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G. Michael Hopf

DRIVER 8

A POST-APOCALYPTIC NOVEL

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FOR THOSE WHO KNOW LOSS 

BUT WAKE EACH DAY WITH A RENEWED PURPOSE TO LIVE 

“NOW, I AM BECOME DEATH, THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS.”

—ROBERT OPPENHEIMER

PROLOGUE

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SHADOW MOUNTAIN LAKE, COLORADO, UNITED STATES

“Now, kids, hydration is critical when you’re out in the wilderness. So, before we head out today for our hike, drink plenty of water and second, make sure you bring plenty with you,” Kyle Grant said to the group of children whose ages ranged from eight to twelve. Today they were heading out for the longest hike of their summer camp and Kyle didn’t need anyone dropping out. “One last thing, always remember the threes. Three weeks without food, three days without water and three minutes without air. That’s how long you need of each before you… what?”

A young girl, about ten raised her hand.

“Yes, Melody,” Kyle said pointing at her.

“Die.”

“Correct. Now, go get hydrated and finish packing. Meet me at the trailhead in fifteen minutes,” Kyle said.

The group of twenty-three kids and two adult counselors stood and exited the cabin.

“You’re really good with the kids,” Tiffany Powell, the camp director said with a big smile. She walked over and leaned on the table where Kyle had the pack back he was using for a demonstration laid out on.

“I love it, I can’t think of a better way to spend my two week vacation,” Kyle said, a broad smile gracing his rugged and square jawed face.

“We don’t get many volunteers and those we do, don’t’ travel over a thousand miles at their own expense,” she said.

“Like I said, I love it. Taking my vacation time and spending it on the beach drinking cocktails is fun, but I find this fulfilling, I really do.”

“I could go for some cocktails on the beach right about now,” she laughed, standing and folding her arms. “The kids really love having you here too. I especially think they love the police stories you tell around the camp fire.”

“You do know, I do it mainly to scare them straight,” he joked. “But is it only the kids who love having me here?” he said with a wink.

“Let’s keep it professional,” she replied. “You know something, I also think you make them feel safe. Nothing like having a real LAPD detective as a volunteer camp counselor.”

“Part-time counselor, if it paid more I’d be here full time, believe me,” he jested.

“You have a job anytime you want it,” she flirted.

The door opened and a man in his late twenties, stuck his head in. By the look on his face, he was scared.

“Josh, you okay? You look like someone just got eaten by a bear,” Tiffany joked.

“Tiffany, hurry, something is happening back east. Something bad.”

She jumped and asked, “What’s happened?”

“A terror attack, something, come, hurry,” Josh said and took off.

Tiffany and Kyle followed him to the main camp station building. When they entered they found a group of people huddled over the television. She pushed past until she could see the screen.

For Kyle it was easy, at six foot three, he just leaned over the group.

On the television was a large explosion followed by a mushroom cloud rising high into the sky.

“What is that? What’s going on?” Tiffany asked.

“That was Boston,” Joselyn, the camps aquatics counselor, said.

“Are you serious?” Tiffany asked.

“Yes, the news is reporting cities all along the east coast are being hit,” Jacob, the native skills instructor, answered.

“Turn it up, I can’t hear,” Kyle said.

“…reports are now telling us there have been strikes on the west coast too. It’s very chaotic but it does seem like the west coast is under attack now. Oh, wait, we have a need video feed coming in from a pedestrian’s phone,”  the reporter said.

The screen clicked over to a wobbly video image of Los Angeles in the far distance. A bright flash then a huge mushroom cloud rising and enveloping the entire city.

“Oh my God!” Vivian, the arts and crafts counselor, cried out with tears in her eyes.

Chatter and crosstalk exploded in the group.

Kyle stood in shock and watched the video clip being replayed. One second his city is there, the next second it’s gone. Destroyed in the blink of an eye by a nuclear weapon.

“Denver. Has anyone heard if Denver has been hit? My mom and dad live there,” Joselyn asked.

“My brother lives there too,” Blaine, the archery instructor said.

“We’re now getting a report from our affiliate in Topeka that Kansas City have been hit. It appears what started on the east coast then the west coast is now happening in the Midwest,”  the reporter said.

“What should we do,” Josh asked.

All eyes turned to Tiffany.

Tiffany thought for a second and said, “We wait. We don’t do anything drastic until we know for sure what is happening.”

“But we’re at war, cities are being destroyed,” Vivian wailed.

“This is not a time to panic. Our number one goal is to take care of these children. Does everyone understand?” Tiffany asked.

“I agree with Tiffany. Let me make a call to a contact I have in Denver,” Kyle said pulling out his mobile phone. He dialed and put the phone to his ear.

The phone clicked and a message played. “All circuits are busy. Please try your call again later.” 

Kyle tried again and got the same message. He looked at Tiffany and said, “I can’t get through, can someone else try to call out?”

“I’m getting a message that says all circuits are busy,” Joselyn said.

“Me too,” Jacob said.

Tiffany pulled out her phone and tried, “Same here.”

“Try the land line, see if that’s working,” Joselyn suggested.

Kyle picked up the landline phone and called the number he was trying on his mobile. He put it back on the cradle and said, “Says the circuits are busy.”

“Oh no. What does that mean?” Vivian asked, her hands trembling.

“It means everyone is calling out like us, nothing more,” Kyle replied hoping to calm the situation down but feeling deep down that he had just witnessed the end of the world live on television.

“Turn up the T.V. they’re saying something about Europe,” Vivian exclaimed.

Josh turned the volume up.

“…Paris, London, Copenhagen, Berlin, all gone. We have preliminary reports coming from our international correspondents in the Far East that Beijing, Hong Kong and other major cities and military installations in China have been hit by the United States as a retaliation for the attacks against what is now over a dozen major U.S. cities  ,” the reporter said and paused as she became overwhelmed with emotion. “I don’t know how long we’ll be live but I pray that when this is over….”  The feed went dead and the screen turned blue.

“Where was that news station?” Kyle asked.

“That was Denver,” Tiffany said her voice cracking a bit.

The room grew quiet save for the sound of people crying.

“The kids, they’re waiting for me near the trailhead,” Kyle said.

“Go get them. When they come back we need to ensure they don’t hear about any of this, if you can’t keep your composure then let me know,” Tiffany ordered taking control of the situation.

“I can have them do an art project,” Vivian said wiping tears from her cheeks.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, you’re shaken up, take a few, go back to your cabin,” Tiffany said turning to Joselyn, “How about we have them do a swim?”

“I’ll be down at the beach waiting on them,” Joselyn said and headed out.

Kyle was making his way to the door when Tiffany called out to him, “I’m coming with you.” He stopped and waited.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m scared,” Tiffany confided.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit freaked out but you handled it nicely in there. We need to keep our heads. Clearly the world has gone to shit and soon we’re going to have to explain it to the kids.”

“I know, believe me I’m already thinking about that. How do you say the world has ended to a bunch of kids without having them meltdown?”

“You can’t, this situation is fucked, pardon my French, but there’s no easy answer. Just know that I’m here to help anyway I can, let me know what I can do,” Kyle said.

She reached out and took his hand.

He looked and gave her a reassuring smile.

Squeezing his hand she said, “I can’t tell you how happy I am you’re here.”

“Tiffany! Tiffany!” Josh hollered from across the camp.

She turned and asked, “What?”

“The power, it’s down, nothing is working,” Josh answered, his tone sounding stressed.

“This is a camp, right?” Kyle joked.

“Hold on, the power’s back on!” Josh hollered.

“That’s the backup generators, do me a favor, turn off all non-essential items, we’ll need to preserve fuel,” Tiffany hollered back.

Josh gave a thumbs up and ran off.

“You’re like a bad ass general, calm, cool, and collected,” Kyle quipped.

She winked at him and said, “It’s called being the oldest of four and a dad who was a Marine. C’mon let’s get those kids.”


THREE WEEKS AFTER THE WAR

“Tiffany, wake up,” Joselyn said nudging her.

Tiffany opened her eyes and shot up. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Josh, he took off, took the rest of the food and one of the trucks,” Joselyn said.

“How? Who was on watch?” Tiffany asked swinging her legs out of bed and stretching.

“It was George, I found him unconscious after showing up for my shift. He told me Josh approached him, they talked and when he turned around he got hit in the head. That’s all he remembers.”

“Where’s Kyle?” Tiffany asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t think he returned yet from his run.”

“That son of a bitch, I knew I couldn’t trust that mealy-mouthed asshole,” Tiffany said getting up and putting on a fresh shirt. “Did you get an inventory of the food?”

“Tiff, he took everything.”

“Literally, everything?”

“Yes. He cleaned the shelves out. He said something to George about heading to Wisconsin to see if his family was still alive.”

Headlamps from a vehicle shot through the window.

“It’s Kyle,” Tiffany said racing out of her cabin.

Kyle exited a truck and could see the look of concern written all over Tiffany’s face. “What happened?”

“Josh, he left and took all our food, everything,” she replied.

“Damn it. Any idea when he did this, maybe I can track him down.”

Joselyn came out and said, “Over an hour ago, he’s long gone by now. George said he said something about going to Wisconsin.”

“Well that asshole will have a tougher time. There’s bandits on the roads now. I barely got away from some. It’s not safe out there anymore, people are desperate, in need of food, fuel, you name it.”

“What are we going to do?” Tiffany asked.

Kyle walked to the back of the truck, reached in and pulled out a box of potato chips. We have these.”

“I think we’re going to need more than a large bag of chips,” Tiffany scoffed.

Kyle smiled, reached back in and pulled out a huge box and said, “There’s like forty bags in here and the warehouse I found off old highway eight had a stack of these same boxes all the way to the ceiling. Plus there’s more, I found oatmeal, cereal, and rice; sweetheart I think I might have found the motherlode. At least enough to keep us fed for a bit.”

“These bandits, how far out did you encounter them?” Tiffany asked.

“Oh, six miles north.”

“We need weapons,” Tiffany said.

“Agreed,” Joselyn said.

“I’ve been looking, nothing. The one gun store I came up on was ransacked,” Kyle said. “I agree, we’re going to need weapons to defend ourselves here because it’s only a matter of time before someone not nice shows up.”

The sounds of screaming children came from a bunkhouse.

The three took off running.

Kyle reached the bunkhouse and burst through the door to find several of the kids had their flashlights beaming on a spot in the far corner of the cabin. He looked and saw Vivian hanging by the neck. “Oh, Christ.” He ran over and grabbed her lifeless body to see if there was any hope of saving her but the second he touched her he knew she’d been hanging for a while.

Tiffany followed by Joselyn raced into the bunkhouse. Seeing Kyle struggling with Vivian’s body, Tiffany went to help while Joselyn went to care for the children.

“Why, Viv, Why?” Tiffany asked.

They got her body down and laid her gently on the floor.

Joselyn had long taken the kids out of the bunkhouse so it was safe to talk candidly. “Are we going to survive?” Tiffany asked.

Kyle gave her a sympathetic look and replied, “Yes. Yes, we are. I swear it.”

She came over and buried her head into his chest. She looked so small next him with her five foot five stature.

He lifted her chin and gave her a light kiss on the lips. “I promise. I won’t let anyone or anything hurt you or those kids.”

“Now what?” she asked.

“We bury her first, then regroup. Today is a new day. I’ll head out in a few hours to continue scavenging.”

“But you just returned,” she said embracing him tight.

“I need to keep looking and we need weapons.”


FIVE WEEKS AFTER THE WAR

Kyle made the last turn and stopped at the main gate for the camp.

George appeared from behind a tall pine and opened it.

The two waved at each and Kyle proceeded into the camp. He had been out scavenging daily but each day was growing more and more dangerous and he still hadn’t come across any weapons. He was tired, frustrated and beginning to grow concerned. Soon the limited supplies they’d found would run out, things were getting desperate.

George had been putting his native survival skills to work but to date he hadn’t caught enough to make a dent. There were twenty-three children, same as when the bombs dropped. Not a single parent had showed up. It was beyond sad. On top of the children there were six adults left. A large number to feed with only small game animals and what few items Kyle could find. With Josh taking all the camp supplies two weeks before he had all but written everyone off.

Kyle parked the truck but hesitated from getting out. Bored he turned on the radio and flipped it to the AM frequencies. He’d done this before but only found static, for some reason he thought he’d try again. He pressed the scan button and watched the numbers race up. They zoomed past seventeen hundred and started up again at five thirty only to stop at six hundred with a crackling voice coming over. He sat up and listened.

“…this………… States government broadcasting…… Cheyenne…… Air…… Anyone receiving this message…. is…. need of assistance. …… to coordinates 38.7445 degrees north, 10…… degrees west. To anyone listening,… is the United….. government…. from Cheyenne Mountain…… Station…” 

He jumped out of the truck and raced directly to the camp director’s shack hoping to find Tiffany.

Joselyn walked by with several children in tow.

“Where’s Tiff?” he asked running by.

“In the shack, I believe.”

He sprinted up the small rise and burst through the door.

Tiffany jumped from her seat when she saw him. “You scared the hell out of me!”

“The government, come, hurry,” he said excitedly, his breathing rapid.

“Government?”

“Yes, just come,” he said trying to rush her along.

She followed him back down to the truck. When they arrived the message was still broadcasting. “Listen,” he said. She sat in the driver’s seat and listened intently to the choppy broadcast. Her eyes wide with joy, she said, “We need to go to a higher point. Maybe we can get a better signal.”

“Good idea, scoot over,” he said.

“No, I’m driving,” she said sticking out her tongue and slamming the door.

They sped up an old fire break that led to the top of the mountain, there they hoped the signal would be strong. As they climbed higher and higher nothing changed. “Oh, c’mon,” he groaned.

“Maybe when we get to the top, have some faith,” she said.

She exited the wooded trail and was now near the barren and rocky crest. She turned the wheel hard, crested the mountain and like magic the static lessened and the recorded message was clear enough to understand.

Kyle turned up the volume.

“To all listening, this is the United States government broadcasting on six hundred kilohertz from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. Anyone receiving this message and is in need of assistance proceed to the coordinates 38.7445 degrees north, 104.8461 degrees west.” 

They both looked at each other. Tears welled up in Tiffany’s eyes and a huge grin spread across Kyle’s face. “Does this mean we’re going to survive? Does it?” she asked.

“I don’t know for sure, but I’m optimistic. We have to make a run for it.”

“We have the bus, we all can fit.”

“I’ll bring the truck to carry supplies and gear and we have a ton of diesel. I say we go for it.”

“You sure?” she asked.

He paused, thought for a second as the message replayed again. He smiled wide and said, “Yes.”


* * *

“All the kids are going on the bus along with Andy and Gwen. Joselyn you’ll go with Kyle in the truck. I’ll ride on the bus with the kids, and last but not least, George you’ll drive the bus,” Tiffany said.

“Please tell me you’re not one of those endless nervous talkers who drone on for hours during long boring drives,” Joselyn asked Kyle.

“I’m worse,” he fired back.

“Great, thanks a lot Tiff,” Joselyn groaned as she walked off.

Those who were riding the bus loaded on, except Tiffany. She walked over to Kyle who waited by his truck. “Triple check, you have the map and route?”

“Yes,” he answered.

“You have plenty of fuel. We’re not stopping if we don’t have to.”

“Correct.”

“Are you happy?”

“Yes.”

“Good, me too,” she said and headed back towards the bus. She stopped just before getting on and turned, “Kyle, one second.”

He waited.

She ran up, leapt into his arms and gave him a firm and passionate kiss. When she was done, she pulled away and looked deeply into his blue eyes.

“Whoa, that was awesome.”

“I love you,” she said.

Not expecting to hear that he didn’t know what to say so he stood looking dumbfounded.

“It’s okay if you don’t feel the same way. I just wanted to tell you, that’s all. Now let’s get on the road.”


* * *

Kyle could feel the heavy weight of fatigue hitting him as his head bobbed down then snapped up.

“Don’t fall asleep on me,” Joselyn warned.

“I’m okay.”

“No, you’re not. We need to pull over.”

“No, no, no, we’re making good time.”

Joselyn picked up the small hand held radio, “Tiff this is Joselyn. We need to change drivers.”

“Okay, let’s pull over on the shoulder just past that sign,” Tiffany replied.

“Sounds good,” Joselyn answered. She gave Kyle a look and said, “You heard her big boy, pull over.”

Kyle hated to admit it, but Joselyn was right. He pulled the truck over with the bus parking just behind him. He got out, ran around to the passenger side and got back in. Joselyn simply slid across the bench seat.

“Can you believe I’ve never driven this big rig?” she said putting the truck into gear.

“Now I’m scared.”

“I didn’t say I couldn’t drive, just that I’ve never driven this truck. I’ve been working at the camp for three years and I’m finally driving it.”

“Where you from?” Kyle asked slouching deep into the seat.

“Denver.”

“Sorry., why didn’t I know that?”

“Don’t apologize. This whole thing sucks I just don’t understand why anyone would start a war, especially a war that destroys the world. I mean, who does that?”

“Dumb people, politicians, that’s who. The same people who are now safe in their bunkers. You know, maybe we tell whatever politician we’ll meet at Cheyenne Mountain what we think about them,” Kyle joked.

“You get their attention and I’ll kick’em in the balls,” she laughed.

“God knows they all deserve a swift kick in the nuts.”

“Do you think they’ll have hot water?”

“I guess.”

“That’s one thing I miss so bad, a hot shower," Joselyn said.

“Miss? You mean, need,” Kyle joked waving his hand in front of his face.

Joselyn gave him a shit eating grin and raised her middle finger at him. “Fu…” The windshield shattered and a single bullet struck Joselyn in the face and exited out the back of her head. Her limp body fell onto the steering wheel and jerked it hard to the left at a forty-five degree angle. The truck tipped up on it’s right tires and slammed onto it’s right side then began to tumble down the road. Kyle was tossed from the truck after the second roll and hit the pavement, rolling to a stop thirty feet away. The truck smashed through a guard rail and barreled down a steep ravine.

George slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the truck and Kyle.

The children all started to scream and cry.

“Stop the bus!” Tiffany hollered.

George did as she said but just before he could bring the bus to a full stop, several bullets slammed into the windshield; one striking him in the head, the other in the neck. He fell to the right and down the front stairs of the bus.

The children were wailing in terror.

Tiffany got behind the wheel and finished stopping the bus. With it fully stopped she turned to face the children who were sobbing and screaming. “Everyone out the back, now!”

Andy, who happened to be seating in the far back, got up and opened the back emergency exit only to find three strange and armed men waiting with their rifles all pointed at him.

“Don’t fucking trying anything,” one of the men said.

“I won’t, please, trust me, we’re not armed, we have kids,” Andy said.

“Jump out of the back. That goes for all of you, out the back now. Arms up, no bullshit, and this will be your last warning, don’t fucking try anything or I’ll kill ya’.”

Andy jumped first. A second man grabbed him and forced him down on the ground.

One by one, the children all exited followed by Gwen then finally Tiffany. Like Andy, they were all made to lie face down on the road. Tiffany turned her head giving her a clear view from under the bus to where Kyle was lying in the road. She prayed he’d wake and come save them.

Several men boarded the bus. They went from seat to seat looking for anything of value. One came to the back and called out, “Nothing on here but a few bags of fucking potato chips.”

“If it’s food you’re looking for, we had it all in the back of the truck,” Tiffany said.

“Is that right,” the first man said. He gave his men a once over and asked, “Where’s Mike?”

“He’s down the road in his position,” one of the men replied.

“That dumbass disobeyed my order, I said shoot the fucking tires. No, he had to go and shoot the driver, now everything we need is down at the bottom of that ravine.”

“It’s not all lost, Ray,” one of the men said. “We’ve got twenty-three kids and two women.”

“Yeah, I suppose it’s not all bad if we were fucking cannibals you idiot,” Ray snarled.

“No, you’re not seeing it. Maybe we can trade them. Huh?”

Ray thought for a moment and as if a light bulb went off in his head, he hollered, “Load back up boys.”

“All right, you heard, get back on the bus,” one of the men yelled pointing his rifle at them.

Andy and Tiffany were the last in line.

Ray came over, gave Andy a look over and said, “Who the hell will want a pussy of a man like him.”

The other men laughed.

Andy cringed and begged for mercy, “Please don’t hurt me.”

Ray pulled him out of line, drew his pistol and shot Andy in the head.

Tiffany screamed, “Who are you? You fucking monsters!”

“Well aren’t you a feisty one,” Ray said rearing his arm back and smacking Tiffany hard in the face.

The hit was so hard she fell against the bus and onto the ground. She rolled over and caught a glimpse of Kyle moving. He looked up for a second, just enough for them to make eye contact. Not wanting him to suffer the same fate as Andy she shook her head, signalling for him to stay down.

“Tyrone, toss that pretty little thing in the back. It’s time to tame the wild beast,” Ray said.

Doing as he was told, Tyrone, picked Tiffany up and took her onto the bus.

Ray called out, “Alright you sons of bitches. Good haul. Let’s head back to the ranch and have us a party!”

The bus fired up.

Kyle tried to move but his body was racked with pain. He slightly lifted his head as the bus drove past, the tires grinding the broken glass and debris from his truck into the pavement. He reached out with his bloody and battered arm and said, “Tiffany.” Unable to stay conscious he drifted off.


* * *

“Who is he, dad?” a young boy asked.

“I don’t know his name but it doesn’t matter, he’s a man in need,” a man said towering over Kyle who was still lying in the road. “You two, get this man into the van,” the man ordered.

Two other men ran over and picked Kyle up and carried him over to a large cargo van. They laid him in the back gingerly. The boy and his father got in with him.

Kyle opened his eyes but all he could see was two blurry figures above him. “Tiff…”

“What’s he saying, dad?” the boy asked.

“Sounds like he’s calling out for someone.”

The boy leaned in close and whispered, “If supplies are tight, why are we saving him? You always say the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”

“Son, that’s a good question. I saw this man and for some reason, I felt like he needed to be saved.”

“He’s another mouth the feed,” the son said.

“He can have half my ration.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“Because you’re thinking with your head. I’m thinking with something else. I don’t know who he is or where he came from. I don’t know if he’s a good man or a bad man. But something tells me, we need him. I could be wrong but I’m going with my gut.”

“But…”

The father held up his hand, “I know what I’ve told you. Let’s see how this plays out. Either he’ll end up being a savior for our fledging group or he’ll be the one that will put an end to it. Right now, I’m betting he’s the former.”

The driver jumped behind the wheel and asked, “We calling it a day?”

“Yes, take us home.”

“Okay, next stop, Eagle.”

CHAPTER 1

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THE WASTES (FORMERLY GOLDEN, COLORADO)

NINETEEN YEARS AFTER THE WAR

Kyle stared at the shadows imprinted on the concrete wall. Who were they? Did they feel anything or was it over in the flash of a second?  He asked himself as he reached out and touched the darkened marks. These weren’t the first shadows he’d seen and they wouldn’t be his last, but each time he wondered. How could something do that?  He recalled reading the stories about Nagasaki and Hiroshima and how people’s shadows there were sheered onto walls and sidewalks. It’s one thing to read about something, quite another to witness it with your own eyes.

A strong wind whipped past him. He turned and looked out on the barren and dead landscape. In all directions, for as far as the eye could see, a once great forest lay flattened, its trees lay like blackened matchsticks. What had taken nature generations to grow, man had destroyed in a matter of seconds.

Kyle enjoyed his solo runs into The Wastes, it was always dangerous, but there he could find peace amongst the remnants of war. Today marked the furthest he’d ventured in The Wastes, in fact, he had the record now and would no doubt hold it for some time as the other drivers didn’t like the runs here and knew Kyle was always available to take theirs if they didn’t want to go. They preferred to stay on relative easy terrain, avoiding any area near where a major city once stood.

He stepped onto the shattered foundation of the house. His eyes darted around until he spotted what he was looking for…a stairway that led to a basement. Other drivers often overlooked basements. Not Kyle. They tended to be undisturbed treasure troves for scavenging. A pile of debris, mostly the charred remains of the house, blocked the stairway. Methodically, he pulled one piece after another out of the way, being careful not to puncture or tear a hole in his hazmat suit. Patience was his friend and thankfully he had it. In The Wastes, one moved and acted differently.


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Rushing often led to mistakes and in this environment, mistakes could be fatal.

Once the stairway was free and clear, he proceeded down only to stop at the bottom. A large metal fire door stood in his way. He reached down and turned the knob. Fortunately for him, it was unlocked. He turned the knob and pushed the door but it didn’t open. He put his weight against it and shoved.

The door cracked followed by a gush of air. That signaled to him this room hadn’t been accessed in years, maybe even since the day the war started. Kyle stepped back. He pulled out a flashlight and pushed the door fully open. He shined the light across the room before entering and confirmed what he surmised, no one had been down here for a very long time. The room was a snap shot out of time, all preserved under a thick layer of dust. Deciding it was safe, he entered.

His first observation of the basement was that it had been used as living space. In the far corner to his right, a sectional couch sat. On the wall in front of it hung a fifty-inch flat screen television. To the right of that he spotted a pool table.

He cast the beam to the left. There he spotted a washer and dryer with clothes still dangling from a clothesline that spanned from a large support beam to the wall.

Kyle beelined it for the washer and dryer. He grabbed a large basket and began to pile in the bleach and detergents. He paused just before pulling the clothes off the line.

“Let’s make sure you’re clean,” he said out loud. From a utility belt, he removed the wand from his Geiger counter, flipped on the device and waved it just an inch above the fabric. “Hmm, no discernable radiation. Excellent.” Happily, he pulled every stich of clothing from the line and placed it in the basket.

Next to the washer, a large metal storage cabinet teased him. He opened the doors to find a motherlode. Batteries, lightbulbs, towels, paper towels and one of the most coveted items, toilet paper. He emptied the cabinet leaving only a small box of finger nail polish. Just before walking away, he stopped, turned back around and took the box of polish. He shoved it into the basket.

After inspecting the left side, he went to the right. The first thing he did was remove the batteries from the remote controls.

He opened a small media console but found nothing of value.

In his excitement, he had started to work up a sweat as beads began to form on his forehead. Outside of tearing your suit, nothing was worse than your visor steaming over and making it impossible to see.

He glanced at his watch. Two hours until nightfall. He had lost track of time. He’d never make it back to the eastern boundary of The Collective and he wasn’t about to take the chance driving at night.

With no urgency to leave. He decided to camp in the basement and leave first thing in the morning. He stepped back and plopped down on the couch.

A cloud of dust rose around him.

On the coffee table, he saw a stack of magazines. He picked the top one up, a copy of WOMEN’S HEALTH  and dusted it off. He chuckled as he read the cover: LOSE TEN FOR THAT HOT SUMMER BODY.  “Losing ten isn’t quite the problem it was back then,” he laughed. TRY THE GLUTEN FREE VEGAN LIFESTYLE FOR A HEALTHIER YOU!  He burst out laughing because after the bombs dropped, he hadn’t met one person who was gluten intolerant or vegan.

Taking a needed break to cool down, he skimmed through the magazine, his thick rubber gloves sticking and tearing the fragile pages. Losing interest, he tossed it aside. He leaned back and exhaled deeply. Curious as to what lied further back in the dark reaches of the basement, he aimed his light in that direction.

The light scattered the murkiness.

He slowly traced the back area, stopping when he saw something. He got up and walked over.

There lying on the floor, in a circle, were the skeletal remains of four people. Once more he asked himself who they might be.

Strictly by the size, two appeared to be children and two adults. If this was a family, then whose shadows were seared into the concrete retaining wall above? Grandparents? Neighbors? Friends? 

His light settled on a thick, pink covered book lying next to a small skeleton. He bent down, picked it up and dusted it off. MIA’S DIARY , was written on the front. He glanced back down. “Hi Mia. Do you mind if I read your diary? I promise, I won’t tell, I’m just curious what happened to you.” Pausing as if expecting a response, he stood. After a moment, he turned and went back to the couch.

Getting comfortable once more, he opened the book to the date the bombs rained down, or as the Number One, his leader, called it, THE REBOOT. The Number One, coined the name after having spent his life as a computer programmer. He’d preach that THE REBOOT, was a good thing for humanity which always resulted in Kyle rolling his eyes. How could the death of billions be a good thing? 

Kyle found the page he was looking for and read.

August 19. I should be getting ready to go to the movies, but instead, I’m stuck in the basement with my annoying sister and my parents. Someone on the television just said that bombs, nuclear bombs, have landed back east. Dad says we will be fine. That Denver isn’t really a target. I admit I’m scared but I’m also irritated. Does this mean I’ll miss the End of Summer Dance? I can’t. Today was the day I was going to ask Hudson. Why is this happening? I hate my life. 

Kyle looked over and flashed the light on Mia. “Sorry you missed your dance.” He frowned and continued reading.

Mom is freaking out and Dad won’t stop pacing. I hope Nana and Papa get here soon. Dad was able to reach them but now the phones don’t work, even my texts have stopped. My sister is crying. I feel bad for her….a little. 

The television just stopped working and the power went out. I’m using the light coming from the window to see. I’m officially scared. What is going on? 

Kyle paused and said, “The end of the world, sweetheart, the end of the world.”

A bright flash just lit the basement. Mom is sitting next to me holding Olivia, she won’t stop crying. The ground is rumbling, shak….. 

Needing to know what she looked like, Kyle skimmed through the book to find a photo. Nothing. The invention of the smartphone made it easier to take pictures, but no one seemed to print them. An entire generation’s worth of photographic history was essentially lost because of THE REBOOT.

