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A Scene from Dystopia, Ch 2

January 16, 2019

I wrote this about the same time as I wrote the first chapter, which I posted some time ago. I’ve resisted the urge to edit as I go, so this one is pretty rough, as are all the others that I’ll post here over time. Anyway, here it is.

Chapter 2

The motorcycle is running well today. In spite of the coolness of the morning, it starts with the first bump of the starter, carbureted engine and all. I nod to Bruce, my middle son, who will start today by being the south side outrider. He will be on one of the Honda Ranchers, which he already has running and ready to go. At 6’4”, he is an impressive looking figure. Slender and all lean muscle, with blonde hair, bright blue eyes and wearing leathers for his ride, he sort of looks like Tom Petty as the Bridge City Mayor.

“You sure you have all your gear?” He’s a grown man but I can’t keep myself from being the concerned parent. He will be on the side nearest Eastland. If there’s trouble, he could be right in it.

“Yes, I have all my gear.” His inflection is a little flat. He is here physically, but I can tell he isn’t all that thrilled to be riding with me. My fault, probably, at least from his perspective. Hell, if I were he I probably wouldn’t like me either.

“Remember, your job is to look and report back what you see, not engage. Make sure you –“

“Dad. Do you trust me to do this or not? We talked about all this stuff and drilled it for months. I’ve got this.”

I can’t keep myself from sighing. “You’re right. Sorry.”

I look at the other outrider, one of the guys from Ian’s team, I can never remember his name – not a good failure for a leader. I start thinking about how to fake it with radio comms when it comes to me. “You all set and ready, Jason?” He nods in response.

“Yep.”

The guitar and dishes are put away and our group is ready to go. They won’t move, though, until they get the “all clear” from the outriders. We discovered yesterday, when we first pulled onto the railroad right of way, that progress would be slow. The gravel-covered bed and rough terrain makes anything approaching highway or even back road speeds impossible. Between that and the less than impressive performance of our ATVs, every minute wasted is really going to put us behind. We need to get moving and I’m just procrastinating. Time to go.

I make a final check of my weapons and gear, make sure my radio is set to our designated secure guard channel, plug in and put in the noise cancelling earbuds, wave to my wife and then my other two sons and give the word. “Outriders, move out.” I pull out, keeping the tracks to my left as I head toward Eastland noting that Bruce and Jason head south and north respectively. I’m nervous as hell. Hopefully, I’ll settle down in a bid.

It is the rainy season and with us being east of Abilene, there is already a lot more dew. There is a low hanging, heavy mist in the air and it wets the legs of my jeans after just a few minutes. Today, I am riding the middle scout position which means I’ll be following the tracks pretty closely, while Bruce and Jason will be roughly following the roads south and north of the tracks. This will be our first full day of traveling beside the railroad tracks and if I want people to ride outrider, I need to set the example for how it should be done, so I ramp up the situational awareness, forcing myself into condition yellow when what I really want is to be sleeping next to my wife in our bed at home.Wish in one hand and do the other thing in the other and I would still be here.

Keep your mind on what you’re doing! Time for a comms check.

“Phalanx, this is Ranger. Comms check for the outriders, over.” Bob’s running comms for the main group. While I questioned the wisdom of RPG related names for radio comms, we’ll see how it works. He comes back immediately with “Ranger, this is Phalanx. I have you loud and clear, over.”

“Roger, Phalanx. Outriders, check in.”

“Phalanx, this is Mage.”

“Phalanx, this is Wanderer.”

“Mage and Wanderer, this is Phalanx. I have you both loud and clear. How’s it lookin’ out there?”

“Phalanx, this is Wanderer. All good.”

“Phalanx, Mage. It’s fine.”

My turn. “Phalanx, this is Ranger. All clear so far. I’m coming up on Eastland now. I’ll give you a follow up in one-five minutes, over.”

“Ranger, this is Phalanx. Roger that. Update in one-five minutes. Anything else to pass?”

“Phalanx, Ranger. Negative, nothing to pass. Ranger out.”

The tracks take a turn to the southeast just before they enter Eastland. I pull to a stop and check my map. Looks like the tracks here are crossing North College Avenue, which puts me on the northern edge of town. I look at my watch and notice it is almost time for a comms check. Just as I get ready to check in, my radio starts sqauwking in my ear.

“Dad, this is Bruce. I have a problem!”

Shit. He has trouble bad enough for him to break our radio protocol. I feel my heart start to pound in my chest.

“Mage, this is Ranger. What’s going on, over?” The Coast Guard drilled radio comms into me, so it feels natural to follow it now. Maybe it’ll help keep me calm.

“There’s a road block ahead of me and people just pulled in behind me. What should I do?”

I can hear the panic in his voice. Bruce is probably the most level-headed and even-tempered man I know. Even without a ton of tactical experience this is sounding Not Good.

