“I thought all along you were a man.” He hesitated and shifted his gaze from my face to my feet. Slowly his eyes raised to meet mine. “And I thought you’d be taller.”
Well, you were sadly mistaken on both, weren’t you?
There were those who learned of me through word of mouth, but short of hearing a detailed description there would be no real way for them to know what I’d look like if they encountered me. Other people may recognize me – if at some point in time they had seen me on an Infotron or they worked for the government. The latter would be able to identify me pretty easily; I wasn’t a typical female. Listed on my I.D. as five foot three, I was five foot zero with shoes on. I had long dirty blonde hair with sun streaked highlights, and wore military camouflage trousers, boots, and weather permitting – a tight tank top.
It was late spring and as far as I was able to calculate, I should have been somewhere in the middle of what used to be Texas. As the morning sun beat down on me, I studied him with tired eyes. I’d spent all night no differently than the last 1400 nights – on the run.
He had three weeks growth of hair on his head, and it was cut evenly, probably with clippers. The minimal amount of hair on his face indicated he’d shaven in the last day or so. I studied his right hand. His fingernails were clean. His untucked khaki shirt seemed somewhat out of place considering the unbearable afternoon temperatures in Texas. The longer I looked at him, the less I liked. Everything about him reeked of a government contractor.
A hit man.
Accurately determining someone’s age had never been one of my real strengths, but if I was forced I’d have guessed he was roughly fifty years old. He had no business being out in the middle of a field of mesquite trees where I was trying to hide. He should have been at work. If my suspicions were correct, he was either a contractor for the government or he was from the Capital. If he was on the lam, it’d only be a matter of time and they’d find him, especially if he was on the move during the day. If he was truly a contractor or from the Capital, there would only be one way out of this encounter.
The problem with having a man stumble upon me in the middle of nowhere was the fact neither of us had authorization to be where we were. I, however, had an excuse. And I desperately wanted to hear his. He raised his right hand toward the back of his neck and stretched his jaw as if he were yawning.
“Keep your hands where I can see them,” I demanded.
“I’m just stretching. It was a long night,” he sighed.
I lowered my chin slightly and shifted my right foot rearward. “Stretch all you like, but keep your hands out in the open. Which zone did you come from?”
What was formerly the United States of America had been split into zones. The center, where Kansas used to be, was the Capital and home to the government. Two imaginary lines drawn through the center of the Capital vertically and horizontally defined the four zones.
He slowly lowered his right hand to his side. “You’re a little more skittish than I expected you to be.”
Expected me to be?
Here we go again…
I twisted a little further to my right, minimizing my exposure to him. “Pull your right sleeve up real slow. Show me your scar.”
He was quick, but not quite quick enough. As soon as he reached into the waist of his pants, I pulled the Colt from my holster and flipped the safety off. As his hand rose from the small of his back, I saw the outline of an H&K USP 45 pistol.
Forgive me Lord for what I am about to do.
As the barrel of my Colt leveled with the center of his chest, I pulled the trigger once. The impact of the bullet caused him to stumble rearward. As he attempted to regain his footing, I pulled the trigger again. The second round hit him in the right upper chest. He dropped his weapon onto the ground. His eyes widened and his mouth opened slightly as he slipped from the rock he was standing on. Aggravated by his existence, I watched as his blood soaked body collapsed onto the ground. From the looks of things, he was dead before he hit the dirt.
I really don’t want to do this again.
I holstered my Colt and stepped toward the H&K he had dropped. After picking it up and pressing it into my waistband, I pulled my knife from its sheath. I looked down at his lifeless body and shook my head, wondering when or if this would ever stop. Certainly no time soon, I decided. I stepped on his right hand and bent down to inspect his bicep. With each passing minute, his body temperature would drop. Based on my experience, I figured I had about ten minutes to complete my task. As many times as I had to do it, I never became quite comfortable sucking the blood of a stranger into my mouth. I clenched my jaw and pulled up his sleeve.
I pressed the tip of the blade into the small round scar on his bicep left from the immunization until the tip hit bone. There was really no way of determining if there ever was or would be any form of virus, but each person received the same treatment, regardless. Along with it, a small microchip the size of a grain of wheat was inserted. The device, used for identification and tracking, required an even temperature between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit be maintained to prevent it from going into a state of alarm. Removal or tampering with the device was punishable by death.
Everything was punishable by death.
Anyone attempting to remove the tracker was executed. Anyone found without an operating device inserted in their arm was executed. Each person’s device was programmed with their serial number, and successful removal of it placed them on the list of rebels. Rebels were sought after and killed by the government or contractors of the government. People quickly learned not to even attempt to remove it. I, however, had found a way which seemed to work well – at least with the people I was forced to kill in defending myself and my system of beliefs.
I removed the blade from his bicep and pressed my lips onto the skin surrounding the wound. I pushed my tongue into the incision. The warm taste of copper filled my mouth. As I felt the device, I flicked the tip of my tongue around it and sucked against his flesh.
Not swallowing it was the difficult part.
As the device dislodged from his muscle and into my mouth, I rolled it beneath my tongue. Now, deciding where and when I wanted to spit the thing out was my next worry. I cleaned the blade of my knife on the thigh of his pants and placed it into the sheath. As I stood, I wiped the blood from my mouth with the back of my hand. A search of his body produced 100 rounds of .45 caliber ammunition, two spare loaded magazines for the H&K, a folding combat knife, a compass, a map, and a reasonable amount of food and water. After packing his belongings into my backpack, I began to dig a shallow grave.