August 21. I don’t know why I’m writing in this. No one will ever read it. Dad keeps saying we will be fine, but Mom says otherwise. After the rumbling two days ago, Dad went to go see what happened. He came back right away. Says the house is gone. Knocked down. He says the basement saved our lives. The only window on the back was cracked but didn’t shatter. Dad says all we need to do is wait, that the police or firemen will come soon to help. 

Kyle shook his head and thought, How sad. 

August 25. Olivia died last night. The rest of us are sick. Dad keeps saying that soon the police or government will come to help. Mom and him argue all the time. I know Dad is lying. He just doesn’t want us to be worried. I’m scared. I don’t want to die. Why did this happen? 

Kyle flipped the page. It was blank, he flipped to another only to find it blank as well. He thumbed the remaining pages of the diary. Nothing. August 25th was her last entry. She must have died right after, no doubt from radiation poisoning,  he thought.

He put the book on the coffee table and looked over at the family. “I’m sorry this happened to you.” He settled into the couch and closed his eyes. Thoughts of Mia and her family popped into his head. He imagined the dad, scared for his family but helpless. For a parent that most certainly had to be the worst emotion to have.  As he dove deeper into thought, he slipped off into sleep.


* * *

A loud clang came from above.

Kyle opened his eyes but he was submerged in pure darkness. Night had come and brought with it the pitch black.

Shuffling and unintelligible chatter came from the top of the stairway.

He sat up just enough to so his arm could get over the back of the couch. He then slid his hand down and removed his semi-automatic pistol from its holster. He raised and pointed it in the direction of the door.

Footfalls and more chatter came from the stairs, just beyond the door.

Whoever it was, they were coming downstairs and would soon be greeted by a volley of forty-five caliber bullets. In The Wastes, one always shot before asking. For a second, he wondered if it was another driver, but quickly dashed that thought. He was the only driver willing to go out this far. This had to be Generates, a wandering band of nomadic cannibals who lived on the outskirts of the habitable zones. They were hellish to look at but one should never mistake their appearance for abilities. Their name was derived from the worddegenerate and over time they came to be known simply as Generates.

The door knob jiggled.

Kyle held the pistol steady.

The door flew open.

Not hesitating, Kyle squeezed the trigger rapidly.

A scream came, followed by the distinct sound of something heavy falling to the floor.

Kyle paused.

The patter of feet and yelling reverberated from the stairs, but the sounds were growing faint. Whoever it was, they were fleeing.

Kyle stood, turned on his flashlight and directed the beam towards the open doorway. There he saw a boy lying in a small pool of blood. He raced over, stopping more than an arm’s length away.

The boy, no older than fifteen, lifted his head and groaned, “Help me.”

Kyle looked at him and shook his head. He was amazed that Generates would venture this far into The Wastes and without any form of protection from the radiation that still lingered. “Idiots.”

The boy reached out with a quivering hand. “Help, please.”

Kyle cocked his head and for a moment considered helping but stopped when he saw the necklace the boy was wearing. “Who ever imagined ears would be a fashion statement.” The boy’s necklace was nothing more than a thick piece of twine but what hung on it gave a clear picture of Generates and their habits. A single ear was taken as a trophy from every human a Generate would kill. Kyle knelt down and said, “If I just look at you without knowing anything about your kind, I see a teenage boy. A boy crying for help, needy, and scared.”

The boy coughed heavily and spit out a considerable amount of blood. “Please.”

“I count, um, four ears. Wow, you’ve killed four people, good for you. Tell me, do you throw parties when you hit a certain number?” Kyle mocked.

Coughing louder, the boy cried, “Help.”

“You know something I will help,” Kyle said reaching out and dragging the boy close. He cradled the boy’s head in his lap, placed one hand under his chin and the other on the top of his head. “There are two different types of help. There’s helping someone else and there’s helping yourself. I’m gonna help myself as I know your people will be back soon and in greater numbers,” he said and twisted hard, snapping the boys neck. Showing disdain, he tossed the boy’s lifeless body onto the floor and stood. He got up, grabbed the basket and raced up the stairs towards his truck.

The first thing he did when he reached the truck was open the hood and reconnect the battery and the two spark plugs he always removed when parking overnight. It was a small precaution he took so no one would steal his truck. Without a truck, he couldn’t be a driver and if he wasn’t a driver, he wouldn’t be able to support himself and his wife, Portia. It could be said that his truck, a 2016 Ford-150 Raptor, was his life blood, because it was.

Driving at night was something he tried to never do but he had no choice. He fired up the 3.5 liter, V-6 engine, put it in drive and slammed on the accelerator. The tires spun, spit rocks, then gripped the surface and lunged forward. He pulled the wheel hard, turned left and exited the driveway.

“Driver Eight, come in, over,”  the radio crackled.

Shocked that his truck mounted ham radio worked this far out, made him hesitate to pick it up.

“Driver Eight, come in, over.” 

He took the hand mike and replied, “Go for driver eight.”

“Where the hell have you been?”  a man barked.

“Doing my job. I’m out of area, you know that,” Kyle answered.

“We’ve been trying to reach you for over six hours.” 

Annoyed, Kyle asked, “Is there a reason you’re radioing me?” Silence. “Well?” Kyle asked.

“It’s Number Two, he’s missing. He was with Driver Ten.” 

“You do know I’m in The Wastes near Denver? I’m a solid three-day drive away.” No reply. “You there?” Kyle asked.

“We think…”  the man said before another voice came on the radio. “This is Number one, my son is missing. I’m ordering you to go to look for him.” 

“Sir, I’m in The Wastes, nowhere near Driver Ten’s route which was west towards…” Kyle said but was interrupted.

“They’re somewhere in Salina,” Number One said. 

“Salina, like Rocky Mountain Republic, Salina?” Kyle asked.

“Yes.” 

“They’re in Rocky Mountain Republic territory? Why would they go there?” Kyle asked confused.

“Pay no matter,”  Number one said.

“Like I said, I’m a good three to four day’s drive from there,” Kyle said.

“Go find him,” Number One ordered. 

“Sir, hasn’t he done this before?” Kyle asked. It was true, Number Two, had disappeared other times, only to pop up a day or so later. This must be different, so Kyle pressed. “How long has he been gone?”

“Three days out of contact  ,” One said.

“Can you tell me why they were going there? It might help.”

“No, I can’t, but you know Two, he does these sort of things, but I fear he might have gotten himself into some trouble this time,”  Number One said.

“Nothing, sir? A clue might help me.”

“Driver Eight, how long you been driving for me and The Collective?” 

It was an odd question. In fact, merely having a conversation with Number One was odd. “Eighteen years now,” Kyle answered.

“If you’ll remember, I found you lying on the side of the road half dead.” 

“I remember,” Kyle said, his thoughts going back to that day many years ago. It was day he’d never forget and the reason he ended up becoming a driver.

“I’ve been good to you and your wife. Be good to me. Consider this a personal favor,” Number One beseeched. 

“Fair enough.”

“And Driver Eight?”  Number One said, his tone becoming steely. 

“Yes.”

“Don’t come back empty handed.” 

CHAPTER 2

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COLLECTIVE PRIME, CAPITAL CITY OF THE COLLECTIVE (FORMERLY EAGLE, COLORADO)

Portia Grant stared blindly out the window and waited for the dreaded sirens to stop blaring. Each morning, exactly at six, sirens around town would come to life followed by a monotone announcement that the third shift was ending and the first was just beginning.

Life in The Collective focused on productivity and what a better way to ensure everyone was reminded was the use of daily sirens and constant announcements.

She yawned and stretched, her right arm reaching far across to an empty and cold spot where Kyle slept. Unfortunately, that spot stayed empty more than not. Being a driver put Kyle on the road a lot. He played a vital role in The Collective and had been one of the first drivers drafted. She tried to pressure him to stay and he could if he used his seniority, but he’d resist and go. Many times doing so even when it wasn’t his shift. She missed him, but told herself the long absences were justified, with great sacrifice came great privilege and being the wife of a driver did bring privilege.

Her thoughts went to their last conversation just a few nights before. He told her he was given a new mission and not to expect him home for at least another week. She wondered what he was doing and prayed he was safe. She couldn’t imagine her life without him, he was good to her but there was no mistaking she wasn’t the first love he’d ever had. Many nights he’d talk in his sleep and often he’d simply mutter the name Tiffany. Early in their marriage, she asked about Tiffany, he told her she was someone he cared for before coming to The Collective, nothing more. When pressed he’d tell her he didn’t want to discuss it.

She dragged herself out of bed and towards the bathroom. On her way, the phone rang. She walked to the nightstand and picked the handle off the cradle. The phone was a rotary style phone, familiar with many people up until the advent of mobile and wireless handheld devices.

“Hello,” she said. A long pause followed signaling the call was a recorded message.

“Good morning resident. Please be advised that Number One requests your presence at the forum today at thirteen hundred hours. This is a mandatory gathering. Don’t be late and remember, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual. Have a great day.”  The phone disconnected.

Portia grunted her disapproval. She put the phone back on the cradle and plopped back on the bed. Today had been her permitted day of rest and she had plans but with a mandatory gathering those plans were squashed. Tired, she lay down. Her hand touched her belly and sent thoughts of what her life could have been if they had been able to conceive. It bothered her often that they couldn’t have children of their own but there wasn’t a thing she could or Kyle could do about it, so each time her mind would go there, she’d quickly dismiss it. Fortunately for them, procreation was the one thing The Collective didn’t require.

From birth through old age, The Collective monitored and tested every resident to ensure they were in the best health. If one was found with an incurable disease they were immediately banished outside the walls of the city. There were no exceptions. Life in The Collective was polite, orderly and by standards outside the walls, luxurious. The strict medical guidelines even extended to those who injured themselves and couldn’t go back to work. One had to be productive, if they didn’t or couldn’t contribute they were deemed a burden and cast out. Number One created these laws in the early days and found that by only allowing healthy and productive people, the whole thrived. With resources sparse, it was determined that it couldn’t be spent on those who didn’t participate or add value to the greater whole. It was a harsh position when compared to the morals before the war, but was widely accepted today.

For Portia, she hadn’t thought much of it. She had been twelve when the war destroyed everything so truly knowing how society ran before wasn’t something she was familiar with. All she remembered back then was how fortunate she was for being in the town that would eventually become Collective Prime. It wasn’t until she became a teacher did she grow to dislike the health laws, specifically the tests given to children to ensure they didn’t have or were carriers of diseases. Watching the children paraded off and never seen from again was heartbreaking. Fortunately, those tests were done annually and the last one was conducted a few months back.

A knock at the front door startled her as she wasn’t expecting anyone. She got up, threw on a robe and ran to the door. “Who is it?”

“Morning delivery,” a man said.

Recognizing the voice, she opened the door.

There stood, Terry, the dairy delivery man. “Hi ya, Teacher Seven.”

“Terry, just call me, Portia, please,” she insisted.

He looked up at a camera positioned in the corner and grew noticeably uncomfortable. “Ah, um, I think I’ll just call you. You know by your Collective Name if that’s fine?”

She frowned. Portia detested her Collective name.

Life in The Collective required the use of a community name given on graduation day. At the age of sixteen, all residents of The Collective graduated school and were sent to positions in trades based upon testing. In their chosen trades they’d go learn by following a mentor. Once the mentor thought they were ready then they’d officially start the one and only job they’d ever do. Though all jobs were said to be equal in status, there was one job that was coveted and looked highly on, that was of a driver. Drivers spent most their time away, scavenging and searching for anything of value from the ravaged and destroyed cities. The life of a driver was short on average, many never returning. One though was legend, and that was Portia’s husband, Kyle or as The Collective knew him, Driver Eight.

Her job as a teacher was also given preference as they were tasked with ensuring the youth were properly taught the laws, morals and ways of life outside of teaching them the basics of writing, reading and mathematics. Though using your birth name wasn’t against the law, it was highly looked down on if you didn’t. Birth names were for individuals and individuals were not welcome, once one became a part of The Collective, they gave up their birth name. One only need know the founding principle to know that. THE ONE FOR THE MANY AND THE MANY FOR THE ONE . It basically meant that the individual served the community and the community served the singular collective thought. Hence where the name, The Collective, came from. And the singular collective thought was simple, individualism was a destructive thing, it bred greed, lust, gluttony and a list of other negative attributes, while working for the whole with no concern of one’s self was the purist form of human existence. In order for The Collective to tamp down on any shred of individualism, everyone was monitored via closed circuit television as well as listened too.

It was this monitoring that struck fear in Terry. “Here you go,” he said extending his arms out. In them was an opened medium sized box.

“Are there fresh eggs?” she asked peeking her head into the box.

“Yes, I got you three,” he said with a smile.

Portia happily took the box.

“Any returns?” he asked referring to glass milk bottles. Anything that could be recycled, reused or repurposed was, the idea of throwing something away that could serve for other uses was against the law.

“Oh, yes, yes. Come on in,” she said rushing to the kitchen. She placed the box down, turned and grabbed two empty glass milk bottles from next to her sink. “Here you go?”

“Thanks,” he said placing the bottles in a paper bag. “Oh that’s a nice necklace.”

She reached up and touched the yellow gold locket and rubbed her thumb along the top of it. “It was a gift from Kyle. It’s a locket,” she said opening it to show Terry the picture of Kyle on one side and her on the other.

“That’s nice. Driver Eight is quite the romantic,” Terry said admiring the locket.

“Yep a real Casanova,” she replied sarcastically.

“Who’s Casanova?” Terry asked not understanding the cultural reference.

“Never mind.”

“Did you hear about the incident last night?” Terry asked.

“There was an incident, where, what happened?” Portia asked

“Yeah, I heard The Underground tried to cut the power to Prime but security stopped them, I heard they killed several Underground members.”

“Stupid, idiots,” Portia said shaking her head.

“They are idiots. We have it good compared to the outside world. Why do they want to change it?”

Portia leaned in and whispered, “I meant they’re idiots because turning off the electricity doesn’t win allies, it only pisses everyone off. If you want to win the PR battle, you don’t attack all of us.”

“Oh, yeah, right, of course, I thought the same thing,” Terry agreed.

“So, how’s the little one?” Portia asked.

“She’s great, thanks for asking,” Terry replied lowering his head. “Say, when does Driver Eight come home?”

“In a week,” she answered.

Terry shook his head. He glanced up, a nervous expression was written all over his face.

Noticing this, Portia asked, “What is it?”

“Is there anyway, ahh, God I don’t know how too ask,” Terry said stuttering.

Portia and Kyle had known Terry for five years and liked him a lot. He was young, married just over a year and now had an infant.

She came from behind the kitchen bar and stood close to him, “C’mon, tell me. I promise whatever you say will stay with me.”

“I don’t know if I should,” he said looking around for the location of the camera in their apartment.

“Is this about Grace?” Portia asked referring to the baby.

He chuckled awkwardly and rushed towards the sink, “Would you look at that, there’s a bug in there. I better rinse it out.” He turned the water on the way and put the open bottle underneath. He glanced at her and said, “Yes.”

Catching on, she said loudly, “That reminds me, Drive Eight came home with a CD last run. It’s classical music, someone called Bach.” Portia walked to a CD player at the far end of the kitchen counter and turned it on.

The sweet and melodic sounds of violins filled the air.

She looked at Terry and quietly asked, “Is she alright?”

Pretending to wash the bottles, he replied, “I don’t know, she keeps coughing, like a lot. She won’t stop.”

“Baby’s cough a lot… I think.”

“Sometimes she coughs so much she turns blue, like she’s not getting enough air,” he said gripping the bottle tightly.

Portia suddenly knew what was going on. “You don’t want to take her to the infirmary do you?”

“No.”

“You’re afraid they’ll find something wrong with her and then take her away?”

Sheepishly looking at her, he answered, “Yes.”

“Give me a day to ask around about what it might be, not being a mother, I’m not quite sure what it is,” she offered.

“Thank you," he said.

“Is that what you wanted from Kyle?”

“I thought, he seems to know everything on account of all his travels. I just figured he might know what it was and maybe had some medicine for it,” Terry confessed.

“I understand,” she said rubbing his arm to soothe his worries.

“Listen, I better get going, I have more deliveries,” he said turning the water off.

She handed him a towel.

Terry dried the bottles and without saying another word, he hastily turned and left.

Portia watched him go. When the door closed her heart sank. How sad was it that they were not taking their daughter to the infirmary for fear she’d be banished? She looked at the food but suddenly didn’t have an appetite. Her world felt lopsided, even upside down. While The Number One utilized a firm iron grip over the people, it naturally created an opposition in the form of The Underground, but it seemed to be in equal proportions. For every harsh system put into place by The Number One, The Underground would respond with something as harsh, often resulting in hurting innocents. As the two battled, the majority of people living in Collective Prime were caught in the crossfire, too scared to stand up to Number One to demand reasonable change, but forced to back him by The Underground due to their extremist responses. It was a bloody and now tiresome tug of war with The Underground at a major disadvantage. She turned the music off. How could she listen to something so beautiful after hearing about Terry’s concerns? She stored everything in the refrigerator and went back to getting ready for the day


ONE MILE EAST OF SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Kyle hit the brakes causing his truck to screech to a full stop inches from a spray-painted sign that read. ENTERING ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC. 

It has been years since he’d crossed into the RMR and for a valid reason, he had a bounty on his head there and all because of a simple disagreement which resulted in him killing several of their people.

The Rocky Mountain Republic was anything but a real republic. Like, The Collective, they were led by a single person, a despot for all intents and purposes. The rule of law was simple, any law that was violated was punishable by death.

Another trait they shared with The Collective was their heightened state of paranoia. Newcomers weren’t welcome and if you stepped out of line, you’d find yourself hanging from a tree or quartered and fed to hogs. Neither was something Kyle wished upon himself.

If Number Two and Driver Ten had entered without an invitation and were looking to scavenge, the odds were high they’d been captured and almost immediately hung from the large oak outside of the captiol.

Kyle sat and thought. What were those two doing here? What possibly could have sent them here?  The RMR wasn’t a thriving community compared to The Collective, they didn’t hold anything of significant value, at least that he didn’t know. So, what would make them come here and under what appeared to be the knowledge of Number One?<


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To the west, the sun was riding high. Plenty of day left, but he was tired and in need of a proper shower. With that in mind, he decided to make his first stop in the Republic, an old dive bar called The Rusty Nail. It was a place he and other travelers knew well. He hadn’t been there in years and for his sake, he hoped it was still there. The Nail as locals called it, not only offered booze but also hot showers, a welcome treat after being on the road for days straight. Excited about the prospect of cleaning up, he put the truck into gear and sped off.


SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Though it had been years since he’d ridden these last few miles towards Salina, the turns and bends soon felt familiar. After making the last S curve, the dim lights of The Rusty Nail came into view.

Is it still open?  He thought as he pulled into the half empty parking lot. It is!  He found a space near the back and parked. He turned off the engine and stared through the windshield at the faded horizontal wood planks that made up the siding of the establishment. A chuckle came out of him as he thought of how predictable mankind was. Hundreds of nuclear warheads had destroyed civilization. Gone were every retail and commercial business ever created, but one, the bar. Yes, people could find small roadside markets selling wares, but only things of necessity had value except one, booze. No one needed alcohol, but never the less, here was a bar, still standing after years. Why? Because everyone needed a good drink, sometimes.

Kyle was happy to see the place, but before he could partake in a much-needed libation. He needed to prep his truck. He placed a boot on the front tire, popped the hood, removed the battery and a spark plug and lastly, removed several fuses. Of course, none of this prevented someone from still attempting to break in so he also planned on paying the Rusty Nail’s security guard posted near the back.

“How much?” Kyle asked the guard.

The old man looked Kyle up and down and replied, “Nice looking rig you got there.”

“How much?” Kyle repeated.

“Where does someone get a rig like that?”

“I saved up for it. How much to keep an eye on it?”

The old man’s eyes widened. “Something tells me you’re a long way from home.”

“Am I confused or are you not the Nail’s lot guard,” Kyle asked sarcastically.

The man spit, wiped his mouth, leaving tiny black particles from his chewing tobacco along his

chin and answered, “That’s my job.”

“Good, then how much?”

“I don’t take republic dollars. In fact I don’t take any bullshit currency. What do you have of real value?” the old man cackled.

Kyle tore his backpack off, unzipped the top button, pulled out a large can of tuna and held it out.

The old man gave Kyle an odd look and asked, “What’s that?”

Kyle furrowed his brow and returned his question with one. “You can’t see, can you?”

“I can damn well see, it’s just getting’ dark out here,” the old man grumbled.

Kyle laughed and said, “I have the perfect thing for you.” He put the can away, dug into a side

pocket and pulled out two pairs of bifocals. “Here try them on.”

The old man grumbled something unintelligible under his breath and snatched the glasses from

Kyle’s hand. He brought them close to his face and examined them.

“Go ahead, try them on,” Kyle said with a smile.

The old man put on the first pair, blinked repeatedly and looked around. He grumbled and donned the second. He looked up at Kyle and asked, “Where’s that can?”

“In my pack,” Kyle answered.

“Let me see it,” the old man barked.

Kyle gave it to him.

The old man held it at arm’s length and read, “Tuna in olive oil, hmm.” He spit out some chew, gazed over the lens at Kyle and said, “I’ll take these.”

“Deal,” Kyle said reaching for the tuna.

“And this,” the old man said holding the can tight to his chest.

Kyle cocked his head and said, “Then you better doubly watch my rig. Anything happens, I’ll skin you alive with this.” Kyle tipped his head towards the sheath knife on his hip.

“That’s a good-looking blade you got there. Looks legit, what kind”

“A Jake Hoback, got it years ago.”

“I’ll take that instead of these glasses,” the old man said taking the glasses off his face.

“No, we made our deal.”

The old man grunted. “Fine. And don’t you worry. Your truck will be fine,” the old man said as he nodded to his hip.

Kyle looked and saw the man had a Model 1911 holstered. He laughed and said, “With those glasses, you’ll be able to see what you’re shooting at.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll have you know…”

“Listen… what’s your name?”

“Conrad.”

“Listen, Conrad, I’m tired and in need of a hot shower, we can chat later,” Kyle continued and turned away to walk in. He took two steps and stopped when he saw the large sign posted on the door.

NO FIREARMS. CHECK THEM WITH THE GUARD 

Kyle turned and declared, “I’m not checking anything.”

“Those are the rules.”

Knowing how the world worked, Kyle pulled out two more cans of tuna and offered them to the old man.

“How do I know these cans aren’t hot,” Conrad asked referring to radiation.

“They’re not.”

“Regardless, I can’t be bought,” Conrad said.

“Fine, I’m over this bullshit,” Kyle said. He shoved the cans back in his back, ripped the glasses off Conrad’s face and hurried back towards his truck.

“Hold on, hold on!” Conrad called out.

Kyle stopped but didn’t turn around.

“Give me the glasses and those extra cans. I didn’t see a thing,” Conrad said nodding towards the back door.

Hearing what he wanted to hear, Kyle whipped around, gave everything back to Conrad and stepped inside. He was instantly greeted by the sweet smell of marijuana. Tobacco was just about impossible to get, but marijuana was easily grown indoors with limited space, making it a perfect crop and replacement for tobacco. He waved his hand in front of his nose and pushed his way past a menagerie of interesting looking characters until he reached the bar. He looked at his reflection in the large mirror that stretched the length of the wall behind the bar.

A potbellied man strutted over and asked in a raspy voice, “Whatcha drinking?”

“Rye whiskey,” Kyle answered.

The bartender reached behind, grabbed a half full clear bottle and placed it in front of Kyle with a small glass. “You look like you need more than just a single drink.”

“That bad, huh?” Kyle asked rubbing his fingers through his thick dark stubble.

“Name is Frank, I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before,” Frank said.

“Passing through,” Kyle replied.

“We don’t get too many passing through, mostly locals is all,” Frank said.

“Why?”

“On count of the proclamation.”

“What proclamation?” Kyle asked before tossing back the entire glass of whiskey. “Ahh, that’s good stuff, you distill that yourself?”

“Yep, in the back,” Frank said.

“Pour me another?” Kyle said sliding his glass towards Frank. “And tell me about this proclamation.”

Frank poured another double and answered, “The president declared all cross-border trade shut down until further notice.”

“Why?”

“Who knows, that fat fuck always makes overreaching proclamations. Many ignore, but the word has spread around enough that we get only a small percentage of the traders coming in now.”

“I’m sure he had good reason,” Kyle said and tossed back his second drink.

“Will you be needing a room?”

“Rooms, you have rooms to rent now?” Kyle asked surprised to hear of that amenity.

“Yes sir, when I took over management of this place I put in about seven rooms. It’s not the Ritz but they have clean sheets. I rent them by the hour.”

“Tempting but all I need is a shower,” Kyle said.

“Well we have you covered, we have six showers. I believe they’re all open, so take your pick.”

“How much?”

“We deal in Republic dollars,” Frank replied referring to the standard currency of the RMR. He looked both ways, leaned over the bar and whispered, “But if you have anything of value, I’ll take that instead.”

“You need food?” Kyle offered.

“I’m good with food. I could use some batteries but I could really use some sanitary wipes if you have any. You know the wet wipes that you use to wipe baby’s asses with would be perfect.”

“I don’t have any, but I do have the little individual packaged ones. The little square ones,” Kyle said using his hands to show the size.

“That’ll work, how many you got?”

“A pack of five hundred,” Kyle replied.

Frank held out his hand, “You got yourself one hot shower and two drinks.”

Kyle took his hand and shook it. “Deal.”

“So, will you be needing some company?”

“No. But maybe you can help me find someone.”

“Who might that be?” Frank asked, a curious look on his face.

“Two men, one a driver with The Collective and his partner. They’re in their late twenties.”

“Nope, sorry, I haven’t seen a driver from The Collective in here, ever."

“Know anyone who might be in the know?”

“Say who are you anyway, some sort of marshal?” Frank asked referencing the republics wandering law enforcement members.

“I’m no one, just looking for my friends.”

Frank nodded and asked, “You sure you won’t need any company? We have some real tight pussy here.”

Kyle gave Frank an odd look and asked, “Just a shower, nothing more.”

Frank laughed and said, “If you change your mind, let me know. I’ve got more than a few girls just waiting in the back.”

“You’re running hookers out of here? Boy this place is sure different than it was ten or so years ago.”

Frank leaned in and whispered loudly, “We even have some young ones if that’s your speed.”

Kyle froze. His grip tightened around the glass.

“Since we don’t get too much traffic and you seem like a nice guy, I’ll give you a discount on one of the young ones, they’re coveted by some of the locals on the count of being tight,” Franks snorted.

“These young ones, they yours or your bosses?”

“I am the boss, this is my joint.”

“You don’t say,” Kyle said.

“Yep, took over management a few years back. The old owner had a run in with a bureaucrat from Logan,” Frank proudly said.

A large green door opened to the far right of the bar. Moans, whimpers and cries came from the dimly lit hallway beyond.

Kyle could feel rage building inside him. He knew prostitution made a roaring come back not long after the bombs dropped. What turned him off was the human trafficking, and child sex slave trade that blossomed in the power vacuum quickly after the United States government fell. How quickly mankind reverted to their old barbaric ways.

“What you say?” Frank said.

“If I did want something else, do I get it down that hall?” Kyle asked pointing to the green door.

“Yep, pussy to the right, showers and sleeping to the left,” Frank replied.

Kyle glanced to his left and saw a red door. “Why are the doors painted different colors?”

“That’s the way the place came,” Frank chuckled. “I have no damn idea. I should paint that one pink. Huh, what do you think?”

Kyle didn’t reply, he stood and stared at Frank.

Feeling uneasy, Frank asked, “You look… tense. You sure you don’t need a massage or something.”

“Just a shower,” Kyle replied tossing the whiskey back.

The green door opened and out stepped a young girl, no older than eleven. She wore a tube top and a min-skirt. Her tender face was covered in bruises and smeared make up.

The sight of the girl boiled Kyle’s blood.

She made her way over to a group of older men.

Kyle watched her and the group exchange. One of the men grabbed her and pulled her close, he ran his hand up her skirt. That was enough for him, he put his glass down, turned and took a few steps before stopping when he heard the distinct and unmistakable sound, the action of a pump shotgun. He craned his head back and saw Frank pointing what looked like a Remington 870 at him.

“We don’t want any trouble, I suggest you go take that shower, stall two is open,” Frank warned, the barrel leveled directly at Kyle’s head.

Kyle noticed the bar was silent and that all eyes were on him. The temptation to draw down was there but so was the desire to not die.

“Hey stud, how about we not do that,” a woman whispered just behind him. Kyle looked and saw a young and attractive woman. She kept her hands in sight and again urged him to step away, “Come on sweetheart. How about I show you a good time, on the house.”

Kyle put his attention back on Frank and the men in the corner.

The woman leaned close and said, “Sweetheart, if you’re a smart man, you’ll come back with me, but if you insist on dying tonight, then please give me the courtesy of not being in the crossfire.”

Knowing she was right, Kyle looked at Frank and nodded slightly. He did the prudent thing, did an about face and headed towards the red door.

Frank lowered the shotgun and went back to bartending.

“Is that you?” a man hollered from the far corner of the bar.

Kyle looked towards the voice to see a bearded man waving and coming towards him.

“Oh, my God, is that you?” the man said walking up on Kyle.

“Not so close, okay,” Kyle said, his hands extended out in front of him.

The man leaned close and looked into Kyle’s eyes, “Holy shit, it is you? Kyle Fucking Grant.”