“Mage, Ranger. What’s your location, over?” I check my weapons, waiting for a response.

Nothing.

Come on, Bruce. Where are you, son?

“Mage, this is Ranger. What is your location, over?”

“Wanderer, this is Ranger. Have you copied this, over?”

“Ranger, Wanderer. Roger that. Do you require assistance, over?”

What the hell kind of question is that? My son is in trouble and I don’t know where he is. Of course I require assitance!

“Wanderer, Ranger. Roger that. Standby for instructions.”

“Ranger, Wanderer. Standing by.”

“Ranger, this is Mage, over.” Finally, thank God.

“Mage, Ranger. Go.”

“I’m on Hillcrest, between Patterson and uh, West Main, over.” He’s trying to force himself to at least approximate protocol. Good. That’ll help him stay calm. I look at the map, again. He is west and south of me, about a half-mile away. The Kawasaki screams as I start moving, pushing it to redline with each gear.

“Mage, this is Ranger. It’ll be okay. I”m headed your way. Just stay calm. Where are the roadblocks and the people behind you, over?”

“Ranger, Mage. The roadblock is on Commerce, I think and the people behind me are about a block north of Patterson, but they’re moving closer. What should I do?”

“Mage, Ranger. Can you get to West Main and head east?”

“I think so.”

Screw radio protocol. “Then do it. Push the ATV as hard as it’ll go. Jason, head my way and wait where the tracks cross College.”

“Okay, dad.”

“Roger, Ranger.”

Suddenly, I hear the sound of gun shots in my headset, louder that way than what I hear from outside the noise cancelling earbuds I’m wearing.

“Damn! They’re shooting at me. I think they hit my ride.” He sounds calmer than I would in that situation.

Up ahead I can see the sign for Main Street. I don’t see any traffic, so I swing wide to the left and then lean the bike hard to the right, rolling on throttle as I force it through the turn faster than I should, the dual sport style tires skittering as they try to break traction. Somehow, the bike stays shiny side up and snaps upright as I straighten my track onto Main Street. Up ahead, I see Bruce, leaning low across the handle bars. We meet about half way down the street, both of us pulling to a stop. I can see the locals, if that’s what they are, pulling onto the west end of the street from both the north and the south. My quick count tells me there are maybe 15 or so of them in three pickups and an old Jeep Grand Cherokee. Not good odds, we need to go.

“Are you hit?” I swear, if he has been shot I’m going to kill all of them. And anyone who loves them. And anyone who loves the ones who love them.

“No, I’m fine.” He looks okay. Worried, but okay.

“Okay, let’s get out of here. Ride that thing as hard as it’ll go. Left turn onto College and head north to the railroad tracks.”

“Wanderer this is Ranger. How close are you, over?”

“Ranger, Wanderer. I’m pulling up to the tracks, now.”

Bruce is moving now, pushing his Rancher rapidly up to its top speed of 55 miles per hour. As he reaches the corner, the ATVs less than perfect steering forces him to slow to navigate the turn. Even then, I can see his Rancher tilt briefly up onto two wheels before dropping back onto all four as he straightens up coming out of his turn. Looking over my shoulder, I see the vehicles drawing closer. I know I can outrun them on the bike, but if something doesn’t change, they’ll be on Bruce before he can get away.

There’s a couple of old highway concrete barricades on the northeast corner of Main and College, sitting in the dirt driveway of the remnants of burned out house. That’s my target. I cut the turn short and rocket to the far side of the street, squeezing hard on the front brake and standing on the rear, pushing the bike into a stoppie. Bailing off, I don’t even bother with the kickstand. Instead, I’m headed for the far side of the barricade, as hard as I can run, screaming into the microphone as I go. “Do not stop! Jason, Bruce, both of you get back to the group.”

I drop behind the barricade as the first bullets slam into the concrete.

***

Ian patted his “baby” brother, Duncan, on the shoulder as he walked by. Of course, most people who have a baby brother don’t have one who towers above them by five inches. Just a little shorter than Bruce, Duncan was a little more heavily built and not quite as blonde. As for Ian, he was 5’9” when he stood ramrod straight and considerably heavier in build, with what his dad called “linbacker shoulders.”

“What’re you driving, today?”

Duncan turned his way, holding up a single finger to ask the person he had wanted to talk to to wait for a moment. “I think I’m scheduled for the big Jeep, the, uh, Grand Wagoneer.”

Ian chuckled. “Ah. All comfort for you, then. I’m in that stupid pickup. Hate that thing. Rides like a rock and Bob says it’ll make the trip, but know much more than that.” Bob was one of their two mechanics. If he said the truck was going to die, it was only a matter of time before it happened. Hopefully, it would make it the whole trip. They had a lot of important gear packed in it and the trailer it pulled. “Drive safely, Duncan.” He headed on up the line of vehicles to touch base with his team while Duncan turned back to the person still waiting for him. He was almost to his team’s group of vehicles when he saw Carol urgently waving him her way from the lead pickup. “Guess my team will wait,” he muttered. She was still waving with the same urgency and her face looked concerned. He remembered the lead truck was also the comms truck and that his dad, Bruce and Jason from his team were on patrol. “Shit.” He broke into a run, ignoring everyone who spoke to him as went by.