It had been roughly four years since I escaped from zone 1. Zone 1 was the north west, zone 2 was the north east, zone 3 the south west, and zone 4 the south east. Now, from the best I could tell, I was in the western part of zone 4, or the south eastern part of what used to be the state of Texas.
What started as a simple argument between an off duty police officer and a civilian in 2014 quickly turned into a riot. After the Christian police officer’s killing of an unarmed Muslim civilian in self-defense, a riot promptly ensued after the officer was not indicted. Within a month, Muslims and Christians across the nation began to fight. Within 3 months, a full scale civil war enveloped the nation. At the one year mark, the government stood victorious after turning the military against the citizens. The end result was a nation prohibited from practicing any form of religion. Churches were burned or turned into schools. Assembling groups larger than 8 people was assumed to be an uprising, and was punishable by death. Books and bibles were banned, gathered, and burned. Firearms were banned and subsequently confiscated. Free reading was prohibited, and only allowed in schools or as reference during and through the course of work. Computers, televisions, cell phones, radios or communication devices, and any form of information gathering equipment was rendered useless after the cyber ban of 2015. Homes were fitted with a telephone system to communicate with the government.
All forms of money were confiscated in 2016, and the free barter system was put into place. Milk, water, potatoes, beans, rice, and meat were provided by the government to the people. Anything in addition to government provisions were simply bartered for or obtained at the drugstore with chits provided to each family on a monthly basis. Some of the old timers believed the government staged the entire event. Others were convinced it was simply a matter of time before something happened, and the government waited for the opportunity.
Children were tested at the ages of 12, 16, and 18 years old. A ‘C’ test score of 1000 or less and you were relocated to an agricultural school and taught how to farm. A ‘B’ score of 1001-1500 afforded a person more opportunities. Most B’s ended up placed in engineering or manufacturing training of some sort. An ‘A’ score of 1501-2000, and the government forced you into a technological position in the Capitol. Some A’s went to work for the military; but the military was simply an extension of the government and both were against the civilian population.
At 18 I scored 2000.
After my father was executed in early 2016 for firearms violations, there was no real reason for me to stay in my zone. Upon receiving the final test results, I sliced my bicep, removed the tracking device, and promptly left.
My father was a former Army Ranger, and had trained me for the two years preceding his death. In addition to the weapons I carried, he provided me with other items which upon my capture would ensure immediate execution; Army Field Manuals 21-76 Survival, 5-31 Boobytraps, 31-210 The Improvised Munitions Handbook, 31-21 Guerrilla Warfare & Special Forces Operations, and the Holy Bible.
I folded the shovel and placed it into my pack. Killing someone wasn’t something I enjoyed, but the alternative wouldn’t suit me or the people of the nation very well. I stood for freedom, and I stood for the people. For the last four years, I stood alone. If things went the way I hoped, I wouldn’t be alone much longer. It was time for me to meet a friend of my father’s, assemble a small Army, and make our way to the Capitol.
I simply needed to kill one more man.
The problem with not having a tracking device wasn’t as immediately threatening as one might think. To be caught for removing it, a person would have to do something to be questioned by the government and subsequently scanned. Since 2016, the military wasn’t on every street corner like they used to be. The reason most rebels were caught was primarily a result of the Responsible Citizen Act of 2016.
The Snitch Law.
A citizen who took the time to call the government and report a crime or a rebel was provided with additional food and a license to manufacture alcohol. Most snitches used the extra potatoes to make vodka. Distilling alcohol without a license was punishable by death. The only legal way to possess or consume alcohol was to be a snitch.
There were two types of citizens on the earth – those who were for the people, and those who were not. The snitches were simply avoided by most – retaliation was not an option as it was punishable by death. My biggest problem was the fact my face had been plastered on almost every Infotron in existence since I killed the first government official who was tracking me.
I had become a snitch magnet.
If things hadn’t changed drastically since the map was printed, it appeared I was in the right place. I placed the lens caps onto the binoculars and pulled the beanie from my backpack. Positioned outside the city of what used to be Longview, Texas, I’d watched the Infotron for two hours. Most were on a one and a half hour loop, repeating the information until something newsworthy required an update. Although several faces were shown on the list of rebels, mine wasn’t one of them. At least for now, I wasn’t Infotron worthy. After securing my pistols and hiding the M4 amongst some mesquite branches, I began making my way into the small town.
A few second glances and a catcall or two was all the attention I gathered. I stepped into a small store marked Produce, and wandered to the rear. From what my father had told me, Tyler owned a fruit orchard outside of the small city. If he still did, the owner or employees of the store could potentially know of him. As I scanned the selection of vegetables and fruit, I looked for anyone with inviting eyes. Honest eyes. After I wandered the store for a few moments admiring the fruit, a young man in an apron made eye contact with me for the third time.
I looked up from the display of grapefruit. “I’m looking for a man. Tyler Ardon. Do you know him?”
“What do you have to trade?” he asked.
I scrunched my brow and looked over his lanky six foot frame. As my eyes made contact with his, I slowly raised one eyebrow. “For the information?”
“No for the fruit your fingering.” he said with a smile.
He was probably twenty years old and kind of cute in his own way. His hair was unkempt in cut but neatly tossed over his head and fell into his eyes nicely. As he stood in wait, he brushed the hair from his forehead and smiled. His brown eyes expressed honesty and not an ounce of worry. I placed the fruit onto the display, reached for my wrist, and pulled against one of my many bracelets.