Hearing his name startled Kyle. Ways of how he’d answer popped into his head but he didn’t know which one to go with.

“It’s me, Tommy O’Leary, c’mon man, it’s me, Tommy,” the man said.

Kyle didn’t need to search his memory long. He remembered a man by the name of Tommy O’Leary but he was having a hard time putting this man’s face with that name.

“It’s my mug? I get it. I’m all fucking scarred up. Got burned on a job, I should say seared but whatever, the left side of my face about melted off.”

Kyle looked closer and but still he didn’t look like the Tommy O’Leary he knew from before the war.

“Hold on, this will jog your memory,” Tommy said lifting up his left arm sleeve exposing a faded tattoo of an American flag with a blue stripe and the words, The Thin Blue Line .

Seeing the tattoo confirmed it was Tommy O’Leary. “Tommy?”

“It’s me buddy,” Tommy said giving Kyle a tight embrace. “What the hell are you doing in a place like this?”

“I’m looking for someone and I used to frequent this place years ago before it turned into this. I was in need of a shower and well here I am.”

“They offer regular and golden showers here now,” Tommy joked.

“I can ask the same of you, what brings you to this shit hole?” Kyle said.

“I’m looking for someone too.”

“Really? Would I know them?” Kyle asked curious.

“I doubt it, he’s some scumbag from up north. I heard he comes here a lot, he’s got a bounty on his head and I’m here to collect.”

“You’re a bounty hunter?” Kyle asked a bit concerned about the bounty on him.

“Yep, I know not too long of a fall from being a detective, still looking for shitheads and criminals.”

“You work by yourself?” Kyle asked.

“No, I have a partner, we’re part of Leviathan,” Tommy answered. Leviathan was a syndicate composed of mercenaries, assassins and bounty hunters that operated across all boundaries and borders. Their reputation was similar to that of Drivers as they too were a feared and respected group. The core difference was Leviathan members had no allegiance to any government, group, or warlord, if someone needed a hired gun to kill or find someone, they were whom you called. If you happened to be a target of theirs, God help you, because Leviathan wouldn’t stop until they got you. Though they operated and cared less for anyone’s laws, they did live by a code. They never killed children and they didn’t work for slavers.

“You’re with Leviathan? I’ve heard of them and for full disclosure, I killed one years ago, and took his prized knife,” Kyle said tipping his head towards the hip where his knife was sheathed. It was widely known that once a person was accepted into the ranks of Leviathan, they were branded on their right forearms with the symbol of the group, an eight armed octopus and were given two distinct weapons, a sheathed knife and an axe, both manufactured pre-war by Jake Hoback, an edged weapons company long since gone.

“Do you mind if I see that?” Tommy asked referencing the knife.

“Sure,” Kyle said removing it and handing it over.

It took Tommy all of two seconds to know whose it was. “So that’s what happened to Kristoff. Hmm. We heard he went into The Collective for a bounty and I guess he ran into you.” Tommy said and handed the knife back. “Some advice for an old friend, don’t mention that you’ve killed a Leviathan to another Leviathan. We don’t take kindly to someone killing our own. Your only saving grace is that Kristoff was a pain in the ass. Pretty much everyone hated him.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, but let me remind you. Inside The Collective, we’re the lawmen and if you don’t listen, you get a bullet. Kristoff didn’t listen very well,” Kyle said sliding the knife back into its sheath.

“What do you mean you’re a lawman in The Collective?” Tommy asked.

Kyle looked around to make sure no one ease dropping before telling Tommy, “I’m a driver for The Collective.”

“No shit! That’s fucking cool. How did you score that gig?”

“Oh, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.”

“Fuck you, I’d burn the other side of my face to work for The Collective, I hear the streets are paved with gold. You know something, it’s the one place Leviathan doesn’t travel through much because of you motherfuckers,” Tommy said, his latter comment referencing drivers.

“It’s apparent you’ve never been to Prime, because you’d know the streets are pavement, not gold but I’d agree, it’s not too bad compared to everywhere else,” Kyle confessed.

“Well if you ever need an old detective like me there, please let me know,” Tommy said patting him on the arm. “I’m not bullshitting either.”

“You’d give up Leviathan?” Kyle asked.

“Are you fucking kidding me? In a second.”

A thought struck Kyle concerning Leviathan syndicate members. “I heard you guys have a code about taking out slavers?”

“Some of us. There’s a team that operates south of here, run by a guy named Jacob. He targets slavers just for fun. Me, I’m here to make a buck. I don’t ever do work for a slaver but I keep to myself and do my jobs. Nothing more. Are these people here total scumbags? Yep, but I just look the other way unless you’re going to pay me a shit load of gold or legit currency.”

“Aren’t you mister morality,” Kyle quipped.

“If I had to be the moral conscience of this shithole world, I’d be in a fight every five minutes,” Tommy joked.

“I heard you guys have to kill a puppy or something before joining?” Kyle joked.

“Don’t pay attention to all the rumors, we’re not a cut throat as people say. Nah, I’m joking, we’re fucking worse, we’d sell our own mothers if we could make a buck,” Tommy joked

“Weird that you’re Leviathan and I’m a Driver and that we’ve never crossed paths until now,” Kyle said becoming a bit nervous as the thought that this encounter wasn’t coincidental. “Listen, I should go. Great running into you. If you ever find yourself at the gates of Collective Prime, ask for me.”

“I will man, I will. How crazy to run into you. A long way from the mean streets of L.A.”

“Yep,” Kyle replied nodding his head.

“What are the odds we were both gone when it all went to hell,” Tommy said referring to them both being on vacation when the war started.

“Where were you, wasn’t it like Helena or something?” Kyle asked, his eyes darting around the room.

“Good memory, yeah I was in Montana. Thank God it wasn’t a target. And you?”

“I was in northern Colorado, like you, miles away from anything.”

“Yeah, that’s right didn’t you have some girlfriend up there and you’d volunteer at the summer camp she ran?”

“Something like that,” Kyle said not wanting to think about those days.

A strange man approached Tommy.

Kyle casually placed his hand on the back strap of his pistol.

The man didn’t even give Kyle a glance, he leaned in and whispered something to Tommy. Tommy’s eyes widened, “I’ll be right there,” he said to the man who quickly walked off. Tommy pulled out a notepad, pen and jotted down a number. “Here’s my sat number.”

Kyle took the paper and said, “I’d call you but I need a sat phone to do that.”

“Collective Drivers don’t have sat phones?” Tommy asked surprised.

“I don’t. I’ve found everything else driving the roads but never came across one,” Kyle said a bit jealous.

“They’re not all that. Work half the time. And the battery on mine is becoming sketch, barely holds a charge anymore and the coverage is spotty. I can only guess that some of the satellites are now offline. But when they do work, it’s great.”

“I have to go. I have a hot shower waiting for me. Like I said, if you ever wind up at the gates of Collective Prime, just tell them you’re my friend, I’ll get you in,” Kyle said, again wanting to break away from the reunion only because he was becoming increasingly nervous.

“Ha, you’re the abracadabra to get inside the pearly gates, huh?”

“You can say that,” Kyle said taking a step back, signaling with body language that he was done with the conversation.

Tommy put his hand on Kyle’s shoulder and squeezed, “So good to see you man.”

“Good to see you too, Tommy,” Kyle said, a slight grin gracing his face, an oddity for Driver Eight.

Tommy strutted off.

The woman walked up. “Old boyfriend?”

“Friend from another life,” Kyle replied, his eyes scanning the bar and picking up on more than a few people watching him.

She leaned in and said, “You’re still getting some hard stares. I think it’s time for that shower.”

“Okay.”

“This way,” she said and walked to the red door and opened it. “Shower Two.” She bit her lower lip and pulled down her shirt to expose the top of her large breasts.

Kyle gave her a look up and down and said, “I won’t be needing your services.” Then walked off.

She patted him on the shoulder as he stepped past and said, “I do more than give happy endings, I keep people alive too.” She laughed. “When I save people’s lives they normally say, thank you.”

Kyle waved but kept walking down the hall.

“And by the way, my name is Candace, everyone around here calls me Candy.”

He stopped at a door number two, cocked his head and gave her a look. “Thank you, Candace.”

She laughed and hollered back, “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”


COLLECTIVE PRIME

Portia didn’t like to arrive at the gatherings too early for fear she’d be placed up front or volunteered to help. She waited until she had just enough time to make it and no more.

She cleared the corner of the cobbler shop and saw the forum had a bustling crowd milling around outside the large building. A sense of relief swept over her as she knew she’d easily slip in and snag a spot near the back. Weaving through a sea of people she found herself in a line to go in. It wasn’t unusual to have security placed at the gates going in, it just meant that today, Number One would be here and not broadcasted over the big screen.

The guards searched through bags, patted down and used a magnetic wand to ensure no one was bringing in any sort of weapon. They were also checking identification too, that was very unusual and could only mean they were looking for certain people.

For Portia, none of this was a problem. She reached the front of the line. A swarm of guards surrounded her and began the process.

The lead guard ordered, “Arms up.”

She did as he said.

Another guard ran the magnetic wand over her. When he finished he said to the lead guard, “Clean.”

One more guard came forward and patted her legs and wrists. He too looked at the lead guard and said, “Clean.”

Armed with a clip board, the lead guard asked, “Identification, please.”

Portia rolled up her left sleeve and extended her arm to the lead guard. Just below her wrist was a tattoo with her job and number, just beneath that she had an RF implant.

The lead guard looked at her wrist, and with a handheld scanner, pointed it at her wrist and pulled the trigger. The scanner peeped. He looked at the screen and glanced at his clipboard.

Portia was growing impatient. All she wanted to do was go inside, find the furthest spot from the stage and just zone out.

The lead guard looked up from his clipboard and to his subordinate. “She’s marked alpha, take her to the reserved section.”

Hearing this, Portia’s eyes widened with fear. “What does that mean?”

The guard who had patted her down looked at her and simply said, “Follow me.”

“No, what does that mean?” she asked not moving.

The lead guard leaned in and growled, “Go with my guard, now.”

“But where?” she asked.

“Front row,” he answered.

“Why?”

He held up the clipboard and answered, “Because you’re on the list, now go, you’re holding up everyone else.”

Knowing she wasn’t going to win the debate, Portia relented.

The guard escorted her down the long and gently sloping stairs to the very front row. He stopped and pointed, “Seat two.”

She looked at the seat and noticed it was just off center from the podium from where Number One would be speaking.

“Sit, the gathering will start soon,” the guard ordered.

Shaking with fear, she did as he said, her eyes darting around. Everyone around her stared and were thinking the same thing. What was she doing in the front row?  The front row was reserved for top tier government officials, dignitaries, VIPs and occasionally prisoners who were going to be used as a prop for the gathering, public executions were common place in The Collective. She was none of those, so she couldn’t imagine why she had been called out. Nervously she sat and placed her quivering hands on her lap.

The minutes felt like hours for her. All that she kept thinking was, Why am I here? 

The lights turned down. The crowd grew silent. A lone woman emerged from the curtains on stage left and came to the podium.

Portia recognized her. She was Number One’s top assistant and confidante. She went by the name Bravo One. No one knew why she used that name and for a vast majority, no one cared.

Bravo One tapped on the microphone, gently cleared her throat and said, “Years! It took years to build the past civilization.” She paused for effect and continued, “Minutes! It took minutes for the nuclear warheads to destroy it.” Another pause. “But we all know those minutes were but the last minutes in what really took years to destroy. Those bombs didn’t rain down because suddenly the nations of the world decided to destroy each other. No, the war came because of selfishness, because of a belief in self-determination, and because of greed. But out of the ashes came our hero, our savior; he stepped forward and in our hour of doubt and need showed us that the war, that the destruction of the old world was exactly what the human race needed.” She paused took a deep breath and chuckled. “And like a computer when it’s not functioning properly, all it needs is a reboot.”

Several people howled their approval from the audience.

She waited for them to calm down and continued, “Once we came to see that the reboot was a good thing, he set to making a new and strong society. One built on the needs of the many. One where the needs of the individual were tossed aside. He showed us that under the old system we weren’t really free, no, we merely thought we were. In retrospect, we had enslaved ourselves. We were prisoners in a prison of our own creation. Living lives focused only on our own needs while forsaking the greater good.” Once more she paused and took a long deep breath and appeared to get emotional. “I was there when the war came. I’ll admit, I was terrified. I felt certain death was around the corner for me, but then he came. His words brought light to the dark. He filled my heart with hope and I know he filled your hearts too. He gave us the tenents for which our new society was built upon. After many years of working together, we have a thriving community, a collective of singular focused people all working towards one goal, with one purpose. Collective, please stand and welcome to the stage…”

The entire crowd, which numbered in the thousands, rose to their feet. Many cheered, some cried and a few remained silent.

Bravo One turned and pointed to stage right, “The Number One!”

The crowd grew louder.

From stage right, a short and portly man appeared, his arms raised and waving. A single bright light beamed down from above and tracked him as he walked towards the podium.

Portia stood, applauding vigorously in an attempt to look overjoyed to see him but inside her stomach was tied in knots.

Number One reached the podium, gave Bravo One a warm embrace and took his place directly behind the microphone. Bravo One quickly raced off the stage.

One looked out on the cheering audience. A broad smile streaked across his


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face. His head protruded from the top of the green turtleneck sweater making it look like a small bowling ball sitting on top of a large green exercise ball. He started to wave his arms down, motioning for silence.

Ever obedient, the crowd grew silent and promptly sat down.

He looked from left to right and back to center. He leaned close to the microphone and hollered, “THE ONE FOR THE MANY…!

The crowd shouted, “THE MANY FOR THE ONE!”

His smile grew wider. “Yes, the many for the one, for the collective.”

“Long live the collective!” a man screamed from somewhere in the audience.

“Yes, long live the collective,” Number One repeated pointing at the man before giving him a thumbs up.

Whistles and screams of we love you , rang out from all around the forum.

Number One reveled in the praise.

Portia sat, her entire body now quivering at the anticipation of Number One looking down on her and accusing her of some unknown crime. She’d seen it before so it was possible. She searched her thoughts for what it might be, but couldn’t come up with anything she’d done that violated a law.

“Collective, I call you here this afternoon to give you some good news, some bad news and to give you an example of how a resident should live and shouldn’t.”

Hearing those last words amplified Portia’s fear.

“First the good news. Today we received word from Number Two that a new trade deal with the Rocky Mountain Republic has been secured. This will bring much needed items, mainly medicines like antibiotics here in exchange for some of our crops. Now that we have a surplus in our fields to the west, we can use that to make trades. This trade deal was critical and I am so proud of Number Two for securing this for us,” he hollered. As the crowd roared their approval, he glanced down at Portia.

Seeing he was staring, Portia shifted nervously in her chair. Why is he looking at me?  She asked herself.

“Now the bad news. Our surgeon general has reported some unusual cases of an unknown virus…”

The crowd groaned and gasped.

“Settle down, please. Right now we don’t have anything to worry about. It appears this virus effects young children. Sometimes it doesn’t have any symptoms. Therefore, I am instructing the principals of our schools to schedule testing for all children starting first thing tomorrow. I am sorry but we must do this. It is the best thing for The Collective.”

A lot of cross talk erupted from the crowd.

Portia’s self-concern pivoted to the thirty-seven children she presided over. Knowing there would be a new round of testing meant some of the beaming faces she saw six days per week would be gone, forever. Her thoughts then shifted to one student she had grown immensely attached too. Melissa was her name and she held Portia’s heartstrings more than any student ever. had.

Raising his voice, Number One boomed, “Now I’d like to give you all an example of a good resident, a model resident, and then some that have violated the laws of The Collective and must be punished.”

Portia’s heart was beating out of her chest. She began to question whether she should just make a run for it. Her eyes shifted from left to right looking for potential exits and escape routes.

“I feel it is always important when we’re all gathered to recognize a resident that has gone above and beyond. This person has shown dedication to our Collective and without them, we wouldn’t thrive. They perform their duties with professionalism and has demonstrated the core virtues of our great society. Please let me call to the stage, Teacher Seven,” Number One shouted out while pointing to Portia.

A bright beam of light shot down on Portia, who sat in shock at the unexpected announcement.

“Teacher Seven, please, come to the stage,” Number One ordered, his tone jovial.

Portia stood, her legs felt wobbly so she steadied herself before making her first step towards the stage.

“Everyone, please give a rousing applause to Teacher Seven!” Number One shouted.

The crowd rose to the feet and applauded loudly.

Portia walked onto the stage and up to the side of the podium. She gave Number One an anxious look before bringing her gaze down.

“Teacher Seven, please come over and talk to The Collective,” Number One urged waving her over.

She walked over and stood behind the large black microphone.

Number One leaned in and whispered, “Say something, like hello and tell them why you love it here.”

Taking his cues, she did as he suggested. She lowered the microphone until it was near her mouth and said, “THE ONE FOR THE MANY…!

The crowd replied,  “THE MANY FOR THE ONE!”

Her nervousness took over as she stood frozen behind the microphone.

One more time, Number One gave her a suggestion, “How happy are you to live here?”

“I am so happy to be a resident of The Collective. My life is truly blessed and I’m honored to give all I have to this great society.”

Everyone in the audience cheered.

“That is good, you may sit down,” Number One said motioning for her to leave.

She didn’t argue, she rushed off stage and took her seat.

“Residents, isn’t she wonderful?” he asked the crowd.

They responded with a loud cheer, “YES!”

“And did you know, she’s married to the legend, Driver Eight!” Number One said clapping.

The people around Portia all reached out with various forms of congratulations, some patting her back, others holding their hand out for her to take while some just wanted to touch her. This moment in the lime light was so odd for her, she had seen Kyle received praise but never thought she would, it made her feel very uncomfortable.

The Collective was built upon equality and abolishment of the individual but so often the opposite played out with people being singled out and given access to things others weren’t. It was proof that equality was a myth, if left to their own devices, human kind always reverts back to a default mode.

Number One quieted the raucous crowd, he lowered his head and paused, when he lifted it again, his expression had changed from jovial to anger. “My fellow residents, it’s that time. The time when we call out those around you who have violated our laws. These people, these individuals…”

Boos rang out.

“…these individuals, believe that the world I have given you is wrong. They wish to destroy it by implementing the ways of the destructive past, but we know what happened before. If we allow that sort of thought to take hold it will utterly destroy everything we have now and thrust us back to a dark age. These people would have you live like the Generates.”

Louder boos came from the audience followed by hisses.

“If you don’t believe what I have to say, listen and watch for yourself,” Number One said turning around and pointing to the large projection screen.

The screen came to life. On it were three people, two women and one man, sitting around a small dining table in what appeared to be someone’s house.

The man spoke first, “If I must listen to those damn sirens and those mind-numbing announcements one more time, I’ll die.” 

Commotion broke out in the center of the forum. Screams and cries followed.

Portia looked back and saw a man wrestling with security. She looked closely and noticed it was the man in the video. Out of the corner of her eye she saw motion, she turned her head to get a better look and saw a woman racing up the far side aisle. Guards cornered and tasered her before she could go anywhere. Opposite that, another woman sobbed and moaned. That drew the attention of the guards who swept down and surrounded her. The culprits in the video were now apprehended.

Number One had the video paused and waited for them to be brought onto the stage. “Put them on their knees over there,” he said pointing to a spot a dozen feet from him. He looked back and said, “Continue.”

“I agree, sometimes I think those Generates have it better. To live free, being able to come and go. There’s something romantic about it,”  one of the women said.

The other woman followed up, “Do you even think they exist?” 

“The Generates?”  the man asked.

“Yes,”  the second woman said. “Or are they some sort of story to keep up afraid, to ensure we don’t leave the walls. Here’s something to think about, are these walls really here to protect us or keep us in?” 

“I’ve never thought of it that way,”  the first woman said.

“What’s wrong Simon?”  the second woman said.

“Can I trust you?”  he asked the two.

The two women looked at each other for a moment then turned to face him. “Sure,”  the first woman said. “Yes, of course,”  the second chimed in.

“I’ve been talking with The Underground, not like the entire group and it’s not like I’ve gone to any of their meetings, but I’ve had regular contact with one of their members.” 

“Why would you risk your life?”  the first woman asked.

“I can’t live like this anymore. I want to know what’s really going on. I don’t believe it’s as bad out there as they say. I think the drivers are liars. I feel more like a prisoner than a productive part of this bullshit so called collective,”  he railed.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea you’re talking with those people, they’re terrorists  ,” the first woman said.

“What did this person tell you?”  the second woman asked.

“They need more people. For them to effect change they need a display, a big one, to show they’re a force to be reckoned with. Only then will One take notice. They wish to break free if he won’t,”  the man said defiantly. He turned to the first woman and snapped, “And they’re not terrorists, they’re freedom fighters.” 

Are you going to help them?”  the second woman asked.

“Yes.” 

“Cut, stop, turn off the video, I don’t need to see anymore traitorous talk!” Number One hollered.

The screen went dark followed by boos and jeers from the crowd.

Number One stepped away from the podium and approached the three kneeling people. He looked down on their grieving faces. All were upset and knew what this meant. He looked out to the audience and asked, “What should we do with them?”

“Death!” Everyone shouted in unison.

Number One stepped in front of the man and asked, “What was it you said? I can’t live like this anymore ?”

The man looked up and pleaded, “I didn’t mean it, I was, I was just talking, you know, bravado.”

“Bravado? Ha.”

“Please, Number One, I made a mistake, please show me some mercy,” he cried out.

“Me?” Number One asked laughing as he turned around to face the crowd. “He said, show me  some mercy. Even in the darkest hour, he still clings to his selfish belief systems. I bet I could offer him a deal but in order to take the deal he’d have to allow the other two to die and he’d take it.” Number One turned back and asked, “What’s your name? Your birth name, give it to me.”

“Simon.”

“Simon, tell me. If I said I’d spare your life but these two had to die, what would you say?”

The woman to Simon’s right burst out, “Simon don’t make any deal with him, don’t do it. He’s a liar!”

Number One looked at the woman and laughed, “I’m the liar?” He focused his attention back on Simon and asked, “Well, Simon.”

Simon’s lips trembled and his eyes shifted back and forth. The conflict inside him was intense but his desire to stay alive was too much. “Yes. I will tell you what you want to know. I can be rehabilitated but these two? No. Spare my life and I will forever serve The Collective.”

Both of his accomplices cried out in anger and fear.

Number One smiled broadly. He turned around to face the crowd who now were on their feet, cheering for Number One to kill them. “Should I take the deal?”

“NO!” the crowd shouted.

He walked back to the podium, grabbed the microphone and said, “We are able to function as a society because we are built upon a foundation of laws. These laws have enabled us to thrive and exist surrounded by savagery. We are the light in the dark, we are the shining city on the hill. It saddens me that these three couldn’t see that. They lost faith. They even look upon these walls as something bad now. They romanticize about the free world that exists beyond these walls. So what I will do is give it to them. I will let them go live among the free people as they call them.” He paused and walked up to the three. “I will be merciful to you, Simon. You will not go and live outside of these walls, I’ll spare you the horror.”

“Thank you, thank you. You’re merciful,” Simon sobbed.

“You’re welcome, Simon. The other two, I will have a driver take you east and drop you off just outside of The Wastes. There you will live, free to do what you will. However, I will offer you this. If you manage to survive a year, you can return. I want you to come back and be witness to others who may hold these limited beliefs.”

All the women could do was whimper.

Number One turned around and hollered. “I have enforced the laws with temperance and mercy.” He turned to stage left and called out, “Guards, take the women to the driver’s depot. You’re to not give them anything, no food, water, clothing, weapons, nothing. They wanted to be free, they can. And take Simon to the Trees of Justice.”

Simon screamed, “No!”

Portia had been watching in shock but when she heard Simon’s fate, she started to cry. The Tree of Justice was a place of execution. Not a quick one, but a slow and agonizing one. Those sent to it to die, were lashed to the tree’s massive trunk. Their arms and legs spread wide apart and strapped down. There they would be left for whatever creature, Generate or human to torture or kill. It was a brutal way to die and set aside for those who had betrayed The Collective. Other death sentences were simple hangings in front of Number One’s executive mansion.

“You said were giving me mercy, you said so!” Simon wailed.

“I said I was going to show you mercy. Believe me, dying on that tree is merciful to what your friends will experience. You are the lucky one,” Number One replied.

A group of ten guards marched onto the stage and escorted the prisoners away.

Taking the podium once more, Number One said, “People of The Collective. I have since day one and until now been humbled and honored to be your leader. Thank you for this and let us finish this gathering by reciting our motto, together. ““THE ONE FOR THE MANY…!

The crowd replied, “THE MANY FOR THE ONE!”

Number One placed the microphone down and walked off the stage.

The overhead lights turned on across the expansive building.

Portia sat, her stomach still in knots. She never expected or had one inking she’d be called on stage and still couldn’t understand why it happened. Around her everyone chatted, laughed and debated the events of the gathering. She overheard many saying how thrilling it was. Those words disgusted her. There was not one thing that was exciting about what she just witnessed, but it was successful in its goal and that was to strike fear into the heart of everyone there. That no matter where you were, Number One was watching.

A guard approached her, “Teacher Seven?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Come with me.”

“Where?”

“I’m to take you to the executive mansion. Number One wishes to eat a late lunch with you.”

Knowing she didn’t have a choice, she nodded and stood.

“This way,” the guard said and headed towards the far exit.

Portia followed, her heart racing. This day had gone from peculiar to downright terrifying.


SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Kyle knew the world had turned uncivilized and downright savage and he knew child prostitution was real, but knowing about it and seeing it were different. He wanted to do something about it, but at what cost? He was one man and he had a responsibility not only to The Collective but to Portia. He couldn’t get lost in saving the world or going on a crusade that would jeopardize everything he’d worked so hard for.

Unable to stay any longer, he cleaned up, packed and headed out. Upon entering the main bar area, he looked for the young girl. She was gone as were two of the men. Revolting thoughts came back which again put him back into a state of anger.

Behind the bar, Frank called out, “How was the shower?”

Kyle nodded but kept walking towards the exit.

“Hey buddy, payment would be nice,” Frank said.

Kyle headed over and dug through his pack. He came out with a small pack of wipes. “Five hundred.”

Frank picked them up, gave them a look over and said, “Looks good. These will come in handy. Need these to clean up the girls.” Frank snickered knowing his comment would get under Kyle’s skin.

It worked, but Kyle kept his composure. “I’ll see you around.”

“Sounds good and if you change your mind, we get a fresh batch of younglings every few weeks,” Frank laughed.

“You know something, I just might come back to pay you a visit,” Kyle threatened.

“You do that,” Frank said his steely eyes locked with Kyle’s.

Kyle marched to the exit. There the young woman who had helped talk him down, stopped him and asked, “Where you off too?”

“Work.”

“What do you do?”

Annoyed, he told her the truth, “I’m a driver with The Collective, now if you’ll excuse me.”

“Ooh, a driver. Which one are you? I hear you go by numbers. What’s yours?”

“Eight.”

“Well, wouldn’t you know, that’s my lucky number,” she laughed.

“Good for you, now if you’ll excuse me, I have someplace to be,” he said and attempted to step around her.

She stopped him and said, “You come in here all high and mighty, but I’ll have you know this isn’t a choice. This is about survival. If I fight back, they kill me and my son. I don’t have anywhere to go, so this is what I do.”

Kyle didn’t know what to say, so he simply replied, “I’m sorry.”

“If I could get into your rig and drive off, I would, in a heartbeat, but not before cutting that bastards throat,” she said motioning towards Frank.

“Maybe one day you’ll get that chance,” Kyle said.

“Tell me, what’s a driver from The Collective doing here?” she asked.

“Maybe you can help me. I’m looking for two men. One a driver, tall, lean and the other…”

“Was he a short guy with a belly?” she asked cutting him off. “You can’t miss a fat person nowadays, it’s a sign of wealth.”

Kyle cocked his head and said, “That’s him. When did you see them?”

“Came in a few days ago.”

“Where did they go?”

“Go? Honey, they’re still here,” she exclaimed pointing towards the green door.

Kyle snapped his head around and looked. “They’re back there?”

She rubbed his arm and said, “Sweetheart, they’ve been knee deep in pussy since they came. Especially the fat one.”

Kyle shook his head in disgust.

“Want me to take you back there?” she asked.

Kyle thought but declined. The idea of seeing grown men with young girls made him nauseous.

“Who are they? Important people I presume? Are they dangerous” she asked.

Ignoring her question, he said, “Go get the tall one, tell him someone is here to see him.”

“Will do,” she said and headed off, she stopped and turned. “If he asks, who do I say is here?”

“Tell him, Driver Eight is here.”


* * *

Kyle radioed The Collective to inform them he had found Number Two and Driver Ten safe and that there was something sensitive that needs to be addressed upon their return. The dispatch asked what it was but Kyle kept it to himself only informing the dispatch to tell Number One that his son was found.

Back inside, Kyle waited for Number Two while he sat down to discuss the entire situation with

Driver Ten. The sounds of the bar and the brothel reverberated through the thin walls adding a contextual layer that felt dirty. Kyle had much to say to Driver Ten but all he could do at first was shake his head at the abhorrent behavior of a Collective driver.

The silence between the two was loud with Driver Ten unable to even look at Kyle, his head lowered in shame.

“We have a code?” Kyle reminded him.

Driver Ten lifted his head and locked his gaze with Kyle’s. “But in my defense, we’re not in The Collective, the code doesn’t count here.”

