Ted was sitting in the coach with Brianna and Stacey, watching a local San Francisco public station on TV. There was a sleepy conversation going on about Martial Law and how to make the most of it, with an equally sleepy live studio audience there to watch and ask questions.
“These people are brain-dead,” Brianna said. “I think I’m done.” She got off the couch. “Don’t be too long, honey.”
“Okay,” Stacey said. He watched her walk into the bedroom. “Wow.”
“You like her, don’t you?” Ted asked softly.
“I love her,” he said. “She’s so far out of my league, though. Hope I don’t lose her once things settle down again. She’ll have more selection.”
“Give her some credit, Stacey.”
“You’re right,” he said. “Where’s Haley?”
“She’ll be along. Needed some time to think.”
“You like her, don’t you?” Stacey asked, then paused. “You don’t have to tell me.”
“Yes, I do like her,” Ted said. “Not sure that the feeling is mutual. I’m hoping.”
“Good,” Stacey said. “Don’t give up.”
“I won’t. Listen to these idiots.”
The panel was two women and one man, sitting at a table on stage, with a moderator at the head, who was fielding questions from the studio audience, and asking some himself.
“Kimberly, what is it about the new reality that is working best for you?” the moderator asked.
“That’s hard to say, Chuck,” she said, moving her shiny brown hair away from her face, her unisex shirt and vest looking a little too warm for the studio lights. “If I had to pick just one thing, I’d say it’s my commute time.”
“Commute time? How so?”
“When they laid out the grids, my job was seven grids away from my apartment. After about a month, they got me moved to a different job which is walking distance from my home. It’s much more environmentally sound.”
What a moron,” Stacey said. He looked at Ted, and they both snickered.
“We have a question from the front, there,” the moderator said, pointing to the man raising his hand in the audience. “Go ahead. Which pronoun would you like us to use?”
“They would be fine. Thank you for asking.”
“Sure, no problem,” the moderator said. “Go ahead, please.”
“Hi, Kimberly. Is the job that you left the same as the new job they gave you? Oh, and do you like it as much?”
“I like it about as much as my original job,” Kimberly said, “but it’s lower level. In the old patriarchy I would’ve lost money, but I’m still getting the standard livable wage now, just like everybody else.” She paused, looking at the moderator. “What was his other question?”
There was murmuring from the audience.
“Kimberly, please use they’s chosen pronoun.”
“Oh, geez, I’m so sorry,” Kimberly said, her face turning red.
“Not a problem,” the audience member said. “You basically already answered it, anyway. You said it was a lower-level job, so it’s not the same.”
“Yes, they’s right,” Kimberley said.
“Another question from the audience,” the moderator said. “This will be it, then we’ll need to move to one of the other panelists.”
A woman stood up, wearing a yoga outfit. She had tattoos going up both sides of her neck and many piercings on her face. “I’m Smith Five. Please refer to me as they as well.”
“That’s an unusual name,” the moderator said. “Does it have a meaning?”
“I’m the fifth living person in my family, whose last name is Smith. We all changed to that model, to fight the patriarchy. It kept us from having a gender tag placed on us for life.”
An older man in the audience laughed out loud. There was rustling around, and the man was dragged out of his seat by two large ushers.
“Some people still don’t get it,” Smith Five said, rolling her eyes.
“Are these idiots worth saving?” Stacey asked. Ted shot him a glance, shaking his head.
“Your question, please?” The moderator asked.
“Oh, yeah, sorry. If you’d have wanted to stay in your original job, could you have? I’m asking because I’m in a job that I love, and I’m three grids away from home. I’m being told that I’ll be moved.”
“I was told I had a choice, but when I talked to my boss, I found that wasn’t the case,” Kimberly said. “Not that I minded that much.”
“Were you given a reason?” Smith Five asked.
“We’ll have to cut this question short,” the moderator said.
Somebody else in the audience stood up. “You folks need to read the fine print.”
“Sit down, please,” the moderator said. “You haven’t been called on.”
“Whatever,” the young man said. “My name is Ben Dover. Oh, and I identify as he, since I have a penis. The employers pay a tax for any worker who lives outside of their grid. It goes up based on how many grids away the employee’s home is.”