“For the fruit and the information, I’ll give you this,” I said as I tugged on my least favorite bracelet.
He raised his eyebrows in false wonder and tilted his head slightly. “A bracelet?”
I nodded my head and smiled. “Not just any bracelet. A hand made bracelet. Fashioned by yours truly.”
“And you are?”
I grinned, knowing I wouldn’t give him as much information as he’d hoe for. “I’m the girl with the bracelets,” I said.
“That you are. What’s it made out of?” he asked as he studied my wrist.
I released the bracelet and lifted my chin. “Twine made from tree bark. I braided it. The wire twisted around it I scavenged from miscellaneous abandoned electrical conduits. It’s copper. So, do we have a deal?”
He reached for the display and carefully selected two pieces of fruit. After admiring his selection, he extended his hands and held the produce at arm’s length and nodded his head toward my wrist. “I’ll give you three. These two and the one you were squeezing when I walked up. And I want the two-tone bracelet, not the one you were pulling on.”
I nodded my head sharply. “Done.”
He turned to the rear of the store and began slowly walking toward a table of miscellaneous fruits and vegetables. I eagerly grabbed the piece of fruit from the display and tucked it under my arm. As he placed the two he carried into a small plastic bag I smiled at the thought of being able to use the plastic material from the bags to make rope. As I fumbled with the bracelet, I turned to him and smiled.
“Can you spare a few extra bags?” I asked.
He grinned as he shoved a handful of the bags in with the fruit. “The bracelet?”
As I unclasped the bracelet and handed it to him, he surveyed the empty market. Seeming satisfied the store was free of potential patrons; he looked down into my eyes and whispered, “I really thought you’d be taller.”
“Excuse me?” I asked as I dropped the piece of fruit into the bag with the others.
“Well, rumor has it you took on four soldiers when you made your way into zone 3 in 2016. The government said you ambushed them. Rumor mill says you got all four of them before they shouldered their weapons. I tend to believe the rumor mill. You’re Jayne Jarret, right?”
There was certainly an advantage of him not knowing who I was. My choice to deny or admit my identity generally depended on my ability to trust someone. His eyes told me he could be trusted. My mind, on the other hand, wasn’t quite convinced. It never was. I’d made it this far without capture, and I really didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
“Where do I find Tyler?” I asked flatly.
He raised his hand to his chin and slowly studied me. “You didn’t answer.”
I inhaled a short breath and exhaled audibly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I just need to find a man named Tyler Ardon. We had a deal.”
He scanned the store nervously then turned to face me. “You’re Joseph Jarret’s daughter, Jayne. I said I’d help you, and I will.”
Anyone could know my father’s name.
I stood quietly and waited. He rolled his eyes and shook his head lightly. Seeming frustrated, he pushed his hands into his pockets and stared at his feet. After a long moment of silence, he turned to me and smiled. “Preacher Man.”
The hair on the back of my neck stood and a tingle shot down my spine. I hadn’t heard anyone say those words in almost six years. The fact he did angered me and excited me both.
He nodded his head softly. “I had to think for a minute. They called your dad Preacher Man.”
If he knew my father’s military nick-name he was close to someone who had known my father very well. I sighed in comfort, scanned the store for shoppers, and nodded my head once.
“Pleasure to meet you, I’m Jayne.”
“I’m James or Jimmy. The pleasure’s mine. We actually hoped you’d show up one day, but after five years, we had our doubts.”
“It’s only been four years, and for what it’s worth, there were six soldiers, not four. I shot the first four and escaped. I killed the other two thirty minutes later in the woods east of town,” I bragged.
“Duly noted. The house you’re looking for is north of here a bit. You can’t miss it; it’s a white farm house with a white fence. There’s a big sign, Ardon Fruit Farm,” he said as he stretched his arms wide and over his shoulders.
“So, how’d you know my father’s nick-name?” I asked.
He grinned as he adjusted the bracelet on his wrist. “James Ardon is my name. Tyler’s my uncle.”
“It’s a small world,” I sighed.
“And it keeps getting smaller,” he added.
He motioned to the rear of the store. “Your best bet is to take the alley. Go out the back. Follow it to the end of town, it isn’t far. The house is about a mile outside of town. It shouldn’t take you an hour at the most.”
“So, do you have a plan?” he asked.
“I do. I suppose Tyler will tell me if I’m crazy or not, but I’m ready to fight.” I nodded.
He sighed and looked up from the floor. “Tyler says all people need to stand up and fight is to truly believe in what they’re fighting for. Look around you, there’s not much for the people to believe in.”
“I guess it depends on the person. I believe in having the freedom to make choices, and I’m willing to fight for it.”
“Well, you’re not alone.” He paused and motioned toward the rear door, and then continued. “Now sneak out of here before someone recognizes you. I’ll see you after I close the shop.”
I walked toward the rear door and hesitated as I grabbed the handle. “Thank you.”
“No need to thank me now. You can save it for when we take the Capitol.”
I like the sound of that.
“Well, he probably wished it would have killed him. He wasn’t in too good of shape when I left.”
“I haven’t heard of anyone making a mousetrap bomb in ages. What did you use, a trip wire hooked to the door?” he asked.
For some time I hid in an abandoned farmhouse in the western portion of zone 3. The length of time I stayed and the frequency of my trips to the city probably attributed to them sending a soldier to search for me. It was only a matter of time. In anticipation of a visit by the government, I had fashioned a small bomb from diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate. For the trigger, I used a wooden mousetrap. Simply placing the mousetrap on the floor, securing it, and stretching a string from the snap plate to a Glade motion sensing air freshener did the trick. As soon as he entered the room, the air freshener sensed it, and detonated the bomb.