“Just shut up,” Kyle snapped knowing Driver Ten was partaking in sexual acts with children as Candace came right out and said so. It required all of Kyle’s discipline to not shoot him right there

In The Collective, child enslavement and prostitution was outlawed, even in the unincorporated areas around The Collective, The Number One frowned on it and had his drivers pass sentence whenever they encountered it.

“Listen, it wasn’t my idea,” Ten pleaded.

Kyle leaned on the table and said, “I can understand that Two ordered you to come here, but he didn’t make you do what you did once you got here. That’s on you.”

“But it was only one,” Two said. His sad defense falling on deaf ears.

“I’ll deal with you later. What I need from you now is to go get Two. Time to take him back home.”

“Sure, but, um, I’m not sure if he’ll come,” Two said.

Kyle looked at Candace who was standing across the room but in earshot.

She returned the look and said, “You want me to go get him?”

“Do you mind?” Kyle asked.

Candace exited the room.

“Please understand,” Ten pleaded.

Kyle rose his hand gesturing for Ten to be quiet.

“C’mon, what happens out of The Collective, stays out of the…”

“Do you not understand the meaning of shut up ?” Kyle barked.

The door opened and in came Number Two, a shit eating grin stretched across his chubby face exposing his yellowish teeth. He had more wealth than ninety-nine percent and access to dental products but still his laziness showed through his lack of dental hygiene. He laughed like a giddy child as Candace lured him there saying there was a special treat inside for him. “You guys know how to treat your guests.” He looked around but only saw Kyle and Ten sitting at a small table in the far corner. “What’s this?” he asked Candace surprised.

She didn’t reply, instead she stepped inside the room and closed the door.

“I asked you, what’s this?” Number Two seethed at her.

“Number Two, I’m Driver Eight, I was sent here to get you. Now go get your things, we leave in ten minutes,” Kyle ordered.

“I know who you are but I don’t take orders from you, or anyone,” Two snarled.

Kyle stood and walked over to Two, stopping inches from him.

Even without touching him, Number Two could physically feel Kyle’s presence, but he wasn’t going to allow a driver to intimidate him. “Back off.”

“Barry, listen, you don’t want to mess with Driver Eight,” Ten warned.

“I don’t care who the fuck he is, I’m second in line to rule over The Collective,” Two said.

“How many times do I have to ask?” Kyle asked.

Two tried to stand tall, but his short five-foot five stature seemed small next to Kyle towering at six-foot three. He sucked in his belly, broadened his shoulders and snapped, “Back…the…fuck…off!”

“Listen, Barry, I’m under orders from your father to come find you and bring you back. Now, he didn’t give me specifics so I suppose I could hog tie you, stuff you in the back of my truck and haul you back or you can go get your shit, and come with me. Your choice, one is hog tie, two…”

“Go with two,” Ten shouted.

Barry tried to hold his stare against Kyle but couldn’t, he looked away towards Ten and said, “Fuck this.” He turned around swiftly, his portly belly juggling and headed for the door.

“Can I assume that means you’re going to get your shit?” Kyle asked. He normally would have treated someone like Barry with respect but couldn’t find the discipline to do so after knowing the kind of man he was. “I’m just trying to figure out how I’m going to explain all this to your father.”

Barry turned back and barked, “I spoke to my father yesterday, he knows I’m here. So fuck off.” He threw open the door and marched off.

Candace winked at Kyle. “I’ll go help him,” she said and sauntered off.

Kyle turned around and said, “Go get your stuff. We leave in ten minutes.”

“Yes, sir,” Ten said jumping to his feet.

As Ten passed him, Kyle said, “I want you to know that when we get back. I’ll be holding you accountable for this behavior.”

Ten nodded and rushed out.

Kyle couldn’t be more disgusted than he was now. How long had Barry been doing this? Was this the reason he’d run off before? Did Number One know and was harboring a pedophile and grooming him to take over?  So many questions but right now his first priority was getting Barry back home safely then find out the answers to these questions.


COLLECTIVE PRIME

Portia was amazed by the grandeur of the executive mansion. Its tall ceilings, coffered with crown molding were impressive and beautiful. The travertine flooring with lush thick rugs gave the place a feeling of elegance. This ‘home’ wasn’t like anything in The Collective but who could complain? This was the home of the Number One, the founder and leader.

A guard escorted her up a long and gently winding staircase then down a long hallway to a double set of tall doors. The guard knocked.

“Come in,” Number One called out.

The guard turned the nob and pushed the thick alder door open. “Go ahead in.”

Portia stepped into the massive room. The guard promptly closed the door leaving her standing there. She quickly looked around and discovered the room was a bedroom. A strong uneasy feeling came over her. Not wishing to put into an awkward position she spun around and grabbed the door knob.

“No, please, don’t go,” Number One said walking into the room.

Portia stopped trying to turn the knob and like a church mouse, slowly turned to face him.

Number One was wearing the same green turtleneck sweater and blue jeans. “Please, come, sit down,” he said pointing to a large ever suede couch.

“I, um, I don’t think this is appropriate,” she said standing her ground.

“Why, because you’re in the front room of my master suite. I’m only asking you to take a seat here, I didn’t say go lay on my bed in the other room.”

“But still, this is highly unusual,” she said, her arms folded tightly in front of her.

“My dear, Portia, do you mind if I call you that?”

Unsure how to answer, she answered safely, “Call me Teacher Seven.”

“Nonsense, your birth name is fine. There’s no law against it, we just prefer that people call themselves by their Collective occupation, but we understand people will want to use their birth names in private and around friends.”

“What do you want?”

“Just a chat, a private chat over lunch, so please come, sit down, let me pour you a drink. What do you like?”

“I don’t need a drink. I’m sorry, but have I done something wrong?”

“On the contrary, you’re an exceptional resident and member of The Collective. Hence, why I recognized you earlier. You know something, I remember when I first met you. Do you remember that day?” he asked walking towards her since she wasn’t going to come towards him.

“Yes.”

“You were an orphan, your parents had been traveling, isn’t that right?”

“Yes.”

He closed in until he was just a few feet away. “And you came to the police station because your babysitter left you alone after she had heard about the initial attacks.”

“That’s right.”

“And I sat down next to you at the police station. I too lost someone that day, my wife, yes, I was married before my other wife you knew. She was in Denver giving a lecture. Oh, and get this, her lecture was on HOW THE DETERRENCE OF MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION WAS AND STILL IS A SOUND FOREIGN POLICY  . I’m not shitting you, can you believe it? Of all the lectures, she dies by a nuclear weapon. She’s literally giving a lecture on the benefits of mass proliferation and boom, gets nuked. Crazy. Like it was fate or something. Now here I am, alone. I’ve lost two wives and I have no one. Yes, I have my son and Bravo One, she’s nice but I don’t have anyone that I can have a real connection with. But you know, it’s okay, I have The Collective.”

“Sir, why am I here?” Porta asked nervously.

Ignoring her question he kept reliving that day. “I saw you sitting there and knew right then that I had to do something. There was so many helpless children like you were. What were you, twelve?” He asked still focused on the day they first met nineteen years before.

She nodded.

“I just knew my purpose was just beginning. And lo and behold, here we are, so many years later standing next to each other again. You married to the most notorious driver The Collective has had and me, a recent widower, but fulfilled with my life as the leader of this great society.”

She had met him before but never under these circumstances. Even though she never spent much time close to him, something seemed off about his appearance and she couldn’t put a finger on. His skin was pale and dark circles traced th


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e skin under his eyes. He didn’t look well, but maybe he was just an overweight and unexercised older man.

“You are still happily married aren’t you?” he laughed.

“Yes, very,” she answered thinking the question out of left field.

“I can see you’re upset, so I’ll just get to the point of why I wanted to talk to you in private.”

Thank God.  Portia thought.

“When was the last time you talked to your husband?”

The question made her nervous for Kyle’s safety. “Three or so days ago. Why, is something wrong? Has something happened to him?”

“Oh no, no. He’s fine. I was just curious if he talked to you recently,” Number One said.

“No, like I said I spoke to him days ago. He relayed a radio transmission through the network like he normally does. All he told me was he going on a new mission which was going to extend his return by a week or so.”

“Nothing about what or who this new mission was?” Number One pried.

“No, nothing, exactly like I told you.”

Number One stared hard at her. A long and very uncomfortable pause elapsed before he spoke. “Very well.” He turned away from her and headed towards his bedroom.

“Is that it?” she asked.

He stopped and turned. “Yes, that’s it. By the way, thank you for coming by and being so…honest.”

“Of course.”

“And tomorrow, make sure the children are ready for the testing. It’s imperative we get ahead of new virus. Nasty stuff. Goodbye, Portia,” he said before turning and disappearing into the bedroom.

Portia exited the room as fast she could and rushed out of the house. When the front door closed behind her, she exhaled heavily and began to cry. She hated feeling such fear. She hated feeling so powerless. She hated him beyond words could describe.


SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Kyle wasn’t going to leave the Nail without Barry by his side. So when Barry didn’t show up after ten minutes, Kyle marched down the hall of the brothel to the room Candace said he was in and without knocking, kicked the door in.

Inside Barry was putting the last of his things into a back pack. “What the hell?”

“You’re late. Hurry up.”

“I don’t know who you think you are but this is bullshit.”

“Like I said, your father sent me here. I was just doing my job scavenging in The Wastes when I got the call to come find you. I take my job as a driver serious and when Number One asks me to do something personal for him, I do it. Now, hurry up.”

“Give me a few more minutes.”

Kyle leaned up against the wall and crossed his arms.

Barry glanced back and barked, “Don’t stand here and watch.”

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“My father will punish you for your disrespect, you watch,” Barry threatened as he stuffed the bag with the last of his clothes.

“I’m not worried, now put on your shirt and let’s go.”

“Where’s Sal?” Barry asked referring to Driver Ten.

“Ten is in the parking lot waiting on us. We’re all going back together.”

Barry put on his shirt and smirked, “Sal is a freak, a straight up freak.”

Knowing what that meant, Kyle became irritated. “Driver Ten will face consequences when he returns to The Collective, trust me and you, well, I’m not sure what your father will do.”

Barry laughed and quipped, “You’re clueless, man.”

“What does that mean?”

Throwing his pack over his shoulder and without answering Kyle’s question, Barry laughed then walked out of the room.


* * *

“What do you mean he’s gone?” Kyle barked.

“He’s gone, simple. He got into his rig and tore out of here,” Conrad said.

“What direction?”

“North.”

Kyle grunted and walked off towards his truck.

Barry was at the truck laughing. “That motherfucker took off, classic.”

“Driver Eight, Driver Eight!” Candace called out from across the parking lot.

Kyle turned to find her running towards him.

“Here, take this, please,” she said handing him a thick envelope.

“What’s this?”

“Some money I’ve had stashed.”

“Why are you giving this to me?”

“You’re a gun for hire, right?”

“No, I’m a driver for The Collective.”

“But I’ve heard you drivers are like vigilantes or mercenaries. I don’t know the correct word, sorry, no education.”

He handed the envelope back and said, “I’m not sure who you think I am but I’m not a gun for hire.”

“Please, take it. Just come back and free us, especially the kids. I could see it in your eyes. You’re a different kind of man. I saw the rage building in you, you know this is wrong and you want to stop it.”

He stepped back from her. “I’m not a gun for hire and this is none of my business.”

“But your friend in there, the guy with the burned face. He came back, I talked to him, he said he knew you from before the war, he told me all about you. That you two were partners. He said you were some sort of hero cop. Please, come back and save us from this. We’re all slaves, there’s nothing we can do. The little kids, they’re brought in from…” Candace said before being interrupted.

“My friend Tommy can help you, he’s Leviathan, this sort of stuff is what they do,” Kyle said.

“He’s gone now, if I had known I would have given it to him,” she said, her voice stressed.

“Candy! Get your ass in here now!” Frank hollered from the back door.

“I have to go or he’ll take it out on my little boy. Please, come back for us. I know you know this is wrong. Save us,” she said walking away.

Kids?  He thought. Needing to know, he called out, “What did you say about the kids?”

Frank marched over to her and grabbed her roughly by the arm and spun her around. “You shut you fat mouth, bitch!”

“What about the kids?” Kyle hollered again.

Candace gave him one last look before being dragged back inside the bar.

Confused and conflicted, Kyle was tempted to go rescue her right then and there but his mission was leaning against his truck whistling. Knowing he was outgunned and outmanned, he went to his truck and said, “Get in.”

“I think she likes you,” Barry joked.

“Shut up,” Kyle said tossing his stuff in the back.

CHAPTER 3

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COLLECTIVE PRIME

Portia Grant loved her role in The Collective. She still remembered rejoicing the day she received the slot for teacher. It was a rewarding position but like others, it had its unique pitfalls and today was one of them.

Unable to think clearly after the events yesterday, she had the kids recite the tenets of The Collective until the hour came for them to go get tested.

“Devin, read the first of the tenets, then Kathy you next and so forth down the row. I want the reader to read it, then the class repeat it out loud. Understood?”

“Yes, Teacher Seven,” the children said in unison.

She looked at Devin and said, “Go ahead.”

Devin stood and with no need to read it having memorized it, he said, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the individual.”

On cue, the class repeated it.

As he sat down, Kathy stood and said, “Individualism is the purest form of selfishness.”

Again, the class repeated in one single voice.

Kathy sat and Darren stood. “Self-determination only determines superiority of one over another.”

Portia watched as the children continued the process, her eye watching the hand of the clock slowly move, drawing closer and closer to the hour they’d head to the infirmary.

Melissa stood and said, “Free speech isn’t free, it enslaves those it hurts.”

Before the class could repeat, Portia interrupted them. “Class we’re getting close to the time. Is everyone ready for today?”

“Yes, Teacher Seven,” they all replied.

She looked at the excited faces of the students before her. How can they be looking forward to this?  She thought.

“Class, I need everyone to stand and line up near the door,” she ordered.

Ever obedient, the children did as she said. They calmly and without making a sound got up and stood in a line along the far wall of the classroom.

Portia slowly walked by until she reached the front in line. She looked down at a young boy and asked, “How are you doing today, Karl?”

“Good, Teacher Seven. Thank you for asking,” Karl replied with a big smile on his face.

“Happy to hear,” she said. “Does anyone have any last questions before we go to the infirmary?”

In unison the class replied, “No, Teacher Seven.”

“Good, then let’s proceed, we don’t want to be late and you know what the Number One says about being late.”

“Tardiness is lazy and laziness leads to apathy which leads to an unproductive person,” the class recited loudly.

“Correct,” she said. “Karl, please lead your fellow classmates.”

Karl nodded, opened the door and proceeded out.

Portia followed the last student. With each step her nausea grew. Who will it be?  She wondered.

Karl led the class proudly along the narrow path from the school to the infirmary near the center of town.

Portia knew she couldn’t have favorites but she did and it was those that she prayed would return over others. It was horrible to pick and choose, but how could she not. No matter how often she fought the urge to favor or like one child over the other, she just couldn’t help it. Her eyes scanned the line of children until they rested on Melissa.

Melissa was one of those people who were always happy. No matter what, you could count on Melissa showing up with a huge smile and a positive word. For those who were lucky enough, she’d share a warm embrace. It was impossible not to love Melissa.

Portia picked up her pace until she was alongside Melissa. She looked down at her and smiled.

Seeing Portia, Melissa widened her grin and declared, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

“It is.”

“Last night my daddy read me the most fabulous book,” Melissa gushed.

“What was it?”

“It was called Doggieville. He got it from a driver a couple weeks ago. It’s my new favorite book.”

“I can assume by the title it’s about dogs?”

“Yes, a wonderful dog named Kiki. He’s sooo cute.”

The line stopped in front of a large two story white building. Karl looked back and said, “We’re here Teacher Seven.”

“One moment,” Portia said as she pulled Melissa out of the line for a private conversation. She squatted down so she could have eye to eye contact. “Melissa, dear.”

“Yes.”

“Don’t be scared.”

“I’m not. Daddy says no matter what happens, it’s done to make The Collective stronger,” Melissa said smiling.

“I’m going to be in the hallway just outside the room. If you need me at all, please have one of the nurses come and get me.”

“Yes, but you don’t have to worry, I’ll be brave. For The Collective,” she cheered raising her right arm, hand clenched.

“About the book, Doggieville, don’t tell anyone else about that. You remember there’s strict rules on what you can and can’t read,” Portia warned.

“I know, Daddy told me not to tell but I trust you, you’re like a mommy to me,” Melissa said wrapping her small arms around Portia.

Hearing that one word, mommy , hit Portia hard. It was the one thing she would love to be but couldn’t, so being a teacher allowed her to get as close to that as possible.

Melissa’s mother had been cast out last year after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In her absence, Melissa clung to the one woman who exposed motherly traits, Portia.

The double doors opened and a large woman dressed in white appeared. “Is this Class Two?”

“Get back in line,” Portia told Melissa. She looked at the nurse and answered, “Yes, this is Class Two, they’re ready for the test.”

“Good,” the nurse said. Looking at the children she ordered, “Proceed on in, go to the last door on the left and stand in line against the wall.”

Karl led the students inside.

Portia followed but was stopped.

“We need you to wait outside. As the students are released…” the nurse ordered holding up her hand blocking Portia.

“Wait, no, I’ve waited inside before,” Portia complained.

“New rules.”

“No, my students might need me,” Portia challenged and tried to walk around the nurse whose stature was large for a woman.

The nurse pushed Portia aside and barked,” Excuse me, Teacher. What’s your name?”

“Teacher Seven.”

“Teacher Seven, I don’t make the rules, they come down from Number One and this is a new rule.”

Hearing that Number One just past the rule, Portia relented. Getting on the wrong side of Number One was not where you wanted to be.

“Just wait out here, I’ll send them out as they clear,” the nurse said stepping inside. Just before the door closed she stuck her head out. “And I’d watch your use of words. Telling people that they’re your  students is not wise, just remember, these children belong to The Collective.”


OUTSIDE OF GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO, GENERATE TERRITORY

“God, it takes forever to get anywhere. I remember when you could drive from the west coast to the east coast in days,” Barry said his head resting on his chin, eyes fixed on the passing landscape ahead.

“How do you remember? You’re not old enough to remember,” Kyle challenged.

“I was seven when The Reboot started, I do remember,” Barry fired back.

Kyle shook his head, he wasn’t even going to counter his rebuttal.

Barry noticed they passed what he thought would be their turnoff.

“Are we going through Grand Junction?”

“You’ve been complaining about how long the drive is taking and I’m tired of hearing it. So, I’m taking a shortcut. We’ll keep on old interstate seventy.”

Barry sat up, his face tightened and his eyes widened. “Isn’t it overrun with Generates?”

“Yeah,” Kyle replied confidently.

“But that’s dangerous. What if we run into them?”

“Generates normally don’t venture out during the day, they prefer the cover of night.”

Barry’s nervous look melted away, he slouched back down and said, “Oh, yeah, I’d heard that. Smart, very smart of you to take the shortcut.”

Kyle chuckled.

“What?”

“Nothing, but I’ll add that they normally  don’t unless they’re hungry, then you’ll see them out during the day. Who knows, maybe the ones who live in Grand Junction are hungry.”

Barry immediately sat up again, his body tense and alert. “Maybe we, you know, maybe we should turn around and go back to the route we just past. What do you say?” Barry said.

The radio came to life. “Driver Eight, come in over.” 

Kyle picked up the hand microphone and replied, “Go for Driver Eight.”

“What’s your location, over?” 

“Six miles northwest of Grand Junction. Be advised we’re staying on seventy all the way through,” Kyle replied.

“Seventy? Be advised, Driver Three reported heavy Generate activity there two days ago,”  the dispatch said.

“During what hours, over?” Kyle asked.

Barry sat on the edge of his seat, listening to the conversation intently. Praying the dispatch would say something that would convince Driver Eight to turn around.

“Three reported the activity was at twelve hundred hours, over.” 

“Copy that. Tell Three thanks for intel,” Kyle said.

“I’d tell him if I could reach him. We lost contact with him just after he reported the activity, over.” 

“Fuck, no, turn around,” Barry barked.

“I’ve been telling your dad for a year now we need to go down and clean those savages out of there. They breed like rabbits and spread like a disease. But he said Junction wasn’t worth losing lives over.”

“It’s not.”

“Tell that to the folks who lived there before.”

“They deserved it, we always had problems with them when they were under our protection,” Barry said referring to an arrangement the city state of Grand Junction had made with The Collective.

“I’ll remind you we had a deal with them and we didn’t come to their aid when they needed it,” Kyle said.

“Who cares?”

Kyle leaned over the steering wheel and let his foot off the accelerator. He grabbed the radio and keyed it, “Dispatch, did Three say anything about roadblocks on the seventy?”

Barry whipped his head and looked out. A half mile ahead the highway was completely blocked with debris and abandoned vehicles. “Turn the fuck around!”

“Negative, Eight,”  dispatch answered.

“Turn the fuck around!” Barry repeated, his hands white knuckling the dash.

Kyle put the hand mic down and said, “You know something, Barry, I think I’m going to turn around.” He saw an opening in the median ahead and went for it. He turned the wheel hard to the left causing the truck to lurch that way.

Just as he made the turn several loud cracks came from outside.

“What was that?” Barry asked his head swiveling around in all directions.

“That was gunshots,” Kyle said. “Now hold on.” The truck hit the median and bounced hard. Kyle turned the wheel hard again to the left and put his foot fully on the accelerator.

What sounded like dull thuds hitting the truck became more pronounced.

“Drive faster!” Barry screamed.

When the truck hit the west bound lanes, Kyle kept the pressure on the accelerator.

Seemingly out of nowhere came a burning car across their path.

“Watch out!” Barry yelled.

Kyle weaved around it and jokingly said, “Looks like they’re hungry.”

Appearing from behind a guard rail, four Generates came out onto the highway and laid down a long board with nails sticking up.

“Hold on!” Kyle said swerving the truck to the left and back onto the median. He handed Barry an AR platform rifle and said, “Open the gun port and shoot those fuckers!” Kyle’s truck didn’t have side windows, the cab to include the side windows was encased in an inch thick exterior metal shell with small slits for gun ports.

“Huh?” Barry asked, his face not hiding the terror he was experiencing.

Kyle caught sight of a Generate with a rifle pointed at them. “Get ahold of something, we’re going to go airborne soon.”

“No.”

Kyle jerked the wheel hard again to the left just at the time the Generate fired. His last second move prevented the shot from hitting. The truck flew out of the median onto the east bound lanes. “How we looking?”

Barry craned his head back and saw the four Generates jumping up and down, no doubt angry they had missed their target. “We’re looking good, I think.”

“Next time I say something, do it?” Kyle snapped.

“But…”

“There’s no buts, maybe asses like yourself, but no buts. I’m the master of these roads and you do what I say,” Kyle roared.

“If you’re such a master, why did you almost get us killed?” Barry snarled.

“Typically, Generates don’t come out during the day. It was an educated risk and well, it didn’t work, but we’re not dead so stop bitching.”

The tire pressure light came on with a ding.

Kyle looked at it and said, “Shit.”

“What now?”

“One of the tires, it’s losing pressure,” Kyle answered.

“It’s not safe to pull over now,” Barry said.

“We won’t have too right now, the truck has run flats but we’ll have to reduce our speed. We’ll find a secure place off a beaten path to hunker down for the night. I can fix it then.”

Barry began to laugh loudly.

“Something funny?” Kyle asked.

“I think I shit my pants.”

“Lucky for you, we’re showering tonight.”

“I’m joking,” Barry clarified.

“I’m not.”

“What do you mean by showering?”

“Unless I’m running drives in full decon gear, I try to shower every night. It’s a practice I got into from the start and I don’t see any reason to stop now.”

Not finding a reason to bicker, Barry went along, “Okay.” Suddenly curious about Kyle’s history, Barry asked the one question he’d heard the most. “Are all the stories true?”

“About me?”

“Yeah, are they true or have you bullshitted your way to glory and fame?”

“Now if I had bullshitted why would I tell you?”

“Did you really singlehandedly kill a dozen Generates with a hand-held shovel?”

Kyle looked at Barry and replied, “I’m not sure what you were taught, but I was told to never give up. I was out of ammo, I had one knife buried in the skull of one and a damn stick in the neck of another. I had nowhere to go so I tactically fell back to my rig.”

“You retreated?”

“No, I didn’t retreat and words are important. I tactically fell back, meaning I knew where the shovel was as I had been digging with it when I was attacked. I made my way back to it, and used it.”

“So, it’s true?”

“It’s true and the shovel in question is the very one attached to my pack in the back seat.”

Barry looked behind him and saw the pack sitting there with the shovel folded and clipped to the side in a holder. “Can I touch it?”

Kyle gave Barry an odd look and replied, “No, I don’t want you fiddlefucking my gear.”

“I wasn’t going to fiddlefuck anything,” Barry fumed and pouted. “Is it true, you’re always an asshole?”

Kyle laughed and answered with a question. “Do people think I’m an asshole?”

“I do.”

“Then the answer is yes.”


COLLECTIVE PRIME

Portia paced the sidewalk in front of the infirmary, looking at her watch frequently. Each time the door opened she looked up with anticipation of seeing her students but each time it was someone else. Her mind spun with the different scenarios, some had Melissa coming out and others didn’t. What am I prepared to do?  She asked herself. Lost in her internal turmoil she didn’t hear the door open.

“The children are done,” the nurse said.

Portia kept pacing oblivious, her back to the nurse.

“Excuse me, Teacher Seven. The students are finished!”

Portia jumped, “Oh, good, good.” Clenching her hands into fists, she approached the door.

The nurse opened the door wide to accommodate the children who promptly began to march out single file. As each child exited the infirmary, Portia’s anxiety grew and her stomach turned. Where’s Melissa?  When the last child exited, the nurse let go of the door. “Have a good day.”

Portia grabbed the door and asked, “Is that it?”

“Yes,” the nurse replied stoically.

“There was a girl, Melissa. Is she one of them?” Portia asked.

The nurse cocked her head and answered, “If they aren’t here, that’s your answer.”

“But…”

“Is that all?”

“No,” Portia said walking up to the nurse. “Can I see her?”

The nurse looked at her oddly and said, “No.”

“Please.”

“You know protocol, once they fail the test, they go to processing.”

Fear gripped Portia, she knew what processing meant. “Can I ask a personal favor?”

“What?”

“Can I go see her?” Portia asked.

“The answer is no. Teacher Seven. Your request is highly unusual, but I’ll excuse it this one time. Now, please go, attend to the other children,” the nurse said. She turned and walked away.

Portia stood and stared. A deep sense of helplessness swept over her. The scenarios she’d run through her head moments before came rushing back.

At the end of the far hallway, a door creaked open and Melissa stepped out.

Seeing her, Portia called out, “Melissa!”

Hearing her name, Melissa turned and waved. Oddly a smile graced her tender face.

Portia wasn’t thinking about protocol or how unusual her behavior was. She let instinct take over. “Melissa, sweetheart, wait there!” she said racing towards her.

Melissa stood and waited but was prompted along by a young intern.

“No, wait,” Portia cried out.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the nurse appeared, “Teacher Seven, what do you think you’re doing?”

“I just need to see her,” Portia said her voice cracking. Her face gave away the emotions running through her.

“Teacher Seven, report back to your class, NOW!” the nurse barked, her tone signaling she was irritated with Portia’s emotional and unorthodox behavior.

“I need to see her,” Portia urged looking over the nurse’s shoulder to keep track of Melissa’s whereabouts.

“No, now turn around or I will be forced to report you,” the nurse warned.

Melissa disappeared into another room followed by the intern.

Frantic, Portia pushed past the nurse and sprinted down the hall.

Calmly, the nurse turned to another nurse at a station and ordered, “Contact security.”

Portia reached the door to the room she’d seen Melissa disappear into and turned the nob but found it locked. She knocked on the door and asked, “Melissa, are you in there?”

No response.

“Melissa, please answer me, are you okay?”

Silence.

“Resident, step away from the door,” a man said, his voice deep and rough.

Portia looked up at the mountain of a man towering over her. “Please, I just need to see her before she gets processed, that’s all.”

“Step away from the door, now, or I’ll be forced to use more aggressive measures,” the guard threatened.

Portia began to bang on the door, “Melissa, if you can hear me. I want you to know…” she paused, gulped loudly and continued. “I want you to know, I love you. And that I think you’re the most precious girl in the world.”

The guard didn’t give a warning before jabbing his stun baton into her ribs.

Portia’s body tensed and went rigid.

The guard hit her again with the baton, this time shoving it into her armpit.

The electrical charge swept through her body. She crumbled to the ground, her body flinching. She looked up at the guard and tried to speak but was unable. A single tear streaked down the side of her face just before the guard jabbed her a third time, this time in the neck. It was the last thing she remembered before she went unconscious.


OUTSIDE OF RANGLEY, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Barry could feel the anger welling up inside him. His dark brown eyes widened and his nostrils flared. Brushing the long bangs away from his forehead he barked, “I’ve got two things to say. One, if you touch me, you better make sure you intend on killing me and two, if you don’t kill me, I will kill you.” A devilish grin stretched across his face. “So, if you have something to say, you better be able to back it up.”

“What the hell are you doing?” a booming voice sounded behind Barry.

Barry turned to see Kyle, standing feet from him, an odd look on his face.

Embarrassed, Barry stepped away from the mirror and replied, “Just screwing around is all.”

“I always knew you were a bit off, but now I find you threatening yourself in a mirror. That is taking it to new heights of crazy,” Kyle laughed and walked away.

