirits of The Skullcrushers of Second Platoon as they climbed toward Sheep Mountain.

The trail led them into the trees where the shadows were now long and deep. The woods closed in, enveloping them. Their pace slowed. Their chatter ceased. The distant battle stopped and the thick silence returned. Suddenly, the point halted their advance. The platoon crouched down into the brambles and tree trunks. Sarge hunched over and made his way to the point.

“Look ahead.”

“At what?” Sarge asked.

“You see that wire there, running up out of the ground into the trees?”

“Where?”

“There. See it?”

“Where?”

“Right there. Look where I’m pointing. By that stump.”

Sarge, who saw nothing but trees, feigned seeing it and jogged back to the lieutenant. “They got the trail wired,” he advised.

“All right,” the lieutenant grumbled. “So what do you think we should do?”

Sarge took the lieutenant’s topographical map and ran his finger along the contours. He pondered until the lieutenant pressed him. “I say we veer right, off this trail, go down along the face, here, then back up at this spur…right here. We can get back on the trail there.”

“You think there’s an ambush ahead? What military genius sets an ambush on top of a ridge?”

“Everything Doc does is unorthodox, Lieutenant.”

The lieutenant pondered for a moment, rubbing his chin stubble, then nodded in approval. But then changed his mind. “Wait. No. I think we don’t go so far down. Look, we can cross here. It’s a shorter distance in the open.”

“I don’t know, Sarge. That looks like a steep face. It could be a scramble.”

“I’ve already decided.”

Sarge sighed as he folded the map. He made his way back to the point, hunched at the waist. The point was ducking behind a thick tree trunk.

“We’re going to veer right, here,” Sarge explained as he pointed to the map. “Scramble across the face of this slope, here, then back up, and pick the trail up over here.”

“You think that’s a good idea, Sarge?”

“Lieutenant seems to think so.”

“Why don’t you just send Honey Tits ahead to check it out? If he gets blowed up, then we know it’s not safe.”

“Why don’t I just send you?”

“Not happening, Sarge.”

“Right. So take us that way.”

The platoon veered right, off the trail and downhill. The slope was steep and wet and treacherous. They stumbled along, bracing themselves on limbs and boulders as they descended, boot treads slipping on the soft ground of wet and decomposing pine needles. Their knees and ankles throbbed. Ochs sounded as if he was having an asthma attack. The trees gave way to a precarious hillside of gray boulders sloping steeply downwards three hundred yards. The platoon halted their advance in the cover of the trees just before it. It was completely silent, no birds, no thumping of mortars or Kiowas. Even the breeze had ceased.

Sarge scampered up to the point who had taken cover once again, this time behind a house-sized boulder.

“All right,” he said as he caught his breath. “You see that big, upturned rock right before the trees out there?”

“On the other side, Sarge?”

“Yeah. We’re heading for that.”

“We’ll be totally exposed, Sarge. What is that, a hundred yards out in the open?”

“It’s a scramble over those rocks, too. I know. But I don’t think Doc expects us to come this way. Just move fast and get to the trees at the other side. We’re all coming up behind you.”

“I don’t think so, sir.”

“That’s an order.”

“Order someone else, Sarge.”

Sarge drew his M9.

“Whoa. No need to go there, Sarge. I’ll do it,” he replied. He sighed, then started off through the rocks. Sarge waved the next trooper up and on, and then the next. In a few moments, ten of them, including the sergeant, were scrambling in the open over the field of boulders. It wasn’t until three had reached the trees on the other side that the first rounds of sniper fire found Ochs and knocked him off his feet and facedown into the rocks. He shouted unintelligibly, grabbing at his hip. The troopers caught in the open ducked for cover while the ones closer to the far edge ran for their lives into the trees. They could not locate the source of the sniper fire and some of the conscripts fired wildly into the tree line above in an arc that spanned nearly four hundred yards. Another trooper trapped out in the open was hit. He dragged himself behind a large boulder, set his rifle down, and curled up silently. The lieutenant, who had not yet entered the open, called for air support from the cover of the trees. The Kiowas were dispatched. Sarge, who was stuck in the middle, crouched behind the stones, held his rifle up and fired blindly uphill until his magazine was empty. He ordered for covering fire then charged across the last fifty yards of rocks until he reached the far tree line. The platoon was cut in half. The sniper fire stopped.

“Why aren’t they shooting anymore?” Faust asked the sergeant.

“They’re repositioning.”

“For what?”

“They hear the Kiowas. They don’t want to get chopped up.”

“Now what?”

“They got us split in two. My guess is they’ll attack one half with everything they got.”

“What are we gonna do, Sarge?”

“Can’t stay here. We’ve got to move or we’re dead. We’ve got to head back up that slope to the ridge. Get to high ground.”

A second after the sound of the closing gunship rotors echoed through the woods, the area came alive with small arms fire. The sergeant ordered his men up the wooded mountainside. With burning legs and bursting lungs, they climbed. Then the Kiowas came. Their M134s opened up, concentrating on the far tree line, not comprehending that the thermal images they were targeting were those of half of Second Platoon. The friendly fire blitzed the forest, permeating it with thousands of leaden rounds honed by the orange glow of tracers. They unleashed a confetti of airborne bark and stone.

Sarge urged his men upwards. One stumbled and fell. Faust turned to help him but Sarge urged him on. There was nothing they could do. Burst after burst tore through the trees. The surviving men gasped for air, hearts pounding. Another fell, a conscript, and the Kiowa guns zeroed in on him, riddling him with bullets. Only three survivors reached the top of the ridge just as the Kiowas veered off. They ducked behind the trees and boulders and caught their breath.