“Air freshener,” I responded proudly.
He shook his head in disbelief and narrowed his gaze. “A what? An air freshener?”
“Yes sir. You can still get them with a chit at the drug store. When motion is detected, they spritz the air with the essence of flowers. There’s a little arm that moves upward when they do. All you need to do is connect a string from the arm to the tab on the mouse trap where you’d normally put the cheese. And they’re battery operated, so they don’t need a power supply.”
He shook his head. “Your father trained you well.”
“So, you’re pretty sure no one followed you?”
“I’m positive. I circled around and came in from the rear. I’d rather be safe than sorry,” I responded.
“Well, you can stay here as long as we feel is necessary and again.” He paused as he stood from the chair.
He picked the coffee cup up from the table and clutched it in his cupped hands. “I’m sorry about your father.”
“So am I, but his death pushed me to the point where I was ready to fight,” I said as I stood.
“Sit, you need the rest. I’ll get you a refill,” he said as he leaned over and picked up my empty coffee cup.
“You know, you’re a damned sight prettier than I would have imagined. To think you came from the genes of ugly old Preacher Man. It’s hard to believe,” he said over his shoulder.
“Thank you, I guess. I never thought my father was an ugly man,” I said with a laugh.
“He wasn’t. And I was kidding – about him, not you. I never knew your mother, so maybe you take after her.”
My mother was killed in the civil war in late 2014. It was her death that turned my father against the government, at least initially. The government’s later reaction to the war was enough to solidify his position of firmly opposing them. My mother was roughly my height at barely over five foot tall, and a beautiful woman. My recollection of her was rekindled each and every time I saw my reflection.
“So how many do you think you have?” I asked as I stood from my chair and accepted the coffee he offered.
“I’d say fifty or sixty good ones, but we can’t safely travel in a pack of fifty. We wouldn’t last a day or so.” He hesitated and lowered himself into the chair.
He nodded his head as he spoke. “I say we take three plus you.”
Are you freaking nuts?
I almost choked on my coffee. “Four?”
“One as a spotter and surveillance, a sniper, one for close quarters combat, and you. Any more than that, and we’ll draw too much attention. If we plan it out well, it just might work.” He grinned and nodded his head once sharply.
My father had spoken of Tyler Ardon for some time prior to the riots. He served with him in the military for many tours in Afghanistan, and respected him as a man, a soldier, and as a Special Forces Ranger brother. Although he was considerably younger looking than I had anticipated, he was what I expected in appearance based on my father’s description. Fractionally taller than six feet, long lean muscles, a well-trimmed beard, and short neatly cut hair. My father bragged for hours and told many stories regarding Tyler’s ability to fight, and his sixth sense regarding split-second decisions during battle.
I was beginning to doubt my father altogether.
I placed my coffee cup onto the table and slowly stood. “Four?”
He nodded his head sharply and raised the coffee cup to his lips.
“Against thousands,” I stopped mid-sentence and swallowed the lump in my throat.
“Against one,” he said sharply.
I considered my response, looked up, and spoke. “One who’s protected by thousands.”
He stood from his chair and placed the coffee cup onto the table beside where he sat. “Against four who are backed by the nation, and by God.”
Well, you made a good point.
I extended my hand toward him. “Count me in.”
As he shook my hand, he smiled. “Count you in? Hell, Jayne, I’m along for the ride.”
I was afraid you’d say something like that.
“So, do you have some form of a plan?” I asked as I released his hand.
“Well, short of storming the Capitol and taking charge?” he said with a laugh as he reached for his coffee.
He stared into his coffee cup for a long moment then looked up. “I suppose so. We’ll really have to see what we’re up against once we get there, but scouts have advised me there’s a twenty foot tall concrete wall around the Capitol. We’ll scale the wall using grappling hooks, and go over and into the Capitol. From what I’ve been told, we’ll have about a sixty mile hike to get to the president once we’re in.”
“Over the wall and in? That simple, huh?” I asked.
“Well, for them to have a sentry along every inch of perimeter would be impossible. Don’t worry; we’ll do a little surveillance first. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
“I know it’s not. I just want,” I paused and considered how I wanted to word my thoughts.
He wrapped his arm around my shoulder. “I do too, Jayne. I want this to work as much as you do, maybe more.”
“You know if a person’s never been free, they have no idea what it’s really like. But to have once had freedom…” He paused, released my shoulder, and looked down into my eyes.
He lifted his hand to his face and wiped his eyes. “I want it back, Jayne. Not just for me, but for those who have never had it. It’s a little hard for me to believe I’ve been waiting for some twenty year old girl to lead me into battle.”
“Two. I’m twenty-two,” I said with a proud grin.
He laughed as he waved his arm toward the open room. “Twenty-two? Well, I’ll step aside. Lead the way.”
“I thought you knew…” I sighed.
“Knew what?” he asked.
“Rangers lead the way,” I responded proudly, repeating the Army Ranger motto my father drilled into my head for years.
He stood erect and responded sharply in the only manner I expected, “All the way.”
We stood in the kitchen and waited for Tyler to return. He raked his fingers through his hair, but it immediately fell right back into his face. He tossed his head rearward and looked down his chin toward the grapefruit. As he began to peel it, he turned to me and narrowed his gaze. He seemed fractionally more attractive than when we were in the market. Being in his presence provided me a simple feeling of comfort.