Barry looked in the mirror and barked, “Stupid, idiot.” He ran his fingers through his bushy hair. His face flushed, he grinded his teeth in frustration. Just before walking away he caught another glimpse of his reflection and snapped, “Dumbass.”

From the rear of the house, Kyle called out, “Once you’re done playing with yourself go grab the rest of the stuff from the truck.”

“Okay,” Barry grumbled and exited the house. He stopped on the front step to admire the view of the rolling fields and mountains beyond. “Would you look at that?”

“Are you getting the stuff or day dreaming now?” Kyle quipped as he pushed passed Barry on his way towards the truck.

“Just taking in the view,” Barry said.

Kyle stopped just sigh of the truck, looked towards the snow-capped mountains and exhaled deeply. In a satirical tone he said, “Ahh, so beautiful, now let’s get our stuff inside before the storm hits.”

“Storm?” Barry asked, looking around.

“While you were playing games in the mirror you missed the darkening clouds that were gathering to the west,” Kyle said pointing in that direction.

A storm was coming and along with it a high probability of lethal doses of radioactive material. “We need to get inside, and seal up,” Kyle said referencing the ritual practice he’d do when a storm approached.

This ritual required covering all windows and exterior doors with visqueen, a thick plastic sheet, then create a decontamination station in a sealed off room, preferably a bathroom. There he’d strip and wash to remove any possible radioactive particles he might have come into contact with. Kyle was strict with this practice. He had survived all these years because of this ritualistic practice.

“Darkening clouds? Kyle the entire sky has been cloudy off and on for years,” Barry said.

“We don’t’ have time to waste, get to it,” Kyle insisted as he grabbed an armful of items from the bed of the truck.

What remained of Salt Lake City lay to west and if a storm was coming from that direction so was radiation.

Barry approached the truck only to stop when Kyle tossed a roll of visqueen, a roller of tape and a staple gun at him.

“Start in the front room, and no more role playing in the mirror, okay?” Kyle ordered.

Barry scoffed at him and walked off.


* * *

Barry was busy stapling and taping the visqueen over the windows and exterior doors while whistling


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a show tune. Watching old television shows on DVD was something he enjoyed.

Kyle found a bathroom with a shower and checked the water. After a stuttering pause water rained out of the shower head. He let the water pour for a good minute into the basin then ran the Geiger counter over it to make sure it wasn’t contaminated and found it good. He placed his hand in the water to check the temperature and like everywhere else, it was ice cold. “This will suck,” he muttered as if expecting the water to turn warm. He shrugged off his large pack and began to unload the contents. Done, he proudly looked at the display of soaps, sponges, towels and fresh clothes laid out neatly on a clean tarp. The towels and fresh clothes were sealed in large zip lock bags.

Next to his arrangement, several buckets filled with water and detergent solution sat ready for them to clean any gear they couldn’t spare to lose.

“How’s it going?” he hollered to Barry.

“All good,” Barry replied from the back of the house.

Kyle entered the room and was about to help when he thought about the truck. He remembered seeing a detached garage off of the side of the house, it would be perfect to store the truck. “I’m going to park the truck, I’ll be back,” Kyle hollered running out, he saw the low tire and was reminded he needed to fix that first. Like a professional pit boss he had the truck lifted, punctured tire off and new one on in minutes. With the truck tire replaced the next thing was to get it into the garage. He pulled the truck outside the garage and ran to the door. He tried to lift but the door wouldn’t budge. He knew there had to be a side door, so he rushed to find it. Clearing the first corner he spotted it. He tried the knob but found it locked.

A strong gust of wind washed over him. It was a reminder the storm was nearing. He didn’t have time to waste. He stepped back, raised his right leg and kicked hard. The door exploded inward. He grabbed his flashlight, turned it on and peered inside to find another car in there. “Shit.” If he was going to get his truck safely parked inside, he had to first remove the old sedan. He found the cord that disconnected the motorized door lift and pulled. With the garage now able to open manually, he placed his hands against it and lifted. Surprisingly the door moved easily. With the door open, the next step was getting the car out. He walked around to the driver’s door and paused when he spotted a garden hose sticking through a slight crack in the window. His eyes followed it back to the tail pipe.

He was always curious to what happened to the homeowners of the homes he’d scavenge and for this one, he knew the answer. He reached for the handle but stopped short of opening it. He knew the keys were inside and all he needed to do was put the car in neutral and winch it out but something prevented him from even opening the door. Was it because this was their grave? 

“Hurry up, the storms blowing in fast!” Barry hollered from the front porch.

Hearing Barry call out broke his resistance. He grabbed the handle and pulled. The door creaked open and out fell the clothed skeletal remains of the homeowner. Kyle didn’t bother to look around the car to see who else might be in there. He pushed the rest of the remains out and got behind the wheel. After years of experience, he knew he couldn’t just put the car into neutral by putting his foot on the brake and having the steering wheel unlocked. Modern vehicles now had lockouts on the gear shifts and he had to bypass it.

“What’s taking so long?” Barry asked suddenly appearing next to the driver’s door.

Not bothering to look up, Kyle asked, “Are you done inside?”

“Yeah.”

Kyle pulled out his trusty Benchmade folding knife and opened it. He slide the blade under a small cap on the gear shift column and lifted. The cap popped off and under it was a tiny button.

“What are you doing?” Barry asked curiously.

“Putting the car into neutral to get it out of here,” Kyle answered pressing the button while putting the gear shift into neutral. Before stepping out, he made sure the parking brake was off.

“Why did you have to do that?” Barry asked.

Kyle ignored him and got out. He pointed to the front of his truck and said. “Pull the winch cable over here.”

Barry stood.

Seeing Barry just standing, he gave him an odd look and asked, “Are you going to help or just stand there?”

Barry rushed to the truck, he nervously looked at the winch and called back, “How do I turn it on?”

“Oh, good, God,” Kyle said and ran over to do it himself. With the winch on, he unwound the cable. “Take this and hook it to something secure, not just the bumper, wrap it under something that won’t break off.”

Barry walked the unwinding winch cable to the back of the car, knelt and looked under. He found a secure spot, looped the cable around and connected back to the hook. “It’s set.”

Kyle turned on the winch. It strained at first but as soon as the car began to move, the stress lessened.

Barry began to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Kyle asked.

“The tires, they’re trashed, look,” Barry said pointing to the flattened and dry rotted tires.

Kyle ignored Barry’s comments. All he could think about was the storm barreling down on them and they weren’t finished yet.

Barry walked out in front and hollered, “You’re clear.”

Kyle unhooked the winch, secured it and without delay put the truck in the garage. He pulled the radio from the cradle and along with a battery, tucked it under his arm. He normally didn’t care to have radio contact while overnighting somewhere but since he had Number Two with him, he thought it best this time. As he closed the garage door a strong gust of wind swept through and blew his hat off his head. He darted for it but the wind pushed it along the dusty ground like a tumble weed. Back and forth he weaved trying to grab it but each time he came within reach another gust would push it further away. Frustrated he cried out, “C’mon damn it!” The hat finally came to a stop. He lunged and snatched it. “Got you,” he said placing the worn and tattered cap on his head. A chill shot down his spine when a stronger gust hit him. He could tell the air temperature had dropped another ten degrees. He craned his head towards the west and saw the black clouds closing in. Soon the precipitation and whatever else would be upon them and with it a massive amount of radiation. He cleared the last feet to the front door, ran inside and slammed the heavy wood door behind him.

“I found some food in the pantry,” Barry said with a big smile standing in the darkened hallway.

“Don’t eat anything until I can check it,” Kyle said looking around. His eyes danced around the room inspecting the work Barry had done. “No, no, no,” Kyle said walking over to a window.

“What?”

Kyle looked at the crumpled seam on a window and said, “This needs to be flat, you’ll never create an airtight seal like this.”

“I did the best I could,” Barry said.

Kyle had high standards but for a good reason. Frustrated he went to work to fix the areas he found lacking.


* * *

Kyle flattened the last seam with the palm of his hand and laid a strip of thick tape over it. Standing back to admire his work he said, “Done.” He looked around but Barry wasn’t anywhere to be seen. He went looking for him and found Barry in the kitchen stacking up cans.

“Look what I found?”

“We can check those later, time to get cleaned up,” Kyle said.

They proceeded to the bathroom to begin their decontamination procedures.

Barry went first; he stripped down naked and climbed into the bathtub. Wrapping his arms around him in an attempt to stay warm, Kyle turned on the water. The frigid water hit him, instantly making Barry shiver.

“Hurry up, it’s fucking cold,” Barry wailed.

Kyle took a long soft bristled brush and began to scrub Barry’s back while Barry bathed the front of his body.

“How do you know this water isn’t contaminated?” Barry asked.

“Cause I tested it. I figure a deep well feeds this, lucky for us,” Kyle answered.

“Oh, makes sense.”

“How is it possible you’ll still chubby?”

“I’m husky,” Barry countered.

“Is that what your momma told you so you wouldn’t feel bad about yourself?” Kyle joked.

“Fuck you,” Barry snapped. “When I see my father I’m going to tell him you’ve been disrespectful to me.”

“I have a feeling you’re in a bit of hot water with your father, pun intended,” Kyle said.

Finished, Barry put the sponge down and stepped out careful not to slip on the floor, not an easy thing to do when the floor is covered in visqueen.

Kyle placed the long handle brush he was using down. He turned and began stuffing a fifty-five-gallon bag with Barry’s dirty clothes. He then removed his and put them in the bag, tied it closed and tossed it in the corner.

Barry wasted no time ripping open the packaging that held his clean clothes. Coupled with the cold water, the chilly air made him shiver uncontrollably.

Kyle jumped into the shower and they repeated the process with him.

“Why can’t we just wash the clothes?” Barry asked.

“I don’t take any chances, period. Best to burn them,” Kyle answered.

“That sucks, I liked those jeans.”

“Be grateful you even have clean clothes.”

“These pants are too small, I knew it, I fucking knew these would run small and they’re long as hell,” Barry complained as he tugged at tight waistband of the new jeans.

Kyle shrugged his shoulders and smirked, “If you lost a few pounds that wouldn’t be a problem.”

Barry raised his middle finger and marched off.


COLLECTIVE PRIME

Portia opened her eyes, only to close them from the bright fluorescent light beaming in her face. When her eyes adjusted, she slowly opened them to discover she was still in the infirmary. “Ouch,” she said out loud. Her head was throbbed, no doubt from when she hit her head on the floor. She tried to lift her right hand but couldn’t, it was bound to the bed rail. Startled, she tried to lift her left arm only to find it was also bound. Suddenly she realized the trouble she was in, “Oh, no,” she sighed.

The door opened and in stepped a uniformed security officer. He gave her a once over and said, “Teacher Seven, are you able to walk?”

“I think so, take these bindings off and I’ll find out,” she replied.

He pulled out a knife and stepped over.

Seeing the glint of the blade gave her a pause. “What are you going to do with that?”

He towered over her, knife in hand. With a crooked smile stretched across his face, he lowered the blade and cut the plastic tie that bound her right hand.

She raised her hand and looked at the reddened and bruised skin around her wrist.

The guard cut the other binding and pocketed the knife. He gave her a smug look and asked, “Are you going to give me trouble?”

Wide eyed and happy to be free, she answered, “No. I won’t be any trouble. I promise.” She sat up and took turns massaging her wrists.

“Come with me.”

She did as he ordered.

In the hallway, she was met by glaring and suspicious eyes. The guard escorted her down a short hallway and stopped outside a door.

She looked at him and asked, “Do I open it?”

“Yes.”

Nervous, she asked, “What’s inside?”

“Open the door,” he ordered.

With a shaking hand she did as he said, when the door fully opened she saw Melissa sitting inside. She turned to the guard and asked, “I don’t understand.”

“You know people I guess,” he replied and looked at his watch. “You have ten minutes, that’s it.”

Not wasting a second to ask silly questions, she rushed inside. “Melissa, how are you?”

“Hi.”

Tears welled up in her eyes as she dropped to her knees in front of Melissa. “Are you okay?”

“I fine,” Melissa answered.

Portia took Melissa’s hands in hers and said, “I don’t want you to be afraid. Do you understand?”

“I’m not afraid, but you look like you are,” Melissa said.

Wiping her tears, Portia said, “I’ll be honest, I don’t want you to go. I’m afraid for you.”

“I’ll be fine. It’s my path. Like the Number One says…”

Portia put her hand to Melissa’s lips and said, “I don’t care. Let’s just enjoy these last minutes.”

“Have I disappointed you?” Melissa asked.

“Oh, no, no, don’t ever think you disappointed me. You’re amazing, in fact, you’re probably one of the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

“I am?”

“Yes, you are.”

“Have you seen my daddy?”

Looking shocked, Portia replied, “Your father didn’t come visit you?” A final visitation was allowed during the processing period.

“Is he okay?” she asked.

“I’m sure he’s fine, just running late,” Portia lied.

“They said, I’m leaving after I see you. Do you think he’s mad at me?”

“No, I’m sure he’s just running late, I’ll ask the guard,” Portia said getting back to her feet and knocking on the door.

The guard promptly opened the door and asked, “All done?”

“No. Her father. Why wasn’t he informed? He has visitation rights,” she said.

The guard looked over Portia’s shoulder and lowered his voice, “He declined.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen people do it before. They’re embarrassed, even ashamed at having someone in their family get banished.”

“Is daddy coming?” Melissa asked, her voice raised.

Portia turned around and said, “Ah, I’m not sure. I don’t think he knows. They’re going to go find him.”

As the guard closed the door he said, “Five more minutes.”

Portia rushed to Melissa’s side and sat in a chair next to her. “Did they say anything about where they’ll take you?”

“No.”

Portia was angry with her father. Over and over she asked herself. How can a parent not see their child off? 

Melissa lowered her head and whimpered.

Seeing her emotional response, Portia knew everything before was an act. Melissa was scared but she had done her best to put up a front that she was tough. “I’m here with you.”

“Why won’t he come see me?”

“Like I said, he doesn’t know, but I know the second he finds out, he’ll be here. He loves you deeply,” she lied again. “Speaking of your daddy, did he ever mention where your mother might be?” Portia asked with hopes that the two could reunite outside the gates.

“No,” Melissa replied wiping tears from her cheeks.

“When they put you out, the first thing you do is start asking around, you understand. Someone in those small hamlets outside might know where she is,” Portia said.

Melissa nodded.

The door opened. “Time is up,” the guard said.

Melissa leapt into Portia’s arms. “I’m scared," she said finally expressing her feelings.

“I know you are sweetheart,” Portia said cradling her.

“Time is up,” the guard barked in his gruff voice.

“I need a bit more time,” Portia urged.

“Time is up!” the guard barked and came into the room in an aggressive manner.

“Melissa, do as I say, as soon as you get outside the walls, go to the nearest hamlet or village and start asking for your mother.”

Melissa nodded.

The guard grabbed Portia by the arm. “Time is up, and Number One wants to see you.”

Portia’s heart skipped a beat.

Melissa let go and slid down to her feet. “Goodbye, Teacher Seven.”

The guard pulled Portia to the door. She turned but couldn’t find the strength to say goodbye so she simply said, “Love you.”


OUTSIDE OF RANGLEY, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

“Collective Prime, this is Driver Eight, come in over,” Kyle radioed. All he got in return was static. “Collective Prime, this is Driver Eight, come in over.” Still static. “Hmm, maybe I’ll try a relay.” He switched the frequency and keyed the microphone. “Any station this net, this is Driver Eight, come in over.” Again, static.

Barry walked into the room, an LED lantern in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. Holding up the whiskey, he said proudly, “Look what I found.”

“See I knew you were good for something,” Kyle joked. “Best we check to see if it’s hot.”

“I did already,” Barry said.

“Really. I’m not so sure I can trust you considering how well you did putting up the sheeting.”

Barry sat down and crossed his legs.

Outside the winds whipped and howled.

“That’s some storm. We don’t get ones like this back in Prime,” Barry said removing the cap off the bottle.

“Can I ask how you tested the whiskey?” Kyle asked.

“The bottle wasn’t open, but figured it would be safe. However, to be careful, I cleaned a large mixing bowl, pours the whiskey in, ran the Geiger over and it didn’t register. I found a funnel, cleaned it then poured the whiskey back into the bottle.”

“Thorough, I’m impressed,” Kyle said. “And to answer your thought about storms, Prime is shielded from big storms because of all the tall mountains around it.”

Barry filled two small glasses with whiskey and handed one to Kyle.

Kyle looked at it and said, “I can assume the glass is clean?”

Barry returned his question with a look that said, yes. He put the glass to his lips and sipped, “Not bad.”

Kyle followed but took a larger gulp, “Yeah, not bad at all.”

“Where do you think Ten went?” Barry asked.

Further into the Republic I suspect. Hell, I don’t know. What I do know is you’ll never see him again,” Kyle answered.

“Too bad, he was a good guy, a trusted driver.”

“A shit bag.”

Barry took a long drink and said, “You really don’t know shit do you?”

“I know enough and I know a shit bag when I see one,” Kyle said swishing the whiskey in his glass.

After taking another swig, Barry laughed, “When we get back, what are you going to tell my father?”

“I’ve known your father for a long time as you know, I owe him my life. I’ve never lied to him and I don’t plan on doing it in this instance.”

“Then you’re going to tell him everything?”

“As I saw, yes.”

“And what if he does nothing?” Barry asked.

“I’ll politely remind him of the laws, the laws he created,” Kyle answered.

“Wow, you really are a self-righteous guy. You think you know everything because you’ve driven a truck.”

“I don’t claim to know everything, but I know right and wrong.”

Barry leaned back, glass in his hand and a big smile on his face. “What is right and wrong? Are you using standards from before The Reboot? That’s a different world. Was it so bad for people say a thousand years ago to marry a twelve-year-old? No, because that’s the way things were then. Was it wrong for people to sell slaves back then too? Again, the answer is no, that’s just the ways things were. Your problem Driver Eight, is you’re putting the morals of a dead time onto the present. You haven’t evolved or progressed. This is a new world now with new rules. You either adapt or die.”

“I don’t care if it was today or ten thousand years ago. Children are children and going around having sex with them is against the laws of nature, period.”

“The laws of nature? Please don’t bore me with your antiquated political beliefs and talk about laws of nature, natural rights, blah, blah, blah” Barry mocked.

“What do you know about natural rights?” Kyle asked.

“Do you think I got taught the same dribble as everyone else? My father let me have access to a vast library. I’ve read every book on governmental systems and political theory. He wanted me to know what we were fighting against. He has been preparing me to rule in his stead as soon as he thinks I’m ready.”

Kyle took a long drink. He could feel the liquor hitting him.

“Your other problem Driver Eight, is you’re an idealist. I’ve heard about this code you created for the drivers years ago. My father went along with it only because he likes you. For some reason he’s come to believe you’re a team player, but I see through you. You’re not. You exude individualism. It’s seeps out your pours. You’ve been on the road too long. You somehow have lost sight but let me remind you. You’re not a person, you’re a tool and when you’ve driven your last mile, we’ll find another tool to replace you. You’re nothing. So, go ahead, talk high and mighty but know that I’ll be pissing on your grave and fucking your wife after you die.”

“What did you say?” Kyle barked.

Feeling cocky, Barry leaned closer to Kyle and said, “I’ll be fucking your wife.”

Kyle dropped his glass, and snatched Barry by the throat. He squeezed hard, pulled him close and said, “Say it again.”

Barry choked and clawed at Kyle’s clenched hand.

Not done threatening him, Kyle removed his Hoback knife and placed it on Barry’s tender cheek. “I should filet you open. Cut you like the fucking pig you are and tell your father the Generates got you. It would be so easy and know what, he’d believe me because he trusts me.”

Barry’s face turned bright red and he tried to utter a word but couldn’t.

Frustrated, Kyle pushed him away.

Choking and coughing, Barry curled up on the floor. “I fucking hate you.”

Kyle stood, picking up the bottle on his way up and took a long drink. “You’re nothing but a soft fat and lazy slug. You might have read every book ever written but you’ll never be a decent human being.” Kyle tipped the bottle upside down and poured the contents on Barry. When the bottle was empty, he smashed it against the wall and said, “If you ever say anything about my wife again, I will kill you.”


COLLECTIVE PRIME

Portia came to the executive mansion but this time she was led to a small parlor downstairs and told to wait. She sat pensively looking around at all the items hanging on the walls or sitting on the tables and shelves. The room was more a museum than a parlor. Everywhere she looked she saw what must have been priceless works of art and memorabilia from before The Reboot. Kyle wasn’t one to bring items like this back, but he told her some drivers did. Clearly, they all found a home here. In an adjacent room she could hear Number One talking.

“Add an additional team to guard the wind and solar farms to the north and east and make sure they have roving patrols along the conduit. I don’t care where you have to pull them from, just do it. We can’t have anyone sabotaging our power generation. Before I let you go is it true our crop yield this harvest will be thirty-three percent higher? Glad to hear, that will make for a joyous harvest festival and get back to me on how the construction of the second brewery is going as well as the hop harvest. Thank you, bye.” 

She sat up and clasped her hands on her lap awaiting his entrance.

“Portia, Portia, Portia,” Number One said walking into the room.

She snapped her head to see him and Bravo One walking in. She jumped to her feet and said, “Number One, sir, if you let me explain.”

He turned to Bravo One and said, “Could you give us some privacy?”

Bravo One nodded and left but not before giving Portia a sour look.

Portia noticed right away that Number One looked worse than he did yesterday. His skin seemed almost translucent and a light film of sweat clung to it. Again, he was wearing a turtleneck sweater. “If you’ll permit me to explain.”

He walked and took a seat opposite her in a winged back chair. “Please, sit.”

She did as he said.

“I’m sure you’ve guessed that you’re here instead of jail because of me,” he said lightly patting his crossed leg.

“Yes, I assumed.”

“You have embarrassed me, I want you to know. Just yesterday I’m praising you as a model resident and today you’re acting like a wild woman and breaking all protocol.”

“I’m sorry, I just freaked out. This little girl, she…” Portia paused to get her thoughts straight. “She means the world to me. I can’t have a child and she lost her mother so….”

Interrupting her, he finished what he guessed was her thought. “So took on the motherly role for this child. I understand this quaint and nostalgic feeling but Portia, the children of The Collective don’t really have parents. Our family is bigger than that, it’s the community. In fact, I’ll be passing a law soon that will have all children given out to the best equipped residents of The Collective. Just because someone can produce a child doesn’t mean they’re the best suited to raise them. I have struggled with this for a very long time and was going to announce it yesterday but because of those three traitors I changed my mind. I’m planning on holding a gathering next week to announce this. Now this takes me to you. I’ve been watching you for some time. I think you could be a great overseer of a new infant, you hold all the qualities and your husband is a hero. This is primarily why I brought you forward. I wanted everyone to see this model resident then see you become the first resident to oversee the next newborn. It was a perfect plan, then today happened. You’ve put me in a difficult spot, you really have.”

It took everything for her not to throw up. She knew his mannerisms and tone and it sounded as if he was about to declare her death sentence at any moment. His calm demeanor fooled many to think he wouldn’t do something barbaric but then would shock them with the opposite.

“What should I do with you?” he asked.

“I could wear the Cloth of Dishonor,” she offered reluctantly. This was a punishment meant for minor infractions where the guilty would wear black and emblazoned on the chest and back was a large letter D. The residents of The Collective could openly mock and ridicule them. The punishment lasted for thirty calendar days and had the desired effect of reforming those who had committed the crimes. If it was just her, she’d not be too concerned, but what it would do to Kyle is what she worried about. Seeing her humiliated on a daily basis could push him to a breaking point.

“No, no, I couldn’t do that to Driver Eight’s wife. You see my dear, I have few options here. As the person responsible for enforcing the laws I should have you banished for what you did, but I fear the repercussions from the people would be too much. They love your husband, a lot. He’s become quite the celebrity here,” he said with a smile.

“Then what?”

“There is another way, it’s a bit, um, unorthodox.”

“Anything.”

“Do you mean that?”

“I don’t want to embarrass or dishonor Kyle. I’d also like to know if this could remain quiet. I don’t want him to know. He works so hard, he sacrifices so much for…us all,” she said, catching herself before she said, me .

“We might be able to make an arrangement.”

Fearing he could do any number of horrible things she pressed him for what this unorthodox scheme was. “What would you like me to do?”

“I’ll get back to you with that, but for now, just stay out of trouble,” he warned.

“Why?”

“Are you asking why I would treat you differently?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I find you to be special. I know it flies counter to the teachings that we’re all equal. But I sense something great in you, Portia,” he answered and stood. He walked over to her and placed his hand gently on her shoulder. “Now go, I’ll call for you when I’ve made up my mind.”

“The girl? Is she gone? Banished?”

“Unfortunately, yes. Those are difficult decisions but they must be made. We can’t run the risk of having an outbreak. Do you remember fifteen years ago when that deadly virus ran through the town? I’m sure you do. We can’t risk that happening again.”

“I understand,” she said half lying.

“Now go,” he urged before stepping away and coughing loudly. The cough progressed to the point he needed to hold himself up.

She went to him, “Are you okay?”

He rebuffed her, “No, leave me. I have a bad chest cold. Leave. Now.”

Bravo One opened the door and marched in, a small bag in her left hand. She gave Portia a hard stare and barked, “You heard him, leave!”

Speechless she headed for the door.

“Oh, Portia, one more thing,” he said wiping his mouth with a tissue. “Your husband, have you heard from him?”

She stopped and replied, “No, I haven’t spoken to him.”

“He radioed in. Said he was outside of Grand Junction. I thought he might have contacted you.”

“No, he didn’t contact me,” she answered. Hearing Kyle was maybe a day and a half away filled her with joy. After everything that happened she wanted him home more than ever.

“Do me a favor, if he contacts you, I recommend not mentioning the incident at the infirmary. Don’t stress him. And, please let me know too.”

The request was odd. Why would he need to know if Kyle contacted her?  She asked herself.

“Have a good day, we’ll be in touch,” he said.

CHAPTER 4

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OUTSIDE OF RANGLEY, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

After the incident with Barry, Kyle slept with one eye open. The story of being killed by Generates could be used for him just as easily if Barry saw fit to take him out. Prime was a little over a day’s drive away and he knew that time would seem like an eternity.

Curious as to the conditions outside, Kyle peeled back the edge of the sheeting on


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the front bay windows and peered out to find a gray overcast day, but no signs of any storm. The ground was covered in a thin layer of snow giving the rolling hills a serene and majestic looked but Kyle knew it could be deceiving as there was a high probability the ground was littered with radioactive material.

Barry emerged from the shadows behind him. In his hand he held a satellite phone.

“Where did you get that?” Kyle asked thinking it ironic that just the other day Tommy had mentioned sat phones.

“Do you have to ask? I’m the Number Two. Can I go outside? I need to make a call,” Barry said.

“You saw me trying to radio and you didn’t say you had a phone?”

“It wouldn’t have done any good, I need line of sight and the storm was raging. Seemed pointless to say anything.”

“In the large black container box I have a spare pair of rubber boots, I think they’re your size, put them on. Don’t touch anything else outside.”

Barry disappeared to go find the box.

Kyle went back to the room he’d slept and began packing. He heard the front door creak open and close. Dying to know what Barry was saying, he went back to the front window that overlooked the porch. He put his ear close and listened but couldn’t pick up on anything of significance.

Barry finished his call but didn’t come back inside right away, he stood on the porch and stared out towards the mountains beyond.

Deciding there was nothing to be gained from his eavesdropping, Kyle went back to packing. When he closed the lid on the last box, he noticed Barry hadn’t come back in. Wondering what was delaying him, Kyle went to the front door and opened it. There he found Barry still staring off. “What are you doing? I could’ve used your help.”

Barry turned around and handed him the phone. “I think you should call your wife.”

Kyle gave him an odd look and asked, “Why?”

“Trust me, call her,” Barry said putting the phone in his hands and walking inside.

Kyle looked at the phone, concern grew to fear. He quickly dialed the number. The phone clicked several times then started to ring.

“This is Operator Fourteen, number to connect,”  a woman’s voice said.

“Connect me to Lima Four Two Six,” Kyle said.

“Connecting,”  the operator said.

The phone clicked several times.

“Hello,”  Portia answered.

“Are you okay?”

She hesitated.

“Portia, are you there?” he asked.

She could hear his troubled tone. “I, I’m fine and you?” 

“I was told to call you.”

“You were? Who told you to do that?” 

“Number Two, he said I needed to call you. Is something wrong? Did something happen?”

Again she paused not knowing how to answer.

“Portia, tell me.”

“It was an accident, I didn’t mean to be trouble. I just lost my composure,”  she stuttered unable to get the right words out.

“Calm down and tell me what happened.”

“You know Melissa, the little…” 

He interrupted her and said, “Yes. I remember her.”

“Well, they did a round of tests yesterday and she was picked to be banished. I couldn’t just let her get thrown out without talking to her one last time. Anyway, there was an incident,”  she said and paused.

“What happened?”

“I tried to force my way into the holding room and well, a guard had to subdue me. It was really bad, but Number One, he, he’s forgiven me. I just need to do something for him and all will be forgotten.” 

“Do what?”

“I don’t know yet. He said he’ll summon me when it’s time. Those were his words.” 

Kyle sighed heavily. Number One wasn’t known for giving pardons so if there was one, it was coming at a heavy price.

“I’m sorry,”  she cried.