“What now?” asked Faust.

Sarge looked around, clutching his rifle. “We follow the trail back…get back to the rest of the platoon.”

“Sarge!”

Sarge turned to Faust. “Look at this.”

“What is it?”

“Blood trail.”

Splotches of red led off into the trees in the opposite direction of the platoon. They still heard Ochs screaming down below.

“Let’s go get this motherfucker,” Faust said.

Sarge signaled Faust to the right and Rogers to the left and they silently followed the trail. It led a hundred yards into the woods, to three dilapidated log cabins with collapsed roofs. One cabin had a forty-foot pine tree growing up from the middle of it. Another’s walls leaned, bending its weathered windows and door jambs into trapezoids. The blood trail led into the third. Sarge signaled Rogers and Faust to the flanks. The trio took firing positions from opposing sides. A breeze blew up from southwest, bowing the tops of the pines. Mosquitos buzzed in their ears and bit their exposed flesh. Rogers reached for a grenade, but Sarge signaled for him to hold off.

“We know you’re in there,” Sarge shouted from the cover of a tree. The wind whispered, carrying the odor of ammonia. A squirrel chattered. Faust slapped a mosquito on his neck. “There’s no escape. Come on out of there.”

Rogers spat as he aimed his M4. On the other side, Faust scanned the trees and listened for anyone else approaching. A Black Hawk was closing in, coming to extract Second Platoon’s wounded and dead.

“This is your last chance. Come out or you’re gonna get dead.” Sarge nodded to Rogers and he reached for his grenade, again. Faust aimed his carbine into the window of the cabin. Rogers put his finger into the ring of the pin. Faust adjusted his grip on the rail of his rifle. They watched and listened. The Black Hawk approached.

“Come out or you’re fucking dead,” shouted Sarge.

Rogers cocked his arm to throw. Faust steadied his breathing. Sarge checked the time on his watch.

“This is your last chance.”

Sarge scanned the woods for other Doc that might be closing in.

“I’m wounded,” groaned a voice from inside.

“You come on out of there and we’ll get you treatment,” answered Sarge.

“Fuck that, Sarge,” argued Faust. “Let’s smoke him.”

Sarge scowled at him.

“You come on out, unarmed. Nice and slow. No sudden movements.”

Rogers readied to lob his grenade. Faust switched his aim to the doorway. Sarge aimed his rifle as well.

“We ain’t waiting here all day. You got thirty seconds. Then we light you up.”

Rogers glanced at Faust. Faust winced. They both looked at Sarge.

“All right. I’m coming out,” groaned the voice.

They heard shuffling inside and then a man appeared in the doorway on all fours. He crawled out of the cabin and fell flat onto the ground with his arms extended. Sarge motioned for Rogers to check him out but Rogers gave him the finger.

“Goddamn it,” Sarge muttered. He approached the wounded Doc carefully, with his rifle aimed, finger on the trigger and ready to fire. The Doc was dressed in civilian clothes. He looked like a vagrant. “Roll over.” Sarge ordered. The Doc rolled onto his side. He was filthy and thin. His hair was long and matted and he had a thick beard. He clutched at his side and winced. “Don’t move.” Sarge kneeled down beside him and went through his pockets. “Who are you?”

The Doc didn’t answer.

Sarge removed his wallet and thumbed through the contents, taking out the black card and sticking it in his own pocket. “No ID?”

The Doc didn’t answer.

The Black Hawk drew closer, likely looking for a place to land on the ridge a couple hundred yards behind them.

“Let’s smoke him, Sarge. I’ll do it,” Faust said.

“Don’t worry, Doc,” Sarge said. “We’ll take real good care of you.”

Next Chapter

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LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 16:  Actress Salma Hayek speaks with the media at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on November 16, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Piyal Hosain/Fotos International/Getty Images)

Hayek On Progressive (Collectivist) Ethics

“There is literally nothing which the consistent collectivist must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole,’ because the ‘good of the whole’ is to him the only criterion of what ought to be done.”

–F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom

In other words, when it comes to the greater good, the end justifies the means.

Please check out my well-received novels, available for free!

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SurvivalPunk

Survivalpunk Reviews ‘Come and Take It’

James Burnette of Survivalpunk writes:

The action in Indivisible: Come and Take It, is realistic. It’s not the main theme of the book though so don’t expect firefight after firefight. Troy does a great job of making the violence gritty, realistic and horrific. He does not romanticize violence and war. You almost want to turn away. You feel sorry for some of the characters killed on both sides of the struggle. Just like any war the Government and those that want to be Powerful throw away lives to support their cause….READ MORE

Please check out James’s excellent survivalist blog!

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Machiavelli on Free Markets

“Everyone willingly increases his property and goods if he believes that he will be allowed to enjoy them.”
–Niccolo Machaivelli, The Prince

Macchiavelli, widely misunderstood and smeared by statists as a cynic for his insights into the duplicitous and corrupt nature of politics, was actually an advocate of sound government. He understood that promoting economic prosperity was the key to leadership. Machiavelli promoted free markets almost 300 years before Adam Smith. He continues:

“…In such circumstances, men compete with each other in providing both private and public benefits, with the result that both increase remarkably. The contrary of all this is true for states that live in servitude, and the harsher their servitude the more-reduced is their prosperity.”

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JODie

A Statist Trolls Indivisible

I take great pride in scathing, negative reviews–especially ones laced with personal insults. It means that my story has affected them.

However, I do appreciate it when my small but loyal following down votes their review on Amazon. In a way, a one-star review with 20+ down votes is just as good as a four star review.

Check out the review here

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