Without looking up he spoke softly. “I have a question.”
I nodded my head, and felt foolish for doing so as I realized his focus was on the fruit. “I’m all ears.”
“What took you so long?”
I didn’t really have a single answer. I stared at his fruit and became lost. I had been on the run for four years. Some days I secretly hoped they’d capture and kill me, ending my reign as a rebel. Most days I hoped to simply make it to the next. I wandered the western region of the former United States through zones 1 and 3 searching for something and not quite knowing what exactly it was. And one day, everything simply changed. In a moment of weakness, I pulled the bible from my pack and opened it, hoping for an answer.
The beginning of Romans 15 stared me in the face.
“We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”
I sat and stared at the scripture. Slowly I came to the realization I needed to do this not for myself, but for the weak people of the nation. The people who needed it the most but had the least to offer in taking a solid position against all that was evil. As my father often did, I closed the Bible and pushed my finger in between the pages, and opened it to the location my finger had randomly chosen. And, not unlike my father, I closed my eyes and pressed it to the page. As I opened my eyes, the answer became fractionally clearer through reading Psalm 18:34.
“He teacheth my hands to war, so that the bow of steel is broken by mine arms.”
I pinched a few pages and did the same thing. Oddly, my finger rested at Psalm 144:1.
“Blessed be the Lord my strength, who teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight.”
I closed the Bible and placed it into my pack. To me, it was all I needed – a little reassurance at the right time. My state of mind changed on that particular day. Instead of hiding, defending my position, and gaining absolutely nothing – I opted to begin migrating south and east – toward Texas, Tyler, and hopefully a new beginning.
I blinked and looked up into his eyes. “I don’t know. I guess I needed a little direction.”
He handed me half of the sections of his grapefruit. “Well, it wasn’t like we were all itching to scale the wall and rush the Capitol. Hell, we sat here no differently than you, I suppose. I guess we all need a little push. Something to remind us this is what we need to do.”
“All we have to do is look around us,” I responded as I peeled the sections from one another.
After swallowing, he responded. “Isn’t that the truth? But you know.”
“It’s really easy to become complacent. To tell yourself it’s alright. To accept this as being as good as it gets,” he said as he opened his arms and motioned into the empty kitchen.
I rolled my eyes and shook my head lightly. “Complacency is most of our problem. The typical citizen looks at their surroundings now and exhales a sigh of relief. They see there’s no need for money, no financial worries, and virtually no crime. Hell, six years ago the most common concerns a person had were financial, health, their job, or being the victim of a crime. Now there’s no money, healthcare is provided on an as needed basis, everyone works to support themselves or the government, and after seeing countless criminals picked up, transported to the Capital and executed, people have literally stopped committing crimes. So, people accept their sack of potatoes and bag of rice and go into the comfort of their unlocked home and relax. It makes me sick to think they’ve accepted this as being…well…acceptable.”
I lowered my shoulders, took a shallow breath, and held the remaining fruit at my side. “Do you miss music? Reading? Going to church? Making decisions without someone making them for you?”
“I do,” he sighed.
He poked the last piece of fruit into his mouth and crossed his arms. “When I was a kid, I used to have my iPod on all the time. Yeah, Imagine Dragons, I remember I listened to them. I didn’t read much, and I never really went to church, but yeah. I know what you’re saying. Hell, they’re afraid we’re going to become intelligent and stand against them if we read. I don’t need to read a book to know this is wrong.”
I separated the grapefruit into two sections and shook one of them at him as I spoke. “If you think about it long enough, it becomes so much more wrong. You know, I’ve always agreed with my father. If the news media wouldn’t have continued to push and push with the entire Muslim-Christian thing, and blasted it onto television every night, it never would have turned into a riot. Even after the riot started, they could have downplayed it. But they didn’t. Every night it continued. Then, you’d hear another. This Muslim did this in Chicago. This Christian did that in Detroit. And before you knew what happened, it was a huge mess. If the news would have left it alone, it never would have happened.”
He uncrossed his arms and began pacing the room. “Tyler believes it was a plan by the president all along. He thinks the media is tied to the government. It makes sense. The president sure didn’t stop it, and look at us now. Are you going to tell me the president didn’t plan this all along? Do you really think one day he decided he’d totally change the nation, cast Congress out, and make all the decisions on his own? Hell no. This took a lot of planning. And look at how he slaughtered all of those people in Washington D.C. when he had his special Army kill the members of Congress and the House of Representatives. He said they were hiding behind the bible. The more I talk about it the more I’m ready to get this over with.”
”Nobody is more ready than I am, Jimmy.”
We both turned toward the sound of Tyler’s voice. A bearded man appearing to be in his mid-thirties stood beside him. He was dressed in utility style khaki pants, a white tee-shirt, and boots. His curly hair was blonde, probably from repeated exposure to the hot Texas sun. He was considerably shorter than Tyler, and much more muscular. As he tilted his head from side-to-side and popped his neck, Tyler introduced him.
“This is Matt. He’ll be our sniper. Matt, this is Jayne,” Tyler said softly.
I wiped my palm on the thigh of my trousers, stepped toward the man, and extended my hand.
“Nice to meet you,” I said as he shook my hand.
He looked down at my feet, and lifted his eyes to meet mine.
Don’t say it.
“How tall are you?”
He said it without saying it. I straightened my shoulders and stood erect. “Five foot three.”
“Maybe in heels,” he chuckled.