“Don’t, no, don’t cry. You need to think clearly. I need you to not get emotional, do you hear me? I need you strong. Whenever someone is leading with their emotions they make bad decisions.”

“I’m so sorry.” 

“It’ll be fine. I’ll be home soon and get this worked out. And don’t accept any deals from Number One until I get back, do you understand? No matter what.”

“Yes, I understand,”  she replied. “Kyle?” 

“Yes.”

“I’m scared.” 

“Don’t be. I’ll be home soon and straighten this all out. I’m going to hang up. Again, don’t accept any deals until I get home.”

“I won’t.” 

“I’ll see you soon, bye.”

“Bye.” 

When the phone disconnected, Kyle cursed loudly and punched the door. This was the last thing he needed to worry about.

Barry appeared and asked with a sneering grin, “Is she okay? I heard the incident at the infirmary yesterday was quite dramatic.”

Kyle didn’t know what to say and now more than ever he needed to watch what he said. He had already gotten on Barry’s bad side but if Number One had something on Portia he was in a no win situation.

“I hear my dad is going to make her a deal. I can’t remember the last time my dad has done that. Your wife must be quite the enchantress to get my dad to not bring down the hammer of the law against her because I do believe what she did is punishable by banishment.”

Still Kyle was speechless.

“Whatever it is, I know this truth, you lose.”

And right there, it was confirmed. Kyle was in a no win situation. In other words, he knew he was fucked.

“Where my father isn’t one for making deals with the exception of your lovely wife. Maybe you and I can make a deal.”

“And what could you possibly offer? And secondly, why would you ever want to help me? I believe I choked you out, put a knife to your face and threatened to kill you.”

“I can forgive. I’m a man that can be bought.”

“I’m a driver, I don’t have anything of value.”

“Oh yes you do. You have something that is priceless.”

“And what’s that?”

“A reputation.”


COLLECTIVE PRIME

Seconds after hanging up with Kyle the phone rang again. She picked it up and said, “Kyle?”

“No, this is Bravo One. There’s a car out front, get in it. It will take you somewhere.” 

“But I’m not dressed.”

“Get in the car now,”  Bravo One ordered.

She put the phone down, walked to the front door and opened it to find a large SUV parked out front. Should I wait?  She asked herself.

The driver exited, stepped around and opened the rear passenger door.

Think Portia, think. Kyle said don’t do anything until he got back  .

Seeing that she wasn’t coming, the driver approached and said, “I need you to get in the car.”

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll find out soon enough, now, go get in the car.”

It took all off her strength to take that first step but once she did the momentum took her all the way until she was seated in the back.

When the driver closed the door she heard Number One. “Hi Portia, are you ready to know what this unorthodox plan is?”


SOUTH OF MEEKER, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Kyle sat quietly, both of hands on the steering wheel in a white-knuckle grip. His teeth grinding and jaw clenched as he stewed over his predicament. Barry was right, Number One never offered deals, if he was anything, it was predictable. Knowing Portia was being granted a pardon in exchange for something led him to believe it couldn’t be good. Then there was Barry, he hadn’t asked yet, but he had a good idea what he asking for and that was most likely to keep quiet while Barry leveraged what influence he had on behalf of Portia. Knowing Portia was in Number One’s clutches both panicked and angered him.

Barry also sat quietly, while Kyle was going over his potential options.

“We’re getting closer. What do we have, a little less than a day?” Barry asked hoping to get a response from Kyle. His previous attempts failed to illicit even a nod or grunt.

Hearing Barry’s voice only made Kyle grip the wheel tighter, if that was possible.

“I think we should talk, I really do. Don’t you want to know what I can offer to help you and your wife?” Barry asked.

“I want to wait until I hear more from Portia,” Kyle said, finally breaking his silence.

“But by then, it may be too late.”

Kyle chewed on that response. There was truth to that reasoning. Information was his friend and the more he had the better. “Fine. What are you offering and for what?”

“I want you to kill my father,” Barry said calmly.

Kyle slammed on the brakes, bringing the truck to a stop but forcing Barry into the dash. “What?”

“Christ man, how about warning me before you do that shit!”

“You just asked me if I would kill your father. Do you know how many guards are around him at all times?”

“Yes, but…”

“And how do I do it without getting caught. The last thing I want to do is die and leave Portia a widow.”

“But all you…”

“You’re joking, right? This is a stupid childish prank, a test,” Kyle asked once more interrupting Barry.

“If you’d let me finish I’ll tell you everything, I just need you to close your mouth for five minutes and I can break it all down for you.”

Kyle’s nostril’s flared and his face turned flush. “Go ahead,” he snapped.

“I’ll easily get you in front of my father, just us three, from there you can take him out. Once I’m in charge, I’ll pardon your wife and you two can go back to living you happy life.”

“How is that a deal at all? I don’t even know what your father is proposing to Portia, for all I know it could be benign.”

Barry began to shake his head.

“What?”

“I know you’re a bit clueless, but now you sound fucking stupid. You’ve known my father for nineteen years. He wants something so valuable to you, that he asked me…” Barry said then stopped talking.

Intrigued, Kyle said, “Finish what you were going to say.”

“This morning, I called my father to check in. He was having someone go get her right after I got off the phone,” Barry said.

“Finish your other thought,” Kyle barked.

“He asked me to kill you,” Barry said plainly.

Hearing that, Kyle looked to make sure Barry didn’t have a weapon in his hand or near him, he then thought hard if what Barry was saying could be true. He knew Number One’s wife had recently passed away and he also knew Number One had an eye for younger women and that it was rumored he had affairs with other people’s wives. Why would he do that to him? This was the same man who had saved him years ago. Now after all these years he wanted him dead?

“Search your thoughts and feelings. You know it’s true,” Barry said.

Kyle did just that. The more he thought on it, the more confidence he had in Barry’s theory. He looked at Barry and said, “He wants me out of the way so that he can get Portia.”

Barry put his finger on the tip of his nose. “Bingo.”

Dismayed, Kyle let go of the steering wheel and lowered his head. “But why?”

“Why do people do anything?” Barry asked.

“I’ve been loyal to him since after he found me. I gave him my life in service to The Collective.”

“I’m going to tell you something else and this will no doubt piss you off.”

Kyle sat speechless.

“You don’t have any leverage over me, it’s not like this is a deal so my father doesn’t find out I’m fucking kids. He knows. He’s known for a long time. While you’re out there driving and risking your life for The Collective, he’s been playing four-dimensional chess against you. I never went missing, he sent you out to quote unquote find me so we could kill you.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because I want you to kill him.”

“I kill him and you take over, it’s simple, very simple.”

“Yes, now you see,” Barry said with a broad smile.

“How about I kill you and kill him, hell I’ll kill everyone,” Kyle said out of anger.

“You and I both know that you’ll never succeed at that. This is the only way for you and Portia to be together and safe. If you show up at The Collective, you won’t make even past the walls and Portia will be his new wife.”

Kyle sat and thought. As he looked towards the gently sloping hills and the mountains beyond he couldn’t help but think that even after a nuclear war, man was still scheming, and devising ways to screw each other over. Number One’s experiment for social justice and a government designed to bring equality and fairness was all bullshit. He still lived in opulence and he pursued and went after anything he wanted, even other people’s wives. This wasn’t a reboot, this was the same all over again.

“Let me tell you one more thing that will make it easier for you. My father is sick. He has something called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. I guess women normally get it but nevertheless he has it. He needs a steady supply of hormone replacement and the only place we’ve found a plentiful supply is in the Rocky Mountain Republic. I guess those bastards have a pharmaceutical plant in their boundaries and they got it up and running a few years back. We ran into some trouble with them ten years ago concerning trade as you know well. However, with father’s need for those hormones he began trading in the one commodity we could spare… children.”

Kyle snapped his head and glared at Barry, “He’s been involved in the slave trade of children?”

“Yes, just so he could get his precious hormones,” Barry confessed.

“Why am I just finding out about this? How could this remain so quiet?”

“It’s called paying people off, we knew you couldn’t be bought but we found other drivers like Ten and Two, and others. You’d be surprised who’s involved.”

“Unbelievable.”

“Now you know why I kept saying you were clueless. While you were being the honorable one out there fighting and scavenging for The Collective, the rest of us were playing the game of greed, lust, gluttony, you name it. This whole system we created is bullshit, it’s a scam.”

Clenching his fists, Kyle said, “I just want to…”

“Kill him?”

Kyle squeezed his fists tightly and answered, “Yes.”


BATCHELOR GULCH, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Portia hadn’t been outside the walls of Collective Prime since they had gone up. There wasn’t any need for her too and it was illegal.

“Where are you taking me?” Portia asked Number One.

“Right there, he said pointing towards a large building.”

“Is that a hotel?”

“Yes, before The Reboot it was the Ritz Carlton, it’s now my secret getaway, I call it the Lair. It’s heavily protected so you don’t have to worry.”

“Why are you taking me here?” she asked.

“I’ll explain it all once we get there. And from now on, please call me Xavier.”

She nodded.

Ahead of them, the road narrowed and channeled them towards a large metal gate which opened when they came near. On the other side the road widened again and slivered up the hill towards a second gate, which too was open for them. After that, they continued until they stopped under a massive wood porte cochere. Armed men surrounded the vehicle and faced out. More men came and opened her and Xavier’s door.

She stepped out and was greeted, “Good morning.”

“Oh, hi,” she said startled by her treatment.

Xavier walked around and took her by the hand, “Come with me dear.”

Feeling like she was living another person’s life, she just went with it, fearful that saying no could lead to something worse.

He led her through the front doors and into a large lobby. She was amazed by the beauty of the space. The marble floors glowed and stretched out from the entrance to a far wall with towering windows that overlooked the valley below. They moved to a bank of elevators located on the left and walked on the first one available.

“Do you live here?”

“Not all the time, I use it as a home away from home when I want to escape the day to day bullshit of The Collective.”

The words he was using were unlike anything she’d ever heard him use.

The doors opened and he led her down the hall, stopping in front of a set of double door. He turned the lever handle and opened the door. “After you.”

She stepped inside. Like the lobby, the room was gorgeous with marble floors, plush carpeting, wallpapered walls with hard wood trim accenting it all.

He pointed to a couch and said, “Take a seat, please.”

She did as he said.

He briskly walked towards a pair of closed doors inside and asked, “Do you like surprises?”

“Ah, sure.”

He opened and pushed the door open. There sitting on the bed was Melissa. He gave her a wink and said, “Come here.”

Melissa jumped up and cautiously walked to him.

“Melissa!” she exclaimed jumping up and running towards her.

“Teacher Seven!” Melissa cried out.

The two embraced.

“You’re here, I can’t believe it. You’re here and safe. You’re not hurt are you?” Portia said looking her over.

“I’m fine. I’ve been here the entire time.”

“What do you mean you’ve been here the entire time?” Portia asked giving Xavier an odd look.

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

“I’m so happy to see you,” Portia said.

“Have you seen my daddy?” Melissa asked.

“No, I haven’t. So he hasn’t come and visited you here?” Portia asked.

“No.”

“Let’s talk,” Xavier said motioning for Portia to go back to the couch. He looked at Melissa and said, “Do you mind going back into the bedroom while us adults talk?”

Melissa shook her head and walked back into the bedroom.

After closing the door, Xavier took a seat across from her. “It’s been said, I give the best surprises.”

She smiled awkwardly. While it was wonderful to see Melissa and know she was safe, she didn’t know why she was there or why he saved Melissa.

“This must seem out of sorts. So instead of keeping you in suspense any longer I’ll ask you this. How would you like to live here, with Melissa of course?”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s simple, if you like this place, you can have it. And if you want Melissa to live with you she can.”

She shook her head and raised her hand to massage her temple. “This is confusing. I thought Melissa had an incurable virus? And why would you offer me and Kyle this place. I broke the law and now you’re giving us this place and allowing us to raise Melissa. What about her father?”

He leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands. “Let me explain,” he said pausing to think. “About Kyle.”

“What about him?”

“I didn’t know how to tell you, but I received a call this morning. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but he was killed by a pack of Generates.”

“What? When? I spoke to him too. He seemed fine. Was it after that?”

He raised an eyebrow not expecting to hear her say she’d spoken to him. “Ah, yes, right after.”

“When did you hear?”

“This morning. When did you hear from him?” he countered.

“Right before you picked me up.”

“It was right after that. My driver told me just before you got in the vehicle. It’s such a tragedy. I’ll throw a memorial and parade The Collective hasn’t ever seen in his honor. He was an incredible resident, a true hero of our collective.”

Emotions overwhelmed her. She burst into tears and began sobbing.

He raced to her side to comfort her. With his arm draped over her shoulder he softly said, “I know this must be difficult. He was such a good man, a good husband, I even considered him a friend of sorts.”

“How is it possible? I had just spoken to him. Like I hung up and the next second the phone rang and I was being summoned.”

Number One hated surprises and clearly he hadn’t expected this, but he considered himself a smooth talker who could deceive most.

“Why don’t you rest here? I’ll send for some food and water. How about some tea? I can have it brought up.”

“Nothing,” she answered, her face buried in her hands.

“I’ll leave you. Get comfortable. I’ll have your things brought over.”

Hearing that she looked up. “I don’t know if I can do this. It doesn’t seem right. What about my job?”

“We’ll think about that later. You need to mourn and there’s a little girl needing a mother. Let me take care of everything else.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Remember the story I told you the other day, the one about the first time we met? I instantly knew you were going to be something great, I just knew that you and I didn’t meet like that by accident. I’ve paid close attention to your life ever since. I know I’m not supposed to do that. A leader can’t have a favorite but I’ll admit I did, and you were it. I want to see you happy, so if you’ll permit me, I’d like to give that to you.”

She was confused. Is this really happening? Is Kyle really dead? What will happen to me?  She thought.

He got up and said, “I’ll leave you be. If you need anything at all, just pick up the phone and call. I’ll be back later tonight.”

Wiping tears from her face she nodded. “I think I’ll check on Melissa.”

“Good idea. Again, my condolences,” he said before leaving her alone.

When the door closed she started to sob heavily. This can’t be happening.  She thought. Lost in her misery she didn’t hear the bedroom door open. When Melissa’s hand touched her back she snapped her head up to see her standing there. “Why are you crying?”

“Come here,” Portia said pulling Melissa close.

“Did someone get hurt?” Melissa asked.

“Yes they did, sweetie, yes they did.”


COLLECTIVE PRIME

Barry pulled the truck up to the towering forty foot high gate and honked his horn.

Two guard towers stood equals distance apart on either side of the gate. One called down, “One second.” A guard emerged from a guard station on the outside of the gate and approached the truck. “Is that you Driver Eight?”

Barry opened the door and got out. “It’s Number Two, open the gate.”

The guard recognized the truck as Kyle’s so asked, “Where’s Driver Eight?”

Lowering his head to feign sorrow, Barry answered, “The Generates got him.”

“Oh shit, no way.”

“You need to keep this quiet. What’s your name?”

“Guard Forty-Two.”

“Guard Forty-Two, you must not say a word about Driver Eight. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good. We can’t let this get out until we can notify his wife and others. I know you’ll be discreet,” Barry said.

“Of course.”

“Good, open the gate.”

The guard looked up and gave a hand signal.

A loud metal clank followed by the sounds of heavy wheels and cranks moving. The two door gate slowly opened inward.

Barry drove through and headed directly to the executive mansion.


* * *

“Number One, you son has arrived. He was driving Driver Eight’s truck,” Bravo One said.

Xavier looked up from a stack of papers on his desk. “Good. And has Teacher Seven made any calls from the suite?”

“No,” Bravo One said. She cleared her throat and continued, “Xavier, are you sure this is a good idea.”

He leaned back and smiled, “Using my birth name, this is serious. You must be talking about Portia.”

“Yes.”

“I’m a single man, she’s now a single woman. Why can’t we fall in love? I couldn’t think of a more appropriate pairing, the leader of The Collective and the widow of Driver Eight.”

“I don’t trust her,” she said.

“We’ve been together since the beginning, I trust your counsel but I feel strongly about this.”

“I just don’t know if the other residents will see that. You’re twenty-three years her senior.”

“That’s antiquated thinking,” he said then thought about why she was asking. “You’re jealous, aren’t you?”

“I’ve been with you for many years. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t grown to love you.”

He got up and walked over to her. He placed his hand tenderly against her cheek and said, “We’ve had our moments, we’ve shared each other and I love you but I’m not in love with you. You mean so much to me, I hope you’ll accept my decision and welcome Portia as my next wife.”

She touched his hand and said, “You’ll always have my support.”

“You’re a good woman.”

“Knock, knock,” Barry said tapping on the open door. “Am I disturbing something intimate?”

“No, Bravo One was just leaving,” Xavier said giving Bravo One a nod. She picked up some papers from the desk and hurried out.

“Son, come in, close the doors and have a seat,” Xavier said.

Barry did as he was told and plopped down in a thick leather chair next to the desk.

“Care for a drink? Whiskey?”

“Sure.”

Xavier poured two glasses, gave one to Barry and sat back down at his desk. “So, tell me, did he beg for his life? Or did you just walk up behind him and shoot him in the head?”

“Let’s first talk about what you’re doing with his wife. Are you really taking her as yours?”

Shocked that Barry knew, he asked, “How did you hear about that?”

“I have my own ears around town.”

He pointed at Barry and laughed, “A chip off the old block.”

“I learned from the best,” Barry said with a smile.

“She’s beautiful. I can’t wait to get my hands on her,” Xavier said. “And with these new hormones you’ve gotten for me, and some of the other enhancers, I should be fit as a fiddle.”

“When you told me you wanted me to kill Driver Eight, I thought you must have made a mistake. That’s why I asked for a confirmation. You know dad, I still remember when we found him. I told you it was a bad idea and you said either he’ll end up being a savior for our fledging group or he’ll be the one that will put an end to it. I think that’s pretty much verbatim.”

“I remember that, good memory.”

“Driver Eight gave us nineteen years of his life. Driving millions of miles so that our little experiment would thrive and when he had something that you wanted you had him killed. What kind of person does that?”

“Son, the world is not for the weak or the meek. We must take what we want.”

“When do you think I can take over?” Barry asked.

“Why do you ask?”

“I’m just curious. I’m almost twenty-six, I’m strong, educated. I think I’m getting close. Plus, I imagine you’ll want to enjoy retirement with your new bride.”

Xavier laughed. “Son, I’m not going to retire while I’m still standing. Secondly, you still need a bit more seasoning. Give it some more time, maybe spend some time outside the gates. See what’s out there.”

“I don’t need to see what’s out there. Its’ a shit hole.”

“You look tired. I’m sure your trip and what I asked of you has made you tired.”

“No, what I’m tired of is being disrespected. I’m ready to lead now.”

“I’m not sure why you’re getting upset. It’s must be because you’re weary. Go rest, let’s continue this conversation over dinner.”

“No!”

Xavier stood up. “I’ll not have you yell at me.”

Barry took a deep breath and calmly said, “Your time is up, father.”

The office doors opened and in walked Kyle with a pistol in his hand.

“You’re alive?” Xavier asked, his face contorted in terror.

Barry got up quickly and moved out of the way.

“You ordered to have me killed. You tried to take my wife from me. I served you out of a sense of duty because you saved my life and that is how you repay?” Kyle barked marching towards Xavier.

“Let me explain,” Xavier pleaded his hands up.

“There’s nothing to explain. I just heard this entire conversation,” Kyle said.

Across the room, Barry held up a hand held radio. “Sorry, dad.”

“You, you planned this?” Xavier hollered at Barry.

“What did you say dad, the world is not for the weak or the meek.”

Kyle walked until the desk was the only thing that stood between him and Xavier. “Time to die.”

“No, no, don’t. I can reverse all of this. Let me do that. I’ll give you whatever you want, just don’t kill me.”

Kyle index finger began to apply pressure to the trigger.

“I put you in that truck not because we needed you to scavenge for us, but because I know you needed to look for her. I know you’ve never forgiven yourself for surviving that day. I know you’ve been searching for her.”

“Shut up!”

“Let me help you find her,” Xavier implored.

“Shut up.”

“Please, let me help you.”

“Why? You can have anyone you want, but my wife?”

“It’s not like that.”

“It definitely seems that way to me. I’ve been loyal to you. I gave you my life in service because you saved me and put me in that truck.”

Xavier’s initial shock was morphing into anger at the sight of Kyle pointing a pistol at him. He could see something in his eyes that he’d never seen before, fear . “I did and I told you why. You’ve been driving everywhere looking for her, I know you have but did I stop you? No. I only let you do what you needed even though you were putting your needs about the others, even above your own wife.”

Kyle tightened his grip on the pistol and took a step closer, “Shut up!”

Barry watched with pure joy the interaction between his two foes knowing that this showdown would be the end of both.

“Do you know how alone Portia has been? Sitting and waiting for a man who can never truly give his heart to her because it belongs with someone else. Can you imagine how that must feel?”

“Shut your mouth!”

Growing impatient, Barry blurted out, “Shoot him already!”

Xavier looked at


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Barry, his expression turning to surprise.

“Just tell me why you’d betray me?” Kyle asked. His need to know was cloudy his judgement and putting the plan in jeopardy.

“Betrayal? Ask your wife about that,” Xavier said.

“I’ve been a good husband.”

“Sure, you haven’t lay with other women, but you’re never there for her, you’re always gone. Driving mile after mile all with the hope that one day you’ll find her. What was here name?”

“Don’t talk about her.”

“Her name, it was the only thing you kept saying when we found you. It was…”

“Don’t you dare utter her name,” Kyle said angrily.

“Let me remember, oh yeah, it was, Tif…”

Kyle pulled the trigger. The forty-five caliber round struck Xavier in the head and exited out the back leaving the wall behind him covered in blood and brain matter.

Xavier dropped to the ground dead.

“You did it! For a time there, I didn’t think you’d do it. I can’t fucking believe it, you killed him. Yes! Yes! You did it!” Barry cheered.

A gunshot cracked behind Kyle. He looked down expecting to see an exit would but nothing was there.

Barry turned to see Bravo One standing in the open doorway of the office with a pistol in her hand. She pulled the trigger of her pistol again but this time it didn’t fire. She tried again, nothing.

Not waiting to get shot at again, Kyle swiveled around and shot her two times in the chest.

She stumbled forwards, dropped to her knees then fell forward, her head smacking the floor hard. She gasped loudly then died.

The roar of heavy footfalls echoed in the hall beyond.

Kyle gave Barry and look, seeking to know what he should do.

“Don’t do anything stupid, I’ll tell the guards to stand down, but I think you should put the gun down,” Barry said walking towards Kyle.

A squad of guards rushed into the room, their rifles at the ready but Barry now stood in between them and Kyle, who still held the pistol firmly in his grip and out in front of him.

“Driver Eight, put down the gun. No more deaths. We have a deal, remember.”

The lead guard shouted, “Number Two step out of the way!”

“Don’t shoot, I’ve got this handled,” Barry replied. “Driver Eight, give me the pistol. These men won’t hurt you, I promise.”

“Can I trust you?”

“Of course, we had a deal.”

Kyle nodded and let go of his pistol.

Barry took it, stepped a few feet away and barked, “Arrest him. He murdered my father, he murdered our dear leader!”


BATCHELOR GULCH, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Portia ran a brush through Melissa’s long, thick, dark hair. “What kind of braid do you want?”

“What kind are there?” Melissa asked moving the arms of a doll that sat on her lap.

“Let’s see, there’s a French braid, and a tear drop braid, that one we take and have it make a teardrop shape around your ear.”

“That one sounds nice,” Melissa answered.

Loud banging came from the door.

“You stay in here, let me see who that is,” Portia said getting up and going to the front door. “Who is it?”

The door burst open striking Portia, causing her to fall backwards onto the floor. Guards raced in, rifles at the ready. “Portia Grant you’re under arrest.”

Melissa emerged from the bedroom to see what all the noise was. A guard spotted her and yelled. “Take the girl into custody too.”

“Leave her alone,” Portia yelled now on her belly as a guard cuffed her.

Melissa stood clinging to her doll as a guard walked over and picked her up.

Cuffed, Portia was pulled to her feet. “Where’s Number One? He put me here.”

The guards remained silent.

“Talk to Number One, he knows I’m here,” Portia yelled.

Barry walked into the room. “Hi Portia.”

“Who are you? Wait, you’re Number One’s son,” Portia said. “Tell him what’s happening, please.”

“Unfortunately, that’s now impossible on account of your husband murdered our dear leader,” Barry explained.

“That’s impossible, Kyle is dead, your father told me this morning.”

“You must be confused. Your husband is very much alive and my father is very much dead. I was with him when Driver Eight came into his office and gunned him down in cold blood.”

“Impossible. Even if Kyle was alive, he’d never kill Number One, never.”

“Again, you’re mistaken. He did kill him,” Barry said. He cleared his throat and continued, “Portia Grant you’re being arrested for high treason, conspiring to murder our dear leader and kidnapping.” Barry looked at Melissa and said, “Take her back to her father. Tell him she doesn’t have the virus and that I expect his loyalty."

"Are you sure?" the guard asked.

"Yes, you see, I’m merciful," Barry laughed.

“Why are you doing this?” Portia cried.

Barry gave Portia a toothy grin and said, “Take her away.”

The guards escorted Portia from the room.

Knowing he needed to proceed rapidly, Barry turned to the lead guard and ordered, “Call a mandatory gathering for first thing in the morning. We need to give the residents of The Collective swift justice.”

“Yes, sir.”

The other guards left leaving Barry alone in the room. He walked to a large window and looked out on the picturesque scenery of the sloping mountain. The ski runs that once graced the north facing slope could still be made out, though they were overgrown with thick vegetation and small trees. The high speed quad which used to ferry happy skiers to the top sat silent. For Barry it represented a by gone day, a reminder of a time that had run its course. Not far from the quad sat the magic carpet lift used for new skiers to access the bunny slope. He remembered riding that for the first time when he was six, life was happy for him then, though his father and mother both spent most of their time working, leaving him to sit alone in his room playing. His dad took him out that day after his first ski lesson. He was so happy to be spending time with him, and proud to show how good he was after one lesson. But it was fleeting, he never went again after that and six months later the world he knew ended. It was ironic he called an old ski town home, since he couldn’t even ski. But who skied anymore? He rose his chest high and smiled for everyone had underestimated him. From Kyle to his father, he had outmaneuvered everyone. Soon he’d get his payback against Kyle for the disrespect he suffered from him. Once he was gone, he’d take full control of The Collective and lead it the way he saw fit.


COLLECTIVE PRIME

A loud clang woke Kyle. Groggy, he slowly opened his eyes and looked around but saw nothing. Shuffling feet stirred his curiosity. He sat up and to his surprise saw it was Portia being escorted down the walkway. He got to his feet and briskly walked to the end of his cell. “Are you okay?” he asked, his arm dangling between the bars hoping to touch her.

She took his hand in hers and said, “I’m fine. I’m so happy to see you. I was told you were dead.”

“Move along,” a guard barked and shoved her.

“You hurt her, I’ll…”

“You won’t do anything Driver Eight, just shut up and sit down,” the guard mocked taking Portia by the arm and placing her in the cell next to Kyle.

When the guard disappeared, Kyle called out, “Portia, are you there?”

“Yes.”

Six inches of reinforced concrete separated them. Though they couldn’t see the other, they could hear.

“Kyle, what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll figure it out,” he answered.

“I’m so sorry, I got you wrapped up in this. It’s all my fault,” she moaned.

“Stop it, this has nothing to do with you. These was a scheme by Barry to take control of The Collective.”

“Is it true Number One is dead?”

“Yes.”

“And is it true you killed him?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, I wish I could see your face and hold your hand,” she complained.

“The fault is mine, if I hadn’t been on the road all the time, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

“No, it’s my fault,” she countered.

“Well, it doesn’t matter now. We’re in this situation, but I’ll figure something out,” Kyle said hoping he could find a way to reassure. While he gave her hope and an optimistic appraisal, deep down he knew their situation was almost untenable.

“He told me you had been killed. Why would he do that?” she asked.

“Because that’s what his plan had been. He wanted me dead so he could have you, that’s how simple this is. One man’s desire for another man’s wife has set off a chain of events that finds us behind bars and…” he said then stopped from finishing his thought.

“Are we going to die?” she asked.

“No, I will find a way,” he replied.

She wanted to believe him but just couldn’t put all her feelings into that prospect.

They sat and talked for what felt like hours. Though he reassured her, he talked in ways to let her know how he felt just in case there was no way out of their situation.

“Do you remember when I slipped on our wedding day?” she asked.

“Do I? I felt so bad for you. I’ll say this, you were the most beautiful bride that I’ve ever seen, falling or not,” he replied.

She paused, her thoughts went to the one question she’d never gotten him to answer. If there was a time to answer fully, it was now. “Who was Tiffany?”

He sighed. Thinking of how to answer he attempted to blow it off. “Now isn’t the time to talk about that.”

“Actually, there’s never been a better time,” Portia fired back.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“But I do.”

“Why?”

“I know you love me, but sometimes I feel I wasn’t or maybe even was never your true love. On the night we were married, just after you fell asleep you had a terrible dream. You were thrashing and calling out her name.”

“I told you before, I knew her before the war.”

“Did something happen to her?”

Thoughts of that day came rushing back. He could see her smiling face punctuated with those deep dimples on both cheeks. Her green eyes with the yellow specs and that auburn silky hair she often had pulled into a long pony tail.

“Kyle, are you there?” Portia asked.

Her question jolted him from his daydream. “Yeah.”