“That will be enough,” the moderator said.
“It’s just the truth,” Ben Dover said.
The audience broke into outrage. The man laughed, and tossed something on stage. It started to emit smoke, causing somebody in the audience to scream. People started to leave their seats in a panic. Two big men rushed Ben Dover and wailed on him with batons, dropping him to his knees. Then they dragged him out as blood flowed from his head. The screen went blank.
“My God,” Ted said. “This is gonna be harder than we thought.”
“Ben Dover is my hero,” Stacey said. He looked at Ted and they both cracked up.
“Yeah, maybe we can recruit him, if he lives through this.”
The door opened, Haley coming up the steps.
“I think I’ll go to bed now,” Stacey said, getting up.
“Don’t leave on my account,” Haley said.
“The show’s over anyway. Ben Dover ended it with a bang.” Stacey chuckled and walked into the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
“What was that all about?” she asked, sitting down next to Ted.
“San Francisco local TV,” Ted said. “We’re gonna have our work cut out for us. Some of these folks are beyond help.”
“What do you mean?” Haley asked.
“We just watched a panel discussion on their local public station. They were talking about the benefits of martial law. It was a politically correct hot mess.”
“What were the benefits of martial law?” she asked.
“You know how they break the cities into grids?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Didn’t pay much attention to it before I got nabbed by the UN.”
“Down south they didn’t go as far before the people ended it,” Ted said. “They laid out the grids, and made the employers pay a tax for employees who didn’t live in the same grid as their job. I was getting ready to pay a tax on Stacey, since he lived a couple grids away. Robbie was in the restaurant’s grid, so there was no tax.”
“That sounds pretty bad,” Haley said. “Are they doing that up here?”
“They’re taking it a step further,” Ted said. “To be environmentally sound, they’re forcing people into jobs closer to their homes.”
“You’re kidding,” Haley said. Then she shook her head. “I don’t’ know why I said that. They made a sex slave out of me. If you’re willing to do that, you’d be okay with just about anything.”
“We saw them beat up one person in the audience and drag another one away tonight,” Ted said. “I suspect the one they beat is in bad shape now. They hit him on the head repeatedly with their batons as they dragged him away.”
“What did they do?”
Ted stretched, yawning. “The guy they took out first laughed at something in a way that wasn’t politically correct. The guy they beat up threw a smoke bomb, after making fools out of them.”
“That must have been the one Stacey called Ben Dover.”
Ted snickered. “Yep. He told the moderator that was his name.”
“Geez,” Haley said.
“They’ve gone full Marxist up here. Everybody is getting paid the same “sustainable wage” regardless of job. One of the panel members told the crowd that she’d been moved out of her original job because it was too far from home. She was put into a lower level job, but with the same money everybody else makes.”
“Well, keep one thing in mind,” Haley said. “That mindset is probably not the mindset of the majority up here. It’s propaganda. Sounds like they were unable to keep at least two dissenters out of their audience.”
“Good point,” Ted said.
“You tired yet?”
“Not really,” Ted said. “I was getting there, but the show fired me up a little.”
“Good. Let’s go for a walk.”
He looked at her, worry on his face. “You’ve been thinking about things.”
She shook her head. “What do you think I was doing out there?”
“Sorry,” he said. “Sure, I’ll go for a walk.”
“There’s a nice gazebo on the far side. We can be alone there.”
“Expecting this to get heated?” Ted asked. “I won’t be mad, no matter what you tell me. You know that, I hope.”
“If I thought you’d get mad, I wouldn’t take you off someplace where we can’t be heard, now, would I?”
He sighed. “Sorry.”
“Quit saying sorry,” she said. “Let’s go.”
They got up and left the coach, Ted closing the door as quietly as he could.
They walked into the crisp night air. Half the coaches were dark now as people were retiring for the night.
“Peaceful out here,” Ted said.
“It is,” Haley said, looking over at him in the darkness. “Do you trust Ivan?”
Ted chuckled. “Yes, I trust him, and I hope Jules is right about him.”
“What’d Jules say?”
“That the war has changed his focus, and that he might be done as a mob boss,” Ted said. “I suspect that he can’t be done being a mob boss, even if he wants to be, but we’ll see. He’s connected to a lot of people who might want him unable to talk.”