“I don’t own any heels,” I snapped.
“Well, you’re not five foot three. You might be five foot on a good day,” he said as he shifted his eyes up and down my frame in disbelief.
“Enough,” Tyler barked.
I looked toward Tyler and tilted my head in Matt’s direction. “I don’t know if I want to go anywhere with this dick.”
Matt coughed a laugh and tilted his head toward me. “She’s got spunk.”
“Enough!” Tyler said sternly.
“Jayne, Matt’s an asshole, plain and simple. But he’s as good as it gets. He’s a former Navy SEAL and a sniper. Might be a little on the arrogant side, but all things considered…” he paused and slapped Matt on the back.
“I’m not impressed,” I shrugged as I turned away.
“She’s kinda sassy, Tyler. Maybe her daddy didn’t spank her enough,” Matt said.
As I quickly spun to face Matt, Tyler’s eyes widened and he stepped aside. I spread my stance, bent my knees, and raised my hands slightly above my waist. Ten years of Taekwondo might not have been enough for me to beat a Navy SEAL, but he’d damned sure know he’d been in a fight when it was all over.
I clenched my jaw and spoke through my teeth. “You mouthy little prick. You don’t know my father, and because he’s dead, you’ll never have the chance. I don’t need your arrogant ass to assist me in what I intend to do. Hell, I’ve been alone for four years and I’ve got along just fine. Truth be known, I imagine I’ve killed more men in the last four years than you’ve killed in your career as a Navy SEAL. If you come with us to the Capital, and that’s a mighty big if, you best not ever mention my father’s name again. That’s my best advice, are we understood?”
He tilted his chin downward slightly, “Yep.”
I shook my head in disgust, “A former Navy SEAL and that’s your best form of affirmation to a question asked of you? Yep? I’ll accept a yes, or you can forget going with me anywhere.”
He swallowed heavily and glanced at Tyler as if he couldn’t believe what was happening. Slowly his gaze shifted to meet mine. “Yes. You made yourself clear. I apologize for…”
“Save it, asshole. The damage is already done. I don’t like you. Make note of that,” I huffed.
He nodded his head once.
Tyler raised his eyebrows. His mouth slowly curled upward and into a smile. “Well, now that we’ve exchanged niceties, shall we sit and talk about this?”
After a short session of staring into Matt’s eyes, I exhaled and relaxed my shoulders.
“Sure,” I said as I hoisted myself onto one of the barstools which surrounded the kitchen island.
After the men sat down, I began. “There’s not much to discuss until we get there and see what our obstacles are. I know from experience a group of four will need to do most of the traveling under the cover of darkness. At night, we’ll make roughly 30 miles a day. It’s 460 miles to the where the president is, if Tyler’s scouts are correct. So, we’ll be fifteen or sixteen days to get there if all goes well. We can plan things out as we go.”
Matt turned toward Tyler and raised his eyebrows. “This is our plan?”
Tyler grinned and tilted his head toward Matt. “She’s right. We can’t plan what we don’t know. We can sit here and go over countless scenarios, but we have no idea what we’re up against until we get there. For now, our objective is to move north-west five hundred miles without being seen. The only problem, as far as I know, is once we make the commitment we’re going to have to go like hell. Once these tracking devices are removed, we’re screwed. They’ll come looking for us.”
I nodded my head in agreement. “We can’t move north with them intact, I’m not sure, but I imagine there’s some form of alarm if we get too close to the Capital. You know they don’t immediately come looking for you if you start moving through your zone – only if there’s a reason to.”
“Do you know that for sure?” Matt asked.
I shook my head. “No, not for sure, but I’ve seen enough people in zone 1 move around and it never became an issue. They can’t monitor the individual movement of everyone in this nation. If you’re on the run, they’ll certainly track you down. Or if you remove it, they’ll know where you are. And you know the rest of that story.”
“So, when do we take them out? And where?” Matt shrugged.
“How far is it to Shreveport?” I asked.
“Maybe sixty miles or so,” Tyler responded.
“Roll up your right sleeves. I have an idea. Oh, and for what it’s worth, this is going to hurt like hell.”
I spit one of the tracking devices out about thirty miles east of town in what used to be Marshall, Texas. After leaving another west of Shreveport, I circled south about twenty miles and dropped the last one out on some swampy rural ground. Satisfied the government would be led on somewhat of wild goose chase, I began my journey to meet the men at Matt’s ranch. Based on where I’d left the tracking devices, the government would likely assume the three men were headed to the coast. I was fairly certain they’d never imagine a girl carried the devices in her mouth for four days and spit them out in various locations. I grinned at the thought of outsmarting the government at their own little game and continued to hike north toward Longview at my best pace.
Not knowing if the authorities would come to Tyler’s ranch immediately upon his status being updated to rebel, we opted to meet at a bunker on Matt’s property north of town. He had hundreds of acres, and the possibility of being caught in the underground bunker was minimal, even if they began to look.
I took my time getting to Shreveport to reserve energy. After ridding myself of the last tracking device, my pace increased considerably. Now time was against me. Soon, the government would send a military scout or contractor looking for the men. Exhausted, I continued to move forward. The closer I got to Longview, the more excited I became. Win or lose, I was making a stand for what I believed to be right. Although the odds were heavily stacked against me I held my chin high and continued to trudge forward.