“Did something happen to her?” she asked again but this time more delicately.

Sensing Portia was not going to take no for an answer, he said, “Yes.”

“What?”

“Please, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I need to know. I feel like she’s been a part of our marriage.”

Giving in fully he said, “Five weeks after the war I discovered a radio broadcast coming from a military base, Cheyenne Mountain. It was a recording that repeated over and over. It said to come to a specific set of coordinates for aid. We were low on food and fearful that bandits operating close by would come to the camp. With no weapons at all to defend against such an attack and with the prospect of me finding more food, it seemed like the best, let me rephrase that, only option we had. So, we loaded all the kids on bus. I was in a pickup truck with another counselor. After several hours on the road I started to get drowsy. It was suggested we switch drivers so we did. Not minutes after we got back on the road were we attacked. The woman with me was killed, shot through the windshield. The truck turned hard and started to roll, I was thrown from the truck. Next thing I know I wake up. I’m not sure how long I’d been out, but I was badly hurt. I look and see the bus and Tiffany on the ground, she look terrified but still she showed a strength and resilience I haven’t seen before. She signaled for me to stay down. Seconds later the bus moves and I never see her again.”

“I’m sorry,” Portia said.

“I passed out again and when I woke up next I was being put into a van. The rest is written in the annals of The Collective.”

“Is she why you became a driver?”

“Can we please stop talking about this?”

“No. I need to know.”

“I’ve held a tremendous amount of regret since that day. I was helpless to stop what happened and to be honest it does haunt me. I have nightmares about what happened to her, to all of them, especially the children.”

“So you became a driver with hopes that you’d find her.”

“It’s not like that,” he countered.

“I know you love me, Kyle; but I sometimes think you’re not in love with me. That you have that special kind of love reserved for Tiffany. Maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s shame, I don’t know but it forces you onto the road, driving mile after mile in hopes you will find her.”

“I never got closure. One minute she’s there, the next gone forever. I just wasn’t ready to let her go,” he confessed.

She put her arm out of through the cell bars and said, “Take my hand.”

“What?”

“Take my hand, put your arm through and try to take my hand,” she said.

He did as she said. When their hands met, she slipped her slender fingers into his rough and callused hand. “I love you and I’m in love with you, Portia Grant. You’re so precious. I couldn’t imagine my life without you in it.”

“Thank you for telling me.”

“Sorry it took so long.”

“You’re a good man. A true romantic. Promise me if we get out of this and I somehow disappear that you’ll never stop looking for me.”

He squeezed her hand and said, “I promise.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too,” he replied.

CHAPTER 5

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COLLECTIVE PRIME

The entrance to the prison cells opened with a loud clang and jolted Kyle awake. He looked out between the metal bars and saw he and Portia were still holding hands. “Portia,” he whispered.

Silence.

The sound of hard soles shoes clapping on the tile floor echoed down the walkway.

“Portia, wake up, someone is coming,” he said tugging at her hand.

“Huh?” she asked, her voice groggy.

“Someone is coming.”

“What time is it?” she asked.

“I don’t know. With no outside windows I can’t figure if we’ve been asleep for an hour or ten,” he answered.

The footfalls grew closer.

“Is there anything you can use as a weapon over there?”

“I looked already, there’s nothing,” she replied.

“Wake up little love birds,” a familiar voice called out.

“It’s Barry,” Kyle said.

Barry approached Kyle’s cell and looked in. “Good morning Driver Eight, did you sleep well?”

“I thought we had a deal,” Kyle said.

“We did, but when I saw you standing there, I decided to renegotiate.”

“This is for how I treated you, isn’t it?” Kyle asked.

“To be honest, yes. I won’t lie, I need tough and obedient men like you on the road driving for me, especially after the changes I’m going to be making. The Collective is now under new leadership and with that comes a new vision.”

“What did you say the other night? I’m replaceable?”

“I did say that. I also said, I was going to dance on your grave and fuck your wife.”

Kyle clenched his jaw and growled, “When I escape, I will cut you to pieces.”

“I’m afraid that’s not going to happen. You my friend have a gathering to go to then promptly after that, there’s a big beautiful tree waiting for you.”

“I’m going to kill you slowly,” Kyle threatened.

Barry began to laugh, he gave Portia a look and asked, “Say goodbye to your husband.”

“Go to hell,” she snapped.

“Guards!” Barry hollered.

A minute later four guards appeared. The lead guard stepped forward and said, “At your service, Number One.”

“Has the truck departed yet?” Barry asked the lead guard.”

“No.”

“Good. Take her to the processing center. I want her on that truck. She’ll fetch a decent amount at the auction.”

“Yes sir, the lead guard said walking up to her cell and unlocking it.

“Don’t take her, no, don’t do this,” Kyle pleaded.

“Too late, I already have a buyer in mind for her,” Barry said.

“You don’t want to kill me. You can still use me, let me be your instrument that keeps this place in line. If you save her life and mine, I will forever be indebted. I will owe you my life and gladly give it in service for the rest of my days.”

The offer was intriguing to Barry. He paced for a few minutes, his thoughts bouncing all around in his head. He stepped to just outside of Kyle’s reach and said, “It’s tempting, but I have to decline.”

The guards moved into her cell and apprehended her without much of a fight.

“Resist!” Kyle exclaimed.

As she passed in front of him, she looked into his eyes and said, “I love you.”

Not allowing her to leave without speaking his feelings, he replied, “I love you too, and I’ll search for you until my dying breath.”

Portia and the guards disappeared around the corner.

Barry snapped his fingers. Four guards, all armed with taser batons stepped forward. “Take him to the forum, it’s time for justice to be served.”


* * *

Kyle lay on his side in the back of a van. His body ached and throbbed from the beating he just received in the jail cell. There was no amount of physical pain that could take away the emotional anguish he was feeling. Portia was being sold into slavery and once she was gone, finding her would be almost impossible.

The van came to a stop. The rear doors opened washing him in the sun’s bright rays.

"The sun is out, that’s a good luck sign for our new leader," a guard said. He reached for him but was met with the sole of Kyle’s boot. The guard reeled backwards. Three other guards swept in with taser batons and began to strike him all over. The electrical charges were too much for Kyle to take, the core of his body went rigid while his extremities twitched. With him unable to fight back, the guards dragged him out by his legs, letting his head hit the bumper and allowing his body to fall to the hard surface. They laughed when he grunted in pain.

The guard who Kyle had kicked walked up and kicked him in the ribs. “Take that asshole.”

Kyle groaned.

A man by the name of Cisco appeared on the loading dock. He was Barry’s new right hand person and would serve as his personal aide. He hollered, “Stop playing with him and get him inside, take him stage left. Hold him there until we call for him to be brought out.”

The guards all took one more swipe at Kyle before picking him up and dragging him inside.


* * *

The forum filled up fast with many sad faces. The news of Number One’s death was announced earlier via calls and loud speaker. However, how he died had not been released, Barry wanted to shock the residents of The Collective and when he brought out Drive Eight it would most certainly do that.

Barry stood on the side of the stage reading a prepared statement he’d drafted. Today would be his first time addressing The Collective. He was nervous but also very excited to showcase his style of leadership.

Cisco stepped up beside him. “Three minutes to go. You ready?”

“I am.”

“Then I’ll go on and introduce you,” Cisco said before stepping away.

“No, don’t. My father did that. It’s so corny, tired and well, stupid.”

“Then what, Cisco asked.

“I’ll just walk out, no music, no pomp.”

“If you say so,” Cisco said stepping back.

Barry read over his speech one more time, gave Cisco a wink and headed out. As he walked to the podium many in the audience could be heard talking while otehrs cried. He reached the podium and tapped on the microphone. “Good morning residents!” He laid his speech out before him and looked at it briefly.

The crowd drew still and silent.

Suddenly and rashly he decided to not use it, “I come before you as the new Number One. My father was a great man, a leader. He carved out this great society from the rubble of the past world. He gave us laws to live by and a renewed purpose that the needs of the many outweigh the news of the individual. This couldn’t be truer than now. Like me, many of you feel a deep sense of loss. We lost the father of our society. He was taken too early but as his successor, I will continue his great work.”

Many began to clap.

Barry looked out and what nervousness he had felt was now gone. “I pledge to you that what he and you created we will continue and make greater. While we will miss him, let us not forget the words he gave us,” Barry said just as the screen behind him began to project quotes from Xavier.

Sounds of people openly crying and whimpering came from the crowd.

“I promise, I pledge to you that our greatest days are ahead of us, not behind us. We shall go forward proud to have known him and do our best to make him proud of us.”

The crowd cheered the uplifting words.

Barry never imagined himself as a speaker but he now felt he had a knack for it.

When the crowd settled down, Barry continued, “Now we must turn to what happened. This will be hard for many of you to process but our great leader was murdered.”

Boos and jeers rang out in the great forum.

“Yes, murdered, and this horrendous act was committed by a son of The Collective, someone we trusted but more importantly, someone my father trusted, someone whose life he saved. This act wasn’t done by one of those deplorable types who resist the good work we do, no but by someone we all hold dear.”

“Name the traitor!” a man boomed from the crowd.

“Bring the murderer out!” another cried out.

“Yeah, bring them out!” voiced another.

Barry waited for the crowd to simmer down before proceeding. “The individual. Yes, I used that word because they are that and so much more, the individual is Driver Eight,” Barry said and looked in the direction of stage left.

The crowd went wild. Hissing and boos echoed across the great walls of the forum.

A light beamed down on Driver Eight being dragged out across the stage.

Upon seeing him, the crowd grew louder.

Kyle was dropped to the floor. He looked up and saw the angry masses. If Barry wanted to truly be cruel to him, he’d only need to throw him into the middle of the crowd and watch as they pulled his limbs from his torso.

“Let me share a story,” Barry said and repeated the tale of how he and his father had found Kyle on the road. When he finished he looked at Kyle and said, “And this is how he thanked us.” The screen turned on behind them showing footage from Number One’s office. Taken from a side angle, it showed, Xavier on the right and Barry on the opposite side of the desk. There was no sound to accompany the video but by the gestures of the two, it looked as if the two were discussing something. Without notice in comes Kyle from the left holding a pistol. Seeing this the crowd in the forum gasped and a few booed. All eyes watched as the pistol went off and Xavier’s head exploded.

“That’s enough, turn it off, turn it off!” Barry hollered.

The screen went dark.

A mix of emotions rang out from the crowd.

“This man, this individual decided to snuff out the life of our leader and for what? To save the life of his wife who had committed a crime. Yes, let it be known that the very next day after my father chooses Teacher Seven for recognition, she attempts to kidnap a contaminated child in processing. She put the entire Collective at risk. My father was about to impose sentence when this madman barges into the executive residence and murders him in cold blood.”

Hissing and jeers sound from the crowd.

“I have banished her, she will never be seen again and as for him. The punishment will be the Tree of Justice!”

The residents rose and cheered. “Kill him, kill him, kill him,” the crowd chanted.

Kyle leered at the residents he once calls friends and neighbors. How quickly they turned on him. They were nothing more than thoughtless and mindless walking bags of skin who would turn in their own mother if they felt it would benefit themselves and their beloved collective. He was disgusted.

“Guards take him away,” Barry ordered.

The guards surrounded Kyle. He thought about resisting but questioned the rationale as he wouldn’t escape. It appeared his destiny had been chosen. They picked him up and dragged him away.

Barry watched until Kyle disappeared behind the curtain then put his attention back on the crowd. “In two days’ time we shall hold a memorial service for our father then we will commence a procession to his burial spot. I have called for a day of rest across The Collective so that you all may come and pay your respects. With that said, thank you and as my father would say, THE ONE FOR THE MANY…!

The crowd shouted,  “THE MANY FOR THE ONE!”

Barry waved and exited the stage.

Cisco greeted him on the side of the stage, “You were amazing and you didn’t use your prepared speech, you’re a natural at this.”

Full of pride, Barry said, “It was good, wasn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go celebrate, I wish to go to the Lair. Have my father’s suite prepared.”

“Very well, but don’t you mean your suite?”

Barry winked at Cisco and said, “Yes, my suite.”

The two headed for the exit. An idea came to Barry, “Hold that thought, I want to see Driver Eight put on that tree, take me there,” Barry said.


* * *

Each time Kyle was loaded and unloaded, he received more beatings. By the time he was dragged from the van and placed in front of the tree of justice, he was bleeding from his mouth, nose and ears and he was so weak he could barely sit up.

Barry got out of his vehicle and walked over to the barely conscious Kyle. “You look like shit, not so tough now, huh?”

“Fuck you,” Kyle managed to mutter.

Barry shook his head while a guard punished Kyle with a kick to the head. “You don’t learn do you?” Barry asked walking past Kyle to the tree, one side of the large oak was void of bark and stained dark with the blood of the many residents who found their punishment there. Large chains hung down from two large branches above and a chain wrapped around the trunk near the base had two iron clamps that went around the victim’s ankles. Barry admired it, “This is truly barbaric but it represents the times we live in. I really have to thank my father’s ingenuity for this.”

The Tree of Justice stood just outside the main gates along the Eagle River. It served two purposes, one as an instrument to punish and two, as a warning to residents and any passersby, to obey the laws.

“I guess we should string him up, is that the correct term?” Barry laughed.

The guards dragged Kyle to the base, a guard each, held up his arms as another lowered the chains from above. When his wrists were secure in the clamps, they pulled him to his feet.

Kyle groaned with each pull.

The stopped when his feet were dangling five feet from the ground.

The guards put on the ankle clamps and just to add to his misery, they attached a thirty pound weight to each ankle chain to stretch Kyle’s body out further.

Barry walked up and nodded his approval. “Good job. Cisco, add an additional liquor ration for each one of these fine men.”

“Yes sir.”

“Driver Eight, I hope in these last days you’ll come to see that I was the better man. I had been the one who evolved, you didn’t. I told you numerous times and I’ll say it again, you’re a stupid man. Had you not treated me so poorly who knows, maybe we could have become allies.”

Kyle looked down and mustered two words, “Fuck you.”

“There’s nothing more to say. I beat you. You’ll die and your wife will become someone’s whore. Goodbye Driver Eight.” He signaled a guard. “Don’t remove his body. I want him to rot, make him food for the vultures and post a guard, I don’t want someone to take him down.”

Kyle didn’t have the strength to reply or look up to watch them leave. His thoughts raced to where Portia was and how, like Tiffany, he had let her down. Once more he had failed the woman he loved. No amount of bravado or positive talk was going to get him off this tree, he was a dead man, plain and simple.

CHAPTER 6

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COLLECTIVE PRIME

FOUR DAYS LATER

“Psst, psst!” a voice sounded from behind a grove of shrubs.

Kyle’s eyes openly slightly. It was nighttime and the only light around came from the gates of Prime several hundred yards away. For all intents and purposes, he was immersed in the black of night. He looked into the blackness that surrounded him and saw nothing. Am I hallucinating?  He thought.

“Psst, Kyle!” the voice boomed.

Hearing his name, Kyle lifted his head and tried to widen his eyes to get a better look, still he saw no one. This is it? I’m hearing things. My time is almost up . He said to himself.

“Kyle, are you alive?” the voice said now coming from behind the tree.

Mustering the energy, Kyle replied, “Are you an angel or the devil?”

“Both,” the man replied.

Weakened but now hopeful that someone might free him, Kyle found the strength to again reply, “Who are you?”

“It’s Tommy.”

“No, there’s a guard.”

“I took care of him alrea


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dy. That was easy, lazy bastard was sleeping. Picking these locks, that’s the tough part.”

“Hurry, get me down.”

“I am,” Tommy said working on the locks.

An audible click sounded.

“Got them, now I’m going to lower you down slowly,” Tommy said.

Kyle didn’t reply.

Cautiously, Tommy brought Kyle down to the ground. All that needed to be done was remove the lower ankle clamps.

The hard ground felt good. Kyle let his body relax.

“All done,” Tommy said referring to the removal of the ankle clamps. He scooted to Kyle’s side, lifted his head and put a bottle of water to his cracked lips. “Drink slowly.”

The fresh cool water soothed his parched throat.

“Bro, I thought you were supposed to be king fish here, good thing I didn’t show up a few days before or I’d be on another tree with ya’.”

“Portia, they took Portia,” Kyle muttered.

“Who’s that? Is that your wife?”

Kyle nodded.

“Where did they take her?”

“Slave,” Kyle answered.

“Fuck me, that could be in any direction. If I knew who their main trading partner was, then we could have an idea exactly where she’s gone too,” Tommy said. He was familiar with the slave trade being a bounty hunter. “Do you know who they trade with?”

“Republic I think,” Kyle replied solely on the hunch based upon where he found Barry.

“Hmm, there’s several main players over there, but if you don’t know for sure it could be a wild goose chase. We need to find out exactly who they deal with in each area.”

“I know who knows,” Kyle grunted.

“If he’s inside those gates, we’ll need to get you healthy first. Can you stand?”

“I’ll try,” Kyle said.

Tommy threw Kyle’s arm over his shoulder and pressed him up.

On his feet, Kyle tried to stand but his legs were weak and wobbly. “I feel like shit.”

“Bro, you look like shit and your face is a fucking mess, almost as bad as mine,” Tommy joked and began to head towards his truck parked a mile away off the main highway.

“Thank you. You’re a true friend,” Kyle groaned.

“It’s what friends do,” Tommy said.


SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

The trailer stank of feces, urine, sweat and rotting flesh. It took everything Portia had to not vomit at any moment. The few times they stopped she’d push her way past the other women and leap from the back to get away from it, only to be forced back on when they had to go. Her companions in the trailer were unfamiliar to her but all former residents of The Collective, who had failed health tests. At their first stop days before she counted seventeen women, now there were only sixteen, sometime during the night one of the women had killed herself. Someone she managed to find a piece of glass and instead of using it as a weapon to attack her captures, used it to lay open her wrists. The others cried out that she had died but the truck had a schedule to keep and they didn’t stop but once a day.

Portia overheard the drivers discussing the trip during the pit stop. It appeared the first destination would be the next stop and so forth.

The brakes on the trailer engaged and the truck began to slow.

Portia woke. She sat up and looked around but it was almost impossible to see around the dimly lit trailer. “Are we stopping?”

“That or we’re slowly to make a turn,” a woman replied.

“I’m scared,” another woman said.

“If we fought back, we could overwhelm them,” Portia suggested. This wasn’t the first time she’d mentioned it but no one seemed interested. It’s as if life in The Collective had made them rule following lemmings.

“Not again. I’m not risking my life,” a woman said from the front.

“I agree with Nancy, it’s a bad idea,” someone added.

“Bad idea? Being sold into slavery isn’t worse?” Portia sniped.

“At least I’ll be alive,” Nancy answered.

“Is anyone with me? I heard this next stop is where it all begins,” Portia said.

“What begins?” someone asked.

“Being sold off begins,” Portia shot back frustrated.

The brakes kicked on again and the truck shuddered.

“We’re stopping, this is it,” Portia said looking around. “Is anyone with me?”

No one spoke up.

She thought she could fight now or wait for a more opportune time. Not having the support of any of the others, she’d be outmanned and most likely not escape.

The truck came to a full stop. Seconds later the doors opened allowing the light of day and the fresh air in. Like all the other times, Portia was the first person to jump from the back. She looked around and saw a landscape foreign to her. To her right, a building with the name, THE RUSTY NAIL, sat, its weathered appearance looked like nothing inside the walls of Prime. Ahead of her the road curved to the right and disappeared behind a hill, and to her left was another road and a long field beyond.

The two drivers milled around helping the women get off the truck.

She noticed they weren’t looking. Should I run?  She thought. This could be her chance to try to get away, but where should she go and more importantly, where was she? She didn’t recognize anything but it’s not like she would anyway. The long field to her left seemed most promising, she took a few steps that way to get a better look. It would be a huge risk to make a run and the chances she’d get far at all were slim.

“Hey you,” one of the men said.

Her head snapped back to see the man who went by Earl looking at her. “Yeah,” she replied.

“Get over here and throw this on,” Earl said tossing a dress at her.

She looked at the fresh linen dress. The soft cotton and fragrant smell told her it came from someone’s closet but who’s?

“You don’t fondle it, you wear it,” Earl laughed.

She looked over her shoulder. The field seemed longer and farther than it had just a minute ago. When she faced back, Nancy was inches from her with a hairbrush.

“Get that on and hurry up so I can brush you hair,” Nancy said.

Without being afforded any privacy to change, Portia did a small trick she learned when she was young. She put the dress over her other clothes and once on, slipped out of her other clothes underneath. What she didn’t realize was in her desire to be modest, her locket had snagged on her old clothes and fallen off.

Nancy noticed it and without uttering a word, quickly bent down, picked it up and slipped into a pocket of the dress she was wearing.

Portia felt she had won a small victory by not openly undressing. Disgusted by her old clothes she tossed them onto the ground.

Nancy spun her around and began to run the brush through her hair showing no concern for how hard she was brushing.

“Ouch!” Portia exclaimed as she pulled away. “You’re pulling my hair out!”

“Your hair is a rat’s nest. Turn back around so I can finish,” Nancy scolded.

“No,” Portia said snatching the brush from Nancy. “I’m more than capable of brushing my own hair.”


* * *

With the woman dressed and looking as best they could considering their situation they were led to the back door in single file line making Portia feel like one of her students headed to the infirmary. All will go in, less will come out. 

“Yummy,” Conrad the lot guard hollered.

“Ladies come with me,” Candace said waving for them to follow her. She led them inside but instead of going left into the bar area, they took a right and went down a short hallway. A single door sat at the end with the sign, PRIVATE, written on it. “Line up here. I’ll call you in one at a time.”

The women did as they were told. Portia didn’t want to be the first this time so found a spot near the back.

One by one the women entered and came out only to get back in line. Some were crying, while others had terrified looks on their faces.

Portia finally reached the front of the line. Her heart was racing. She didn’t know what lay on the other side of that door but she knew it wasn’t good. When she was nervous she’d fidget and twirl her locket. She reached but the locket wasn’t there. Her heart sank. She looked on the floor and turned around to see if it had fallen off while she was in line.

“Face forward,” Earl barked.

“But I lost my…” Portia complained her eyes scanning the dirty wood floor for the chain and locket.

“I don’t give a shit, face forward,” Earl ordered as he took a few steps towards her.

Seeing him come, Portia did as he said and faced back towards the door. How could I have lost it?  She thought. Her mind began to walk through where she’d been since she last touched it, coming to the conclusion it was either on the truck or in the parking lot.

The door opened, Candace stuck her head out, “Next.”

Portia didn’t move.

“C’mon sweet cheeks, best to get it over with, trust me I’ve been in your spot before,” Candace said sweetly.

Portia slipped into the room. It was small and smelled stale. In the middle of the room a large wooden desk sat and behind it a large man.

Candace placed Portia directly in front of the desk and just before letting go, gave her shoulders a slight and encouraging squeeze.

“Take your dress off,” Frank ordered before taking a bite of a sandwich.

Portia began to tremble.

“Do I look like I have all the time in the world? Take off your fucking dress. I won’t buy unless I can see the goods,” Frank barked.

Candace came up behind Portia and placed her hand gently on her hips, “Let me help you sweetie.” She pulled the dress up and off. Underneath, Portia was only wearing panties.

Portia used her arms to cover her breasts.

“Is she fucking serious?” Franks asked Candace.

“She’s nervous,” Candace snapped back.

“For Christ’s sake do I have to do everything myself?” Frank got up, came from behind the desk put her arms down by her side and yanked down her panties.

Portia began to shake uncontrollably and tears welled in her eyes.

Frank took a few steps back and examined her. “Hmm, boobs are bit a saggy and let me see,” he said walking around her until he ended back in front. “How old are you?”

“I’m, ah, I’m…”

“Speak up!” Frank yelled.

“Give the girl a break would you?” Candace said, her tone showing her annoyance with Frank.

“You just shut it,” Frank snapped at Candace. He put his focus back on Portia and said, “Well.”

“I’m thirty-one.”

“You look older. How many men you been with?” Frank asked.

Portia looked to Candace for support but she wasn’t going to get any.

“Go ahead, sweetheart, I told ya’ the faster you do this, the faster you’re outta here,” Candace said.

“One,” Portia answered.

“No shit!” Frank blurted out.

“Yes,” Portia said raising her arms and covering her breasts again.

“Okay, I’ve seen enough, bring in the next,” Frank said walking back around to his chair.

“Here sweetie,” Candace said helping Portia put her dress back on. Dressed, Candace walked her out and whispered to her, “Believe me, you’re the lucky one. He didn’t sample you.”

Portia almost threw up upon hearing that.

“Next!” Candace hollered.


FOUR MILES NORTH OF COLLECTIVE PRIME

“The job changed, that’s all you need to know. But can you do me a favor?” Tommy said into his phone.

“And the food shipment? You know we need that or the Sinoloa’s are going to be pissed,”  Jacob, a Leviathan team leader, said.

“That’s why I’m here, but there’s another reason for my call,” Tommy said.

“Go ahead,”  Jacob said.

“This isn’t much to ask for from you, but a slave shipment out of The Collective left a few days ago. I need you to track that down.”

“Can I kill the slavers once I run into them?”  Jacob asked.

“Brother, you’re weapons free with them. I’m just trying to track that shipment down.”

“Is this a new job?”  Jacob asked.

“Yeah, it’s a job, a quick one,” Tommy answered remaining coy as to who or why he was asking for the favor.

“You’re right, it is an easy ask, but you need to stop fucking around and get that truck and head south.” 

“Don’t worry about me.”

“I forgot to ask, but your friend, that driver, did you reach him in time?”  Jacob asked privy to the

information of Kyle.

Tommy went to reply but paused to think. Did he want the word out that Kyle was alive or did he

want the world to think he was dead, at least for now? He trusted Jacob, but still, why offer it up. As he always did, he preferred to keep things mostly vague even with other Leviathan teams. “He’s dead, Driver Eight is dead.”

“Oh shit, man, I didn’t know your friend was  the Driver Eight. Wow, that’s huge news,”  Jacob said.

“Call me if you get any info, I’ll be offline for about twelve, I’ll check in later when the jobs done and I have the shipment,” Tommy said.

“Just watch your back Tommy, we’re being hunted. You lost your partner, you’re flying solo now,”  Jacob said referring to the fact that the Leviathan syndicate had become enemy number one in many areas which had resulted in warrants for their arrest or bounties on their heads. It was a reversal of fortune for a group that had created a reputation and legacy.

“I’ll be fine. I’ll call soon,” Tommy said.

“We’ll wait for you, but if no contact for twenty-four hours, we’re setting sail. It won’t be personal,”  Jacob said.

“It’s all good. I know the drill. I’ll be in contact soon enough,” Tommy said and hung up. He went back inside the small safe house to find Kyle waking up.

Kyle sat up and looked around. He was in a strange room, a single candle burned on a table next to him. The flickering flame caused his shadow to dance on the wall. He scratched his head to remember how he got there but couldn’t recall. The last he remembered was getting into Tommy’s truck, everything else was a blur.

“I’d suggest getting more rest than that, brother,” Tommy said from the other side of the large room.

Kyle gazed towards his voice but saw only shadows. “Do you always hide in the dark?”

“As a matter of fact, yes. It’s part of my job description now.”

Kyle struggled to rise, his body ached from his head to his feet, but he managed to sit up. “I feel like I’ve been run over.”

“Worse, you were hanging for days, scratch that, being stretched for days. How fucked up is that?”

“What?” Kyle asked before reaching towards a glass of water on a table next to him. He picked it up and gulped it down.

“That they attached that weight to you. As if your own body weight wasn’t enough to pull you down.”

Kyle rubbed his eyes and asked, “How long have I been out for?”

“Oh, about twelve hours.”

Hearing that, Kyle grew stressed. “We have to go, we need to find her.”

“Already working on that, but I just need to know where she went to narrow our search perimeters down. I also called in a favor with another Leviathan. If anyone can track slavers it’s that guy. His team are notorious trackers. Jacob was a slave himself when he was a kid, now in between jobs he hunts down slavers.”

“But it’s still a wild goose chase. One person knows and that’s Barry.”

“And Barry is the guy who stuck you on that tree and more than likely is inside the walls of Collective Prime?” Tommy asked.

“Yes, he’s inside the walls of Prime.”

“I had a feeling you might say that.”

“Getting inside the walls isn’t the problem, getting to Barry is,” Kyle replied.

“I plotted where she could be on this map. Come here and take a look,” Tommy said before reconsidering Kyle’s condition. “Better yet, I’ll go there.” Tommy went over and sat next to Kyle and laid the map on his lap. He turned on a flashlight and shined it across what was an old highway map of the central United States.

First thing Kyle noticed were circles emanating from Prime. “What do they represent?”

“Days. I estimate that if she left the same day you hung from the tree, she’d make it this far on day one, this far on day two and so forth. See these red dots?”

“Yeah.”

“Those are known trading posts or slave markets,” Tommy said pointing at over two dozen dots all outside of The Collective Zone. “If she got here, two days south, she could be in someone’s hands and God knows from there. And if she’s gotten here…”

Frustrated, Kyle said, “I get the picture.”

“Timing is everything, but right now you need rest, so I’ll go in and get your guy, I’ll bring him back.”

“I can’t have you do that alone, it’s too dangerous, plus you don’t know where you’re going.”

“If you tell me where to go, give me details, draw me a map, I’ll be fine.”

“No.”

“Bro, it’s what I do, I’m a fucking bounty hunter for Leviathan, I track motherfuckers like this down all the time.”