“Has he murdered people?”
“Personally? I doubt it, but I don’t know for sure. He was in Special Forces, so he can be physically dangerous. You know he’s not really Russian, right?”
“Well, he has no accent,” she said.
“Yes he does,” Ted said. “He has a Southern California accent. He grew up in Torrance.”
“That’s really true? Somebody was saying that a while back, but I didn’t believe it.”
“Yeah, it’s true,” Ted said. “Frankly, I think he’s worked with governments as much as against them over the past ten years.”
“Which governments? Russia?”
Ted laughed. “He was part of the Russian government after the USSR broke up. The mob did there what they wanted to do in Cuba, before Castro upset the apple cart.”
“Until they got a strong dictator, anyway,” Haley said.
“Yep,” Ted said. “He went to the EU mainly to mess with the globalists.”
“He was still running organized crime, though, wasn’t he?”
“Had to bring in money somehow,” Ted said. “We parted ways for a while at that time.”
“But you’re with him again now,” Haley said. “There’s the gazebo.”
“Yeah, I’m with him again now. He kinda tricked me into it, but truth be told, this is a fight I want to be in. How could I not?”
They entered the gazebo, which was dimly lit with moonlight. There were lounges and chairs in there, and a bench-seat swing. Haley sat in the swing and patted the spot next to her. Ted shot her a worried glance and sat next to her.
“I know what you are,” she said softly.
He stared at her blankly for a moment.
“You’re a patriot,” she said.
“Don’t think I totally agree, but thanks.”
“Why wouldn’t you agree?”
“I’m not selfless,” he said.
She smiled at him, her blue eyes locked with his, framed by her blond hair. “Do you think George Washington was selfless? Or Jefferson? Or Franklin?”
“I’m not like them,” Ted said. “I’m part of the resistance. That’s all.”
“So were they, but enough of this. That’s not why I brought you out here.”
Ted took a deep breath. “I know. Enough with the small talk.”
“That wasn’t small talk,” she said. “You still look afraid.”
“Of course,” he said.
“I understand,” she said. “You think you’re going to lose me. That’s not going to happen, so settle down. All right?”
“I’ve been attracted to you since the day we met,” Haley said, watching for his reaction. “I’ve kept you at arm’s length on purpose, and it’s been hard for me.”
“Because you didn’t know how I felt?”
She laughed. “I know you’re interested. Known for a while now. I was hoping it was going to just simmer until this mess is over. You and I both know that’s not going to work anymore.”
“We can go back to how it was, for now,” Ted said.
“No, we can’t,” she said. “The cat’s out of the bag now. There’s no putting it back. I should’ve expected one of us to slip.”
“You’re sounding like you feel the way I do,” Ted said, staring at her face.
She laughed. “Hell, I’m as much in love with you as you are with me.”
“What?” he asked.
“Don’t be shocked. Who do I spend all my waking hours with?”
“So, you wanted me to make a move all this time?” Ted asked.
“No, like I said, I was hoping it would simmer until this mess is over.”
“Because I’m a coward,” she said. “I knew that when we got started, it would become the most important part of our world. Make plans and the devil laughs.”
Ted shook his head. “We were both separately in the same place, weren’t we?”
“So it would appear.”
“Why can’t we just put the cat back in the bag for a while, and be friends?”
“You broke the ice,” she said. “There’s no going back. Not that I want to now. That would’ve only worked if we both would have preserved it.”
“Then you’re upset with me?”
“Upset? No, that’s not the right word,” she said. “I was hoping our timing would be different, but truth be told, I couldn’t have held back much longer anyway. One of us was going to do it. Turned out to be you, but it could’ve just as easily been me.”
“You’re awful calm about this,” Ted said.
“No I’m not. I’m going crazy inside. Both of us are like that, you know. We’ll have to work on that if this is going to last.”
“You’ll be with me? You want that too?”
“Yes, but we need to work a few things out,” she said. “And you have to keep your mouth shut about some things. Do you promise?”
“Yes,” he said, brow furrowed. “Is this gonna be something bad?”