“What’s going on, Carol?” From her face, he could tell it was not good. He noticed that Bob, Linda and “the boys” were all huddled in the dual cab pickup, listening to the radio. Carol’s eyes were hard as she stared at him. “I need you to go back up your dad and brother. They’ve had some issues with locals and I’m worried things’ll go bad.”

“What kind of ‘issues’ have they had? I’m sure they’ll be okay. None of ’em want a fight and even my dad won’t want to engage if he can avoid it.” He knew his dad pretty well. All he would want was to get them all clear. “Why the concern?”

“Ian, Bruce is on patrol and he doesn’t ride motorcycles real good, yet.” Damn. She was right. And the ATVs were slower than anything else they had. Each one of them had a rev limiter that kicked in somewhere around 55 mph. Now he understood.

“And dad’s only concern will be getting Bruce out. Shit.” He turned toward the cab of the pickup, words on his lips, when the radio traffic began. It took him a second to translate the pops he heard into something he recognized when he heard voice comms.

“Damn! They’re shooting at me. I think they hit my ride.” That was Bruce’s calm voice.

Carol turned from looking at the cab, speaking as she did. “You need to go help –“ She let her voice taper off. Ian was already sprinting toward the pickup he was to drive that day. Seconds later, he had disconnected the trailer, grunting with the effort of doing it by himself but not willing to wait for help. A quick dash and he was in the cab. She heard the engine start and he pulled out of line, then punched the accelerator, throwing gravel over all the assembled people and vehicles as he roared away from the convoy, the truck picking up speed and bouncing over the uneven ground as he went.

***

Ben Hooper was in the lead truck. That was how it was supposed to be, wasn’t it? He was the leader of Eastland, these days, and leaders had to lead from the front. That’s what he had read, anyway, years ago when he first started prepping. He had laid in a decent supply of food, but he had mainly focused on weapons, figuring those would be handy in making sure he could get what he needed when things went to hell. He’d built a team of people who saw things the way he did; people who knew they were going to have to be strong enough to take what they needed. That was how things were. It’s how the country was built and how people like him would build it again. He and his group of “patriots” had found it pretty easy to take over when things started to go really bad. They had spent months watching, figuring out who seemed to be doing okay when others were not. When the food ran out, they had simply called the more prepared “hoarders” and the hungry populace had turned on them. He had overseen the executions himself. By the time most people figured out what was going on, the people who might have most successfully resisted were dead, either by execution or disease, and he and his group of thugs were firmly in control. It was nice, having the choice of the best food and drink…and anything else he wanted.

Being in charge had its downside. He had not thought to recruit farmers and gardeners, so when the supplies he and his group had taken from others began to run short, there was no one to produce more food. Those folks had all left or been killed by he and his friends. As a result, people, including his people, began to look to him for a solution. When he did not have one right away, his second in charge, Frank Church, the guy he called his right hand man, had even attempted to take over. He had gone behind Ben’s back, “like a little bitch” Ben thought, and recruited people to help him take over. Frank’s plot would have probably succeeded too, if not for one thing. Frank was sleeping with another man’s wife. When someone tried to recruit the husband into the group of plotters, he had gone to Ben, who had been very sympathetic. That night, he and the jealous husband had chained closed the doors of the three adjoining houses the plotters shared, and set them ablaze. That was the end of the plot. It had also decreased the size of Ben’s group of thugs, but left him firmly in charge of them and the town.

Years before he had read about preppers whose plan was to take what they needed from others. There was not really anyone in town to take stuff from, but, every few days to weeks, the occasional traveler would come through, headed for some place they had heard about that supposedly had food, water and security. By the time they got to Eastland, they were weary, fatigued from lack of food and easy to pick off. Between what they could take from the travelers they killed and the size of his now much smaller gang, they did okay.

And so, this morning, when one of his watchmen had reported a lone rider coming in on an ATV, they had gone into action. As expected, the stranger had run. Not a problem, their trucks could outrun any ATV. The motorcyclist had been unexpected. His decision to come to a stop and make a stand had been even more so.

Ben called his group to a halt just as they started to turn onto College. No point in getting too close. Pointing to the motorcyclist who was running hard for cover he started giving orders. “Kill that asshole!” That was something his guys knew how to do. They started firing and bullets began hitting the concrete barricade.

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2 Comments
  1. OldNFO permalink

    Nicely done. Ramping the tension up, and typical father’s response… 🙂

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