“Not like this. He’s a dumpy fat slob, but he’s cunning and he’s got a small army guarding him. No, I can’t let you go alone.”

“You need more rest, a day at least. I can do this, trust me.”

Knowing another day put Portia even further away and possibly out of reach forever, he insisted, “Tommy, I’m going, end of debate. Let’s get ready, we leave in an hour.”

A wide smile stretched across Tommy’s face. “Still the same Kyle I remember from the force.” He patted Kyle on the shoulder and continued, “I missed you, brother.”

Kyle picked up the map and located Prime. He put his finger down and said, “The main gates are here. If you’ll remember right in front was a creek that flows east west then curves right about here and heads south.”

“I saw it,” Tommy said.

“We’ll follow that until we get to a culvert, right about here,” Kyle said tracing the winding blue line.

“Ok,” Tommy said nodding.

“It’s large so don’t stress.”

“Wait, are we crawling through a fucking pipe?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit.”

“What’s wrong?” Kyle asked.

“I’m scared of two things. Spiders and tight spaces. Please tell me I won’t get stuck.”

“You won’t get stuck, I promise you,” Kyle reassured.

“Serious?”

“Yes, now can I go on?”

“Go.”

“That will take us all the way to Main Street. Once there we’ll pop out and the executive mansion is about five blocks. Like I said, getting in is easy, navigating around inside will be difficult and getting into the mansion will be a fight more than likely…” Kyle said then stopped when he noticed Tommy wasn’t paying attention. “What’s wrong with you? I need you focused. This is important.”

“I haven’t told you the truth,” Tommy confessed with a sigh.

“The truth about what?”

“Why I’m here,” Tommy said and paused before continuing. "I was contracted to kill Number One. I got the gig a couple days after seeing you in Salina. I decided to take it and to be honest, I was going to use our friendship to gain access into Prime and to Number One. I was a day out when I got the word he was dead. I was going to turn around but on that same call I was told you were hanging on that tree.”

Kyle blankly stared at Tommy unable to speak.

“As soon as I heard about you, I pushed hard to get here in hopes I’d be able to save you,” Tommy said. He looked at Kyle and was hoping to gauge how he felt but Kyle was stone faced. “Sorry I misled you.”

Kyle didn’t need to think long, “Its fine. I guess I should be apologizing to you for lost wages.”

“Not exactly.”

“There’s more, clearly,” Kyle said.

“When The Underground found out I was still in route they changed the target and tasked me with killing the son. Hence why I was pushing you to stay and rest so I could go in and take care of business. I’d bring him back, you’d get what you needed and I could kill him, make it a win, win.”

Hearing that The Underground was involved, Kyle growled, “The Underground are nothing but a group of pussies. They run around pretending to be a resistance. All they do is interfere and cause problems for everyone,” Kyle complained.

“I need to do this job, Kyle,” Tommy confessed.

“That’s fine, but you can’t kill him until I know where they took Portia.”

“Deal, like I said, I’ll go in, grab him and bring him back,” Tommy said.

“Anything else you’d like to tell me?” Kyle snarled.

“There’s one more thing.”

Kyle rolled his eyes.

“A team from The Underground will accompany us,” Tommy said.

“No, they’ll just get in the way.”

“Here’s the situation, they…”

A door opening sounded from the front of the house.

Tommy grabbed his Kimber 1911 and stood against the wall near the bedroom door.

Kyle picked up the rifle leaning against the bed and shouldered it.

Three distinct voices were talking and laughing from the front room.

Tommy recognized one of the voices and called out, “Cal, is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s us,” Cal replied.

Tommy opened the door to the bedroom and a flood of light poured in from lanterns the three were holding. “You’re early.”

Cal, a tall slender man with light brown hair, walked in first, followed by another man named Eric and a woman named Dana. Eric was of average build, and Dana was short by any standard, standing no taller than five foot but incredibly attractive with long black hair.

Dana came in and spotted Kyle right away. “He’s alive, look guys, it’s Driver Eight.”

Kyle held the rifle, muzzle down and nodded at the three.

Cal walked over to Kyle and put out his hand, “Nice to meet the now infamous Driver Eight.”

Eric and Dana walked over and stood staring like groupies at a rock concert.

Kyle took Cal’s hand and bluntly said, “I don’t think it’s a good idea you come with us.”

“Huh?” Cal shrugged and looked at Tommy. “What’s this?”

“I’ve known him a long time, he’s particular,” Tommy replied.

“No deal, we go with you, plus we have critical information you need,” Cal informed.

“Tell us what you know and then maybe we can consider it,” Kyle replied his face stoic.

“Tommy, he’s not even part of this operation, we signed Leviathan, and last I checked Driver Eight wasn’t with your syndicate.”

“He’s been made an honorary member,” Tommy answered firmly.

“We’re going, and that’s final,” Cal insisted. The other two stood behind him wide eyed and confused by what was occurring.

“We’ve got this, we don’t need amateurs holding us up,” Kyle snarled.

“I’ll have you know I’ve been with The Underground for five years,” Cal barked.

“And you’ve accomplished nothing but alienating many residents with your tactics,” Kyle snapped back.

“If we don’t go this operation is off,” Cal fired back.

“Fine,” Kyle said.

“And we know where he is, you don’t!” Cal barked.

Tommy stepped forward, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, everyone chill out. Come here,” he said taking Kyle by the arm and walking him away. He leaned in and whispered, “I need this to go forward.”

“Why?” Kyle asked, a bit shocked to hear that.

“The payment is a truck load of food. Some of my Leviathan brothers need it for a trip they’re going on,” Tommy said.

“Leviathan people?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah, it’s a long story but some of my brothers are tapping out, heading somewhere, far away from here. They’re counting on me to bring the food back.”

“Fine, they can come, but they keep out of my way.”

“Brother, we’ll find your wife…together,” Tommy said putting his hand on Kyle’s shoulder.

“Thanks,” Kyle said.

Tommy walked around Kyle and over to Cal. “We’re a go.”

Cal nodded and faced Kyle. “I don’t care what you think about me or my people. We’re good people with noble intentions. Once we have removed Number Two, we can begin the process of creating a new society built on freedom and expression.”

“Once I’ve gotten what I want out of Barry, I’m gone, I don’t give two shits what new society you’ll form. History is replete with examples of one tyrant overthrowing another,” Kyle said.

“We’re not tyrants.”

“Spare me the sermon,” Kyle said.

“You’re rude!” Dana snapped, the glow and excitement on her face when she met Kyle was replaced with contempt.

Tommy laid out a map, pointed to the culvert and said, “We think this could be a good access point.”

The three Underground members looked at each other and began to laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Tommy asked.

“First, there’s a better way to sneak into Prime if you need to without getting covered in shit and secondly, Number Two’s not even there, he’s up at the Lair.”

“What’s the Lair?” Tommy asked.

“The old Ritz hotel,” Kyle said. “Good, it’ll be easier to get him. I need you three to know that we do this according to my plan and the first item is, you can’t kill him until after I’ve gotten what information I need out of him.”

They each looked at each other and nodded.

“I suppose you’re looking for you wife?” Dana asked.

“Yeah, what do you know about it?” Kyle asked.

“I don’t know for sure but I’ve heard they have several trading partners for slaves. One in the RMR, one in the Sinaloa Cartel territory and one in New Texas, Amarillo station,” Dana said with confidence.

“Do you know where?” Kyle asked hoping he could just bypass going after Barry and leave directly to go find Portia.

“I only know Amarillo Station as a specific locale, I’m not sure about the other two and I should be honest that I only got this second hand. Who knows what’s accurate?” Dana said.

“In the event Number Two is incapacitated, his right hand person, Cisco probably knows,” Cal said.

“Who the hell is Cisco?” Kyle asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” Cal said.

“I want Barry, period. He knows for sure, so again, he’s mine until I get what I want out of him.”

Cal gave the other two a look and faced Kyle, “You have our word, but if you want this to go smoothly you’ll need to follow our plan.”

“No way,” Kyle insisted.

“Then tell me how you plan on getting in there? He must have fifty guards posted on the outside and inside,” Cal said.

“If I remember right…”

Cal stopped him and said, “Dana here is Cook-Twenty-two and guess where she’s assigned?”

“The Lair," Kyle answered.

“Yes. Are you ready to listen to our plan?”

Tommy couldn’t help but laugh out loud.

Kyle cut him a look and said, “Go ahead, I’m all ears.”

“Dana has a shift starting in two hours, but she normally goes in early to do prep work. Actually, Dana why don’t you explain what we’re going to do.”

“Before you do that, if you have this nailed down, why did you call Leviathan?” Tommy asked.

The three looked at each other with Cal explaining, “Because we need to make sure it gets done.”

“That means you don’t have a plan once we get inside?” Kyle asked.

“There are so many guards inside, we figured we needed a highly trained assassin versus, you know, us,” Cal said pointing at himself and the other two.

“Dana gets us in and from there you’re clueless?” Tommy asked.

“Not clueless, just outgunned,” Cal confessed.

“Here’s what I need to know, where is he in the building and what is the most direct route to him without taking the main elevators or the stairs which I presume will be guarded,” Tommy said.

“There’s a service elevator near the back. I’ll be driving a produce truck on site, you’ll hide underneath some boxes in the back. Once we’re in the loading dock area I’ll take you to a service elevator. Number Two is on the fifth floor,” Dana replied.

“And where’s his room from this service elevator?” Tommy asked.

“You’ll exit the elevator and turn right, you won’t miss where the room is because it’s heavily guarded,” Dana replied.

“How many guards you talking about?” Tommy asked.

“I’ve counted eight before, could be less,” Dana answered.

Tommy glanced at Kyle and asked, “You ready to bring you’re A game?”

“Always,” Kyle answered. “However, if we go onto that floor guns blazing we’ll get to Barry but we’ll have an army coming down on us in no time.”

Tommy walked away, grabbed a large bag and brought it back. He unzipped it, opened it wide and said, “This will help keep it a bit more low key.”

“Rifles and pistols all with suppressors, nice,” Kyle said.

“And I’ll cause a distraction,” Dana said.

The guys all looked at her as she unbuttoned her shirt to show her cleavage. “I was blessed with these things and I’ll use them.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Cal said.

“No, it’s a good idea,” Kyle said.

“But it puts her at risk. We specifically hired Leviathan to reduce our exposure,” Cal countered.

“I’ll be fine and this helps us, I can take care of myself,” Dana said as she buttoned her shirt back up.

“Men are fucking stupid animals and will go chasing a piece of ass any chance they can get. All she needs to do is lure a few of them away, to a room where we’ll be waiting, we’ll quietly take them out. Trust me, this is a good plan. I have to admit you guys are impressing me… finally,” Kyle said with a smile.

“I’m glad Dana’s sacrifice makes you feel better about us,” Cal growled. He looked at Dana and snapped, "This wasn’t the plan we agreed upon."

“No more arguing, this is a solid plan, I like it, I think Kyle’s on board too. All agree?” Tommy said.

Everyone nodded.

“Good, then we leave in forty-five minutes,” Kyle said.

Dana walked over to Kyle and said, “You’re an asshole but thanks for supporting m


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y plan.”

“This is your idea?” Kyle asked.

“Yeah, the entire thing,” Dana replied clearly proud of herself.

“I’m impressed and don’t worry, we won’t let any of those guys hurt you. I just hope you’ll be able to pull a few of them away without incident.”

Dana jiggled her chest and said, “I won’t have any trouble doing that.”


SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

“Line up and face out,” Earl hollered.

Portia and the other women did what he ordered.

Starting from the left, Candace worked her way down. “No, no, yes, no, yes, no, no, no, yes, yes.” She stepped in front of Portia and paused, “Sorry, sweetheart, you didn’t pass the grade.”

Before she could step off, Portia grabbed her hand and pulled her close, “My husband might come looking for me, give him this.” She put her wedding ring in her hand. “Tell him where I went. My name is Portia, it’s etched on the inside of the ring.”

“No talking!” Earl barked from the far end of the hall.

Candace’s heart melted for her. She wrestled her hand away and whispered, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Portia gazed at her left hand and the noticeable pale skin around her ring finger. Her mind went back to the day she and Kyle had gotten married and the first time he placed that ring on her hand. By giving the ring away, it was the last physical remnant of their love.

“Do you have a problem?” Earl asked appearing out of nowhere.

She snapped up and looked at him. “No problem, I just have to pee.”

Earl chewed on the twig in between his teeth and pondered. “Down there,” he said pointing to a doorway at the far end of the bar area.

“Thank you,” Portia said and scurried off. Once there she found a stall and closed the door behind her. Her heartrate was elevated and vertigo was setting in. “Pull it together,” she told herself.

The door to the bathroom opened.

Portia didn’t think about who might in the bathroom too until a tap on the stall door startled her. “It’s occupied.”

“Sweetheart, I’m all about helping other women, especially the ones in our predicament, but I think you left out a piece of critical information,” Candace said.

“What’s that?” Portia asked surprised Candace was eager to help.

“His name?”

Feeling stupid, she answered, “Kyle, his name is Kyle Grant.”

“Got it. Now you better hurry up before your guy comes in here and drags you out by your hair.”

Portia opened the stall door and peeked out.

“Come on, let’s take you back,” Candace said offering her hand.

“Why are you being so nice?” Portia asked taking Candace’s hand and exiting the stall.

“Because I was in your shoes once before,” Candace replied.

CHAPTER 7

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BATCHELOR GULCH, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Up until Kyle was put underneath baskets of potatoes and turnips, he thought the plan was great, but now that he was lying in an inch of rotting vegetable slime and remnants of past deliveries left to decay in the bed, he reconsidered.

“God it stinks,” Cal complained.

“You and I have something to agree on,” Kyle said.

“Hey guys, keep your mouth shut, we’re coming up on the main gate,” Dana barked through the sliding rear window of the truck’s cab.

“Yes, ma’am,” Tommy quipped as he gave a half assed salute.

Dana slowed the truck until she came to a full stop at the large metal gate that blocked the main drive towards the hotel. She manually rolled down the window on the old truck and greeted the guard, “Hi.”

The guard looked at her then into the cab. “Hey, Dana,” he flirted.

“Shift time,” she said.

“Can you do me a favor?” the guard asked.

“Sure, what do you need?”

“Peanut butter, my wife has been talking about it non-stop. Any chance you have some you could spare?”

“For you, anything, I’ll see what I can do,” Dana replied.

“Thanks. I’ll radio ahead to have the guards keep the second gate open and to expect you at the loading dock, that way you can just go on up without further stopping,” the guard said as he gave her a wink.

“Now, now, let’s not do something we’ll regret,” Dana flirted back.

“Have a good shift,” the guard said stepping away from the window.

Dana waved, rolled the window up and pulled away. When she was far enough she leaned back towards the open rear window and said, “Well boys, we’ll clear all the way through. Now remember, when we get to the loading dock, just stay put until I get the truck inside the bay.”

The guys are replied their acknowledgement.

Dana drove easily through the second gate and meandered her way to the rear of the hotel. The cover of night she hoped would be helpful when getting the men out of the back. Arriving at the loading dock, she backed the truck into a small loading bay, got out and closed the door. When the door slammed shut, she called out, “Hurry up, get out.”

Kyle tossed the two baskets off him and jumped out of the back. The others followed.

“My back is soaking wet,” Cal complained.

Unfazed, Kyle asked, “Where’s the service elevator?”

“This way, follow me,” Dana said and swiftly marched off towards a double set of doors.

The men followed with their rifles at the ready. Once at the door, they stacked up while Dana opened the door and looked down the hallway. Seeing it was clear, she said, “No one is here, come, hurry.”

With Kyle leading, they came through the door and turned right. Steps later they were standing in front of the service elevator.

Dana hit the button and looked up to see the elevator was on Level Five. “Here is comes.”

The elevator arrived with a ding. The doors opened and standing in the car was a guard. He looked at Kyle and hesitated for a second before reaching for his sidearm.

Kyle raised the rifle and squeezed off two rounds, both striking him in the chest.

The guard fell back against the wall of the elevator car but his chest plate armor prevented the rounds from penetrating.

Seeing he was still alive, Kyle raised the muzzle and squeezed off one more shot. It struck him in the face and proved to be the kill shot.

With the guard killed, everyone got on the elevator.

Dana glanced down at the guard. She recognized who it was and couldn’t help but be a bit saddened that he was dead.

Cal didn’t feel such remorse, he spit on the guard and snapped, “Fascist.”

Dana hit the button for Level Five and stepped back. The doors closed and she turned to the others. “I’m stepping out first. I’ll go down to lure a few guards back. I need you to go left, head down to room five thirteen, the door will open without a lock.”

Kyle nodded. He was very impressed with her, she was on point for sure. Eric and Cal, he could do without.

The elevator reached Level Five.

Everyone raised their rifles just in case but when the doors opened it was clear.

Dana stepped out first and looked both ways. “Come on. Head down and remember, be quiet.”

The men did as she said and hurried towards room five thirteen. Just before making a turn in the hall, Kyle looked back to see Dana unbuttoning her shirt.


* * *

Dana took slow and measured breaths as she made her way towards the presidential suite. Her plan was risky but she felt confident in men’s carnal desires clouding their judgement.

Outside the suite’s door stood six guards. They were chatting and laughing, not displaying an ounce of professionalism. The lead guard, a man by the name of John, spotted her approaching. He had an eye already for Dana and would be easy pickings. “Look who’s here,” John said.

The other guards looked and saw Dana coming.

Dana stepped forward and said, “Hey guys. I thought I’d come up and see if Number One had mentioned what he may want for breakfast.”

John noticed her top was unbuttoned to expose her cleavage and approached her. “Delicious Dana, oops, sorry, I meant Cook Twenty-two,” he laughed and continued, “You didn’t need to come all the way up here to ask that. Why don’t you tell me and the boys here why you really came up?”

John was going for it right out the gate. It was a welcome surprise of which she was going to capitalize on. “You’re right. I could’ve just radioed but I wanted to see you,” she said expressing herself seductively.

Aroused, John stepped forward and looked down her shirt. “I knew you had…um, boys, look,” John gushed staring at her cleavage.

A strong feeling of disgust washed over her but she couldn’t let that show. She touched his chest and purred, “Would you like to see more?”

“Are you fucking serious?” John asked.

“I hate to say it, but I’ve been looking at you for some time. You’re all I can think about and when I got here, I just wanted to come up here and…” she said stopping herself to leave her desires a mystery.

“And what?” John asked.

She looked to John’s left and right and saw the others were just as excited as he was. “How about I show you?”

Shocked by her proposition he looked back at the others for reassurance.

One of the guards by the name of Chuck said, “Go ahead. Maybe I’ll get sloppy seconds.”

This was Dana’s opening and she took it, “How about now?”

“Me?” Chuck asked pointing at himself.

“Yeah, and you too,” she said pointing at the man behind him.

“I’m up for a four way,” he exclaimed.

“Hold on, she’s mine,” John declared angrily.

“Sssh, I want all of you at the same time,” she said leaning in close and whispering, “At the same time.”

“Let’s go,” John said grabbing her forcibly by the arm and pulling her down the hallway but in the opposite direction.

“No, wait, I have a room,” Dana said insistent.

“I do to, come on,” John said pulling her hard. Chuck and the third guard, Tim, followed like puppies.

“The room I have is clean.”

“Who needs clean?” John asked and pulled her harder.

“No cameras, I mean it’s clean because I know there’s no cameras, you guys don’t want to get caught doing this, do you?” Dana asked becoming increasingly concerned her plan was beginning to fall apart.

John stopped and thought. “You’re right. Which room is it?”

Dana’s fear melted away, she smiled and replied, “Room five thirteen.”


THIRTY-THREE MILES SOUTHEAST OF SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Portia couldn’t sleep. Her life was upside down and soon she’d be someone’s slave to be used for any number of depraved desires. How could her life have turned so fast? Why? These were pointless questions to ask because they didn’t help her out of the situation she was in.

Every uneven spot of road or pothole caused the truck to shudder and bounce.

She had no idea where the next stop was but they’d been on the road for a few hours. Before she’d heard the drivers talking but didn’t hear this time. Did it matter?  She thought. Probably not .

Loud popping sounds came from outside the truck followed by dull thuds.

To Portia is sounded like gunshots.

The truck lurched hard to the right, then to the left and back to the right again. These severe turns through the women around in the back like rag dolls.

“What’s going on?” a woman named Maggie asked.

“I think we’re being shot at,” Portia answered just after slamming against the far wall of the trailer.

The truck came to hard stop.

The women were thrown towards the front of the trailer with several landing on top of the other.

Gunfire rang out from outside. From the sounds of it the gunshots were coming from all directions.

“What do we do?” a woman named Cecile asked.

“Just lay here, don’t move,” Nancy replied.

“No, grab something that can be used as a weapon. We don’t know who is attacking us, we must prepare to fight,” Portia said getting to her feet and rummaging around in the mostly dark trailer looking for something that she could use to fight back.

“You don’t know who it is, you could provoke them to hurt us,” Nancy snapped.

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. In case you haven’t noticed, we’re under attack,” Portia countered running her hands along the floor of the trailer in hopes she’d find something soon.

Screams came from what sounded like the cab of the truck followed by gunshots then silence.

Portia paused her search and listened.

“I think we should…” Nancy said before Portia interrupted her.

“Be quiet,” she said just above a whisper. “Listen.”

Portia and the nine other women sat silent, their ears scanning for any threatening sound.

An uncomfortable silence blanketed them. Most of the women sat huddled together, holding each other but Portia who was near the doors.

What’s going on?  Portia asked herself.

Heavy banging on both sides of the truck made them jump, and caused several women to cry out. Seconds later, a clanging and screeching of tortured metal came from the back door.

Portia scrambled for something to use but came up empty handed.

The door flew open. Standing in the orange glow of torches were six Generates, their bodies smeared with fresh blood.

Needing to put space in between them and her, Portia ran to the back of the trailer just as the other women cried out in terror.

The Generates didn’t move, they stood staring inside the trailer.

“What’s in there?” a booming voice said in the darkness.

The Generate closest to the door, replied, “Women.”

“Good, more fresh meat. Pull them out,” the voice ordered.

The six Generates leapt inside the trailer with cat like agility and rushed towards the screaming women. Portia thought to fight and when the first Generate reached her, she did just that. The only weapons she had were her fists and she lashed out, striking the first Generate in the face with several blows. Inspired by Portia, the other women also began to fight, punching and kicking the other Generates as they came at them.

The fight was short lived as more Generates poured into the trailer and subdued Portia and the women. One by one, they were dragged out of the trailer, their arms and legs bound and tied together behind their backs in what is known as a hogtie.

As Portia was carried past the cab of the truck she saw the carnage inflicted on Earl and his partner.

Earl grunted signaling to the Generates he was still alive, who promptly responded by tying him up and carrying him along with the women.

Just when Portia thought her life was upside down, it found a way to get worse.


BATCHELOR GULCH, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Dana pushed the door of room five thirteen open and found it pitch black. She stepped inside quickly, disappearing into the darkness.

Following close behind, John entered and tried the light switch at the entrance but it didn’t work. “Hey where did you go?” he asked walking further into the darkened room.

“I like it in the dark,” Dana whispered from the far corner of the room.

John walked towards her voice with Chuck and Tim on his heels. “Are you hiding?” John asked feeling around until he walked into the bed.

“Over here,” Dana called out.

John tripped and fell down, “Oh, come on this is bullshit.”

The door slammed shut ridding the room of the little light there had been from the hall lights.

“What the hell, Dana?” John barked getting back to his feet.

The lights came on blinding the three men as they shielded their eyes. By the time they adjusted to the light, Kyle, Tommy, Cal and Eric opened up on them with their handguns. A dozen and a half rounds later, John was lying on the bed wounded fatally while Tim and Chuck were sprawled on the floor dead, blood oozing from several wounds in their chest, back and head.

Dana watched with joy at the sight of her enemies lying dead and wounded.

John reached out to her, “Help.”

She looked at Cal, who handed her the pistol he was using, walked over to John, placed the muzzle against John’s forehead and said, “You’re a piece of shit.” She squeezed the trigger once.

The single forty-five caliber round exploded out of the back of John’s skull, splattering blood and brain matter over the bed.

Kyle nodded his approval and caught Dana’s eye. She winked and handed the pistol back to Cal. “There’s three more at the door. Put a fresh magazine in and I’ll go finish the job.”

“You will?” Cal asked.

Before she could reply, Kyle said, “Makes sense, seeing her isn’t out of the ordinary; seeing us roll up would cause alarms to go off.”

Cal reluctantly put a fresh magazine in the pistol and handed it back to her. “Be careful.”

She nodded and said, “Follow me, stop at the last turn, when you hear me whistle come on down. Eric do you have the charges to blow the door?”

“Yes,” Eric answered tapping a large green satchel.

Kyle gave Tommy an odd look and asked, “You guys are really impressing me today. Exactly what are we doing here? You could have done this all by yourselves.”

“We’re not out of here yet, if this turns into a huge gunfight, we want gunmen who know how to fight to help us get out of here,” Dana replied cutting off Cal who opened his mouth to respond but wasn’t quick enough. Dana shoved the pistol into the small of her back and strutted past Tommy and Kyle, stepping over Chuck and Tim’s bodies.

As she walked by, Tommy asked, “Ever consider joining Leviathan?”

She stopped, turned around and said, “Talk to me about it once we get out of here. If it’s anything like this, I might say yes, I’m rather enjoying my night.”

Tommy grinned, gave her a wink and faced Kyle, “A really like this chick and she’s hot too.”

“C’mon boys, let’s finish this,” Dana said walking out of the room.


FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Portia watched from her perch as the Generates lit three small separate fires in front of the massive bonfire that lit the night sky. A metal grate was suspended horizontally above each of the smaller fires, for what, she didn’t know. Back and forth different groups of Generates came and went. Having never seen one before, she had only the tales of others, to include Kyle’s stories to help give her an image of what these nomadic people’s looked and acted like. From everything she’d seen, they fit the description perfectly. They were filthy, with their hair pulled back tight into buns or tails. The men’s beards were dreadlocked with tokens and small trophies tied onto individual locks. They all wore necklaces adorned with shriveled ears. Just how humans could resort to such life was foreign to her. A little over nineteen years before they were probably normal people, going about their business with concerns or stresses related to their first world existence, now they were barbaric and preferred the life of a wandering horde.

To her left and right, the other women sat bound to the same metal cable that stretched between two large trees. The only sounds out of any of them were whimpers, cries and pleas for mercy.

Didn’t they know Generates showed no mercy? Portia would say to herself when she’d hear one of the women call out to a Generate passing by.

The heavy sound of footfalls came from her right, she looked and saw dozens of Generates appear out of the shadows and gather around the smaller fires. A lone man remained standing, no doubt their leader. He was average height, lean build, with a long beard and hair pulled up into a bun. Across his face, dark red stripes went diagonally from his temple to his chin. He was shirtless and his chest bore the same stripes. He patted several of his people on the head and said, “Good hunt, I am proud of you. We shall feast and fuck all night!”

The Generates sitting clapped their hands on their thighs, some grunted their approval.

“Bring our sacrifice,” the Generate leader said.

Several Generates appeared from behind Portia dragging Earl. “No, don’t, please.”

Portia searched her thoughts for the stories she’d heard about Generates and recalled a story from Kyle where he described witnessing a ceremony. He told her that they brought a man forward, tied him to a post, cut off his ears and gave them to the Generate who had been most effective on their hunt, then proceeded to skinning him alive. When they were done, they tossed his body onto a rack and cooked him.

Portia looked and saw the post. She put two and two together and assumed the fires and the metal racks had to be there to cook Earl on once he was dead.

Seeing Earl dragged to the post, crying and pleading, some of the women began to call out for mercy.

Portia kept her mouth shut because she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.

With Earl’s arms tied above him and to the post the Generate leader called out, “We sacrifice this human and from his body we shall nourish ourselves.”

The other Generates were getting excited. They rocked back and forth and were anxious to begin the savage ritual.

The Generate leader removed a long blade housed in a sheath on his hip and walked over to Earl. Without hesitating or saying a word, he removed Earl’s left ear.

Earl cried out in pain. Blood flowed freely from the wound and ran down the side of his neck and onto his shoulder. “No, please don’t, stop, please,” Earl blathered.

“God no, don’t hurt us, no!” Nancy unexpectedly cried out.

Portia looked at her and said, “Be quiet, you’ll draw attention to yourself.”

Sobbing, Nancy replied with her head hanging low, “We’re all dead anyway, they’re going to kill us and eat us. NO THIS CAN’T BE HAPPENING!” She wailed and sobbed heavier.

“Nancy, shut up,” Portia urged.

“It’s no use,” Nancy cried her mouth hanging open and spit and slobber dripping down.

A glint from something bright dangled from Nancy’s neck. Portia looked closer and recognized it as her locket. “That’s mine.”

Nancy didn’t say a word, she kept sobbing.

“That’s my locket, you took it,” Portia snapped.

Nancy lifted her head and looked at Portia. “I found it on the ground.”

“It has my picture in it and my name on the back. You found it and decided to keep it, you fucking bitch,” Portia barked.

Earl cried out in pain as the Generate leader sliced off his other ear and held it high in the air. The brutal display pulled Portia away from her confrontation with Nancy. She now prayed she’d live long enough to watch Nancy suffer the same fate.

The Generate leader gave away the ear then turned towards Earl. Blood soaked his shirt. The Generate leader cut the shirt away and tossed it into the fire. He then cut his pants off him and