“I don’t want to be pregnant,” she said. “Not during this mess. Later, maybe, but not now. We have to use birth control. You gonna be okay with that?”
“I have no problem with that at all,” Ted said. “It’s too dangerous to be pregnant right now. Surprised we haven’t had problems already.”
“What makes you think we haven’t?”
“Uh oh,” Ted said. “That look on your face scares me a little bit.”
“Some of us got pregnant during captivity,” she whispered. “I was one of them.”
“Oh no,” Ted said. “I’m so sorry. You’re not pregnant now, though. You’d be showing.”
“The doctor,” Ted said. “Losing her was really bad.”
“She was able to hook us up with something.”
“When?” Ted asked.
“At the Volvo dealership. We got a delivery that none of you noticed. It was risky. Didn’t work with all of us.”
“I thought those pills were only effective for seventy-two hours afterwards,” Ted said.
“You know more than most men,” she said. “It can be up to five days, but it doesn’t always work.”
“How did you know you were pregnant? It was so early.”
“I know when I ovulate, and I know the feeling when it takes,” she said, looking down.
“That’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Ted said.
“I know, but it still hurts. It worked with all but one of us.”
“Who?” Ted asked. “Never mind, that question was out of line.”
“It was Lily,” she said, tears filling her eyes.
“Oh,” Ted said, looking at her. “Oh God.”
“Yeah,” she said. “Don’t tell anybody. I mean it.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“We’ll have to get something soon,” she said. “Pills make me blow up like a balloon, and women in my family have a hard time with IUDs. You know what that leaves.”
“No problem. Wonder what the other couples are using?”
She laughed. “Some aren’t using anything. There are a couple who are already pregnant.”
“Are they gonna take care of it?”
“They want it,” Haley said. “Won’t make much difference for six months or so. Assuming the stress doesn’t cause them to miscarry.”
“This conflict will still be going for six months, at least.”
“I know, I’ve seen the icons on the maps. Rooting these creeps out is gonna be a big deal. If I thought it were only six months, I wouldn’t worry.”
He looked at her face, passion rising fast. “You’d want to?”
“Yes,” she said, her breath coming a little quicker.
“Wow,” Ted said, moving closer to her. “You’re getting worked up.” He slipped his arms around her, but she leaned away.
“Wait, we’re not done talking yet.”
He froze. “Sorry. Go ahead.”
“When I commit, I do it intensely. Think you can handle that?”
“Yes,” Ted said.
“You don’t want to know what I mean by that?”
“We understand each other,” Ted said.
“What do you think I mean?”
“You mate for life,” Ted said. “I demand the same thing.”
“Oh, yes,” she said, pulling him close. They kissed, long and deep, both trembling. They broke it, and she stood up.
“Want to go back?”
“We could, but don’t you want to see me naked?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, starting to get up.
“No, sit,” she said, starting to unbutton her blouse.
“We don’t have anything,” he whispered.
“It’ll be okay for a couple days,” she said, a twinkle in her eye as she shrugged out of her top, her white bra showing in the moonlight. “You like so far?”
Ted couldn’t even speak, and then his phone buzzed, startling him.
She froze. “What’s wrong?”
“Hopefully this is just a text,” he said, fishing the phone out of his pocket. “Crap. It’s the short range app. Enemy fighters coming in from the north. Half a mile away and closing fast.”
“Oh no,” she said. “They’ve found us.”
“I left my gun in the rig. We’re gonna have to run back.”
“Let’s go,” Haley said as she buttoned her blouse. They sprinted towards the row of battle wagons, some already going into siege mode, some starting their engines.
To be continued…
Bug Out! Texas has just been published in the Kindle Store! This is the story of Texas Patriots and their struggle against enemies, foreign and domestic, during the Bug Out! War. Chock full of action, adventure, suspense, and romance. Pick up your copy of Bug Out! Texas Book 1 today!
The first of my full length novels has been published in the Amazon Kindle store, available now. For those of you have have been readying the Bugout! series, the story involves George and Malcolm, and is set about seven years earlier. This book R rated, instead of the PG-13 of the Bugout! Series, so be warned. Here’s the link to “Never A Loose End”
Copyright Robert Boren 2017