The sound of a turbo diesel engine caught my attention. Although it was in the distance, the tone from the exhaust was unmistakable. As civilians no longer had access to fuel, vehicles had become all but extinct on the roads. Some farmers had converted trucks to burn on vegetable oil or other compounds, but they were few and far between. As with everything else, it was only a matter of time and they’d be outlawed as well. The sound from any fueled vehicle would cause me to take notice, but this was the distinct sound of the government’s HMMWV or Humvee.
I crouched and worked my way to the edge of the tree line. As I reached the trees, I dropped my pack and removed my binoculars. I lowered myself to the ground and looked toward the far tree line. There were two soldiers in the vehicle. I looked at my watch. I studied the distance traveled and looked at my watch again. It appeared they were traveling approximately 30 miles per hour. They were along a wind row parallel to the row of trees I was lying in and 200 yards out. In no time they’d be directly in front of me. I was twenty miles or so from Longview, out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. There was no real reason for them to be where they were.
Unless they were looking for someone.
If they didn’t find what or who they were looking for, they’d continue until they did. And if they were searching for who I thought they were, they could potentially create problems with our journey north. Luckily, I’d moved south to eliminate the last tracking device. If there was some reason for the government to believe the three men were truly headed south, it would help matters immensely on our movement to the north. If I killed them here, south of Longview, it would support the three men moving south and being encountered by the soldiers.
I unstrapped my M4 from my pack. As the vehicle continued to approach, I tossed a loose tree branch onto the ground in front of me and began to calculate my shot.
30 miles per hour equaled one mile traveled over the passing of two minutes time, and there were 5280 feet in a mile. Half of that would be 2640 feet. So, they were traveling at 2640 feet per minute. 2640 feet divided by 60 seconds was exactly 44 feet per second. The 5.56 round from the barrel of an M4 travels at roughly 2500 feet per second muzzle velocity at this distance, on average.
The bullet needed to travel two hundred yards to reach them. Two hundred yards equaled six hundred feet. Six hundred was roughly one fourth of the 2500 feet the bullet would travel in one second; therefore it would take one fourth of a second of time for the bullet to travel from the end of my barrel to the driver’s head.
In one second, they’d travel 44 feet. One fourth of that would be exactly 11.
I needed to lead their vehicle by 11 feet.
Who said math wouldn’t come in handy?
I moved from crouched to lying in the grass beside the tree. I lowered the rifle to the ground and rested it on the tree branch. As I watched the vehicle through the sight, I waited for it to be directly in front of me. As they continued to approach, I took three deep breaths. After the third breath, the vehicle was to the right of my position, and traveling leftward. I waited two seconds and slowly squeezed the trigger.
Forgive me Lord.
The Humvee instantly veered right and crashed into the tree line it was traveling along.
With the vehicle now stationary, my next shot would be fractionally easier but it needed to be accurate and quick. I took two breaths. After exhaling the second, I waited…and squeezed the trigger again.
It appeared the passenger slumped into the seat as the bullet made impact. I continued to stare through the rifle’s sight and waited. Although I could see no movement from inside the vehicle, I couldn’t be certain if they were alive or dead from my vantage point. Two more shots into the left window of the Humvee provided me with a feeling of comfort they weren’t going to be leaving or radioing for assistance any time soon. It wasn’t uncommon to see a single military scout or government contractor. Seeing two in a vehicle was a little more common, but seeing more than two was something almost unheard of.
Satisfied they were either dead severely wounded, I stood, hoisted my pack onto my back, and slung the M4 over my shoulder. As I continued to walk toward the vehicle, I saw no signs of life from either soldier. As I cautiously made my final approach, I shouldered my M4 and peered into the window. The driver was clearly dead. The passenger, however, was still alive.
He was bleeding rapidly from an upper body wound. It appeared his lungs were filling with blood, as his breathing sounded labored and wet. As he made eye contact with me, he narrowed his gaze. He was undoubtedly in shock and upon seeing me he seemed even more confused. As I lowered the barrel of the rifle to his chest and gazed through the window, he struggled to speak.
“You’re…” He paused and took a few sucking breaths.
“A….” He inhaled and hesitated.
As he struggled to finish his thought, he took two ragged breaths and continued, “Girl…”
Seeing him suffer wasn’t something I cared to do. Considering his age, at one point in time, he was a free man. Now he had chosen to stand opposed to the people of the nation.
And I stood for them.
I turned my head to the side and pulled the trigger once.
Yes, I am.
And my name’s Jayne Jarret.
“Two hundred yards into the window of a moving Humvee? With a 14 and a half inch barreled rifle? That’s impressive.” Matt said with a nod of his head.
“How far south?” Tyler asked.
“Fifteen miles. Give or take,” I responded.
He narrowed his eyes and looked down at the floor as if he wanted a different answer. James and Matt quietly inventoried ammunition and assembled weapons as Tyler and I spoke. The weapons were neatly placed on a wool blanket on the concrete floor, and the ammunition was stacked on the edge of the blanket. The bunker was surprisingly large, but came as no surprise considering Matt was a former Navy SEAL and resided in Texas. My father always told me the men in Texas would be the last group you’d want to try and disarm.
“Well, the M4’s and the pistols you got from them will come in handy. And we can never have too much ammo. How many rounds?” he asked.
“Several hundred,” I responded proudly as I lowered the extra pack onto the floor.
He didn’t respond.
I shrugged my shoulders. “I was maybe five miles north of where I dropped the last device. I imagine they were in the area and got a call, or maybe they came directly from the Capital. I guess from the time I dropped the first one until I dropped the last one, it was two days. It’s possible they were there for different reasons altogether, but it’s unlikely.”
“Not likely,” Tyler said as he looked up from the floor.
“Well, either way. They’ll think we’re headed south,” I assured him.
“She’s right,” Matt interrupted as he stood.
“The fact they were twenty miles south of here means a lot. Hell, there’s nothing twenty miles south of here, and especially in the country along a tree line. If she followed the same wind row north, they probably did the same thing. They went to where she spit the damned thing out, and tracked back along the tree line,” he said as he walked past Tyler and toward the coffee pot.
“They were traveling south, probably headed to the device, not from it. It doesn’t really matter much now. It’s over.” I said.
James, still sitting on the edge of the blanket with a disassembled M4 in his lap, turned to face Tyler and me. “I think we should go get their uniforms, wear them, and drive the Hummer to the Capital.”
I shook my head. “Bad idea. They were both covered in blood, and the only thing we’d gain if it went perfectly would be a little time. What we’d stand to lose if we were encountered in a government vehicle is everything. They’d kill us on the spot.”
“Oh, and I already took their trousers, they’re in the pack.”
Tyler chuckled as he lowered his coffee cup. “Stole their trousers. Nice move, Jayne. And she’s right. That’s a bad idea, Jimmy.”
James shifted his focus to his lap and swung the upper receiver onto the M4 lower and locked it into place. “Just a thought.”
Tyler turned to face me. “Jayne, you should get some rest. You’ve had a hard week. You did real well, and in case you’re wondering, you did the right thing with the soldiers.”
I nodded my head as I considered what I’d been through in the last five days. Killing the two men was the only thing which seemed extraordinary, but it didn’t feel out of place or contrary to what I should have done. As I watched Tyler finish his cup of coffee, I wondered just how desensitized I had become to taking another person’s life. In my current state of mind, the soldiers weren’t people; they were nothing more than an obstacle between me and my objective.
“We’ve been sitting here for five days cleaning and re-cleaning weapons while drinking coffee. Get some sleep and we’ll start our journey north tomorrow,” Tyler said as he poured another cup of coffee.
I yawned as I began to speak. I truly was exhausted. “You’re right. I’ll get some sleep. I’ll need all the rest I can get.”
“Bedroom on the left has a nice mattress in it,” Matt chimed.
“I’ll take it,” I said as I turned toward the rear of the bunker.
Not having a place to call home caused me more grief than I ever would have imagined. In some respects I had more freedom than the people who were forced to work or comply with the wants and wishes of the government, but I felt at times as if I were serving some form of self-imposed prison sentence. My decision to run had lasted four years, and having no place to lay my head, feel safe, or be surrounded by people who loved or cared for me had become all too common. Looking into the future and seeing myself without freedom, a family, or a home to call my own wasn’t satisfying in the least. I was ready to make a change and I longed for the freedom to live a life without constantly looking over my shoulder.
Growing up, I was never really what one could describe as a typical girl. The only child of a man who more than likely wished for a boy, I grew up doing boyish things in a world where all I yearned for was pleasing my absent father. At the age of 6, I began taking Taekwondo lessons. This continued religiously until the civil war began. I had never questioned my sexuality nor did I have a reason to do so, but I grew up feeling like a boy trapped in the body of a girl. Oddly, as proud as I was of my natural beauty and resemblance of my mother, I stood more proud of the fact I knew how to field dress a deer and clean my own rifle after my father and I went on a hunt.
My mother raised me in my father’s absence, but I was and will always remain a girl influenced by the habits, desires, and beliefs of my father. Satisfying my father satisfied me. I lived my life until his death receiving praise for the things I did well, and further direction or an expanded explanation for the things I did not. As an adult, I feel my father would stand proud of the woman I had become. Without a doubt, he would hold his head high in knowing I had chosen to take a stand against the very government who killed him for merely possessing a hunting rifle.
My father did not believe in vengeance, nor did I. I did believe, however, in standing up for those who were either incapable or unwilling to stand for themselves. My father fought wars in an effort to keep the United States of America a free country, and to potentially provide a better life for the people in countries less fortunate than ours. I, no differently than he, will continue to fight my own war in hope of once again placing this country firmly on the foundation it was built upon.
My father received awards and commendations for his actions and bravery in the war in Afghanistan. When I asked if he felt like a hero, he responded quite differently than I expected.
J.J., I suppose I’ve always been a hero. You see, fighting the battle doesn’t create a hero, but it’s during the battle we’re fighting when the hero already within us is revealed.
When the time came, I hoped I would be able to dig deep within myself and find the strength to push harder, go further, and overcome any fear which may be within me. Tomorrow would be the beginning of whatever the future held for us. I found some comfort in the belief I didn’t make it as far as I had by accident. I had my reservations, however, on the group’s ability to make it to the Capital and obtain our objective.
“You’re still not asleep?”
The sound of Tyler’s voice brought me out of my semi-conscious state.
I raised myself onto my elbows and looked toward the doorway. “No, just kind of thinking about tomorrow. Wondering, I suppose.”
He stood in the doorway, placed his hands on his hips, and sighed. “Jayne, let me tell you something. Alexander the Great once said I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion. It may seem a little strange to you, but I’m not leading this crusade, you are. And I’ll tell you why. You’re our lion. Goodnight, Jayne.”
As I heard his footsteps fade away I closed my eyes and hoped he was right. After a few moments of continuing to wonder what the next day might bring, I opened my eyes and stared at the small sliver of light cast against the ceiling of the otherwise dark room.
And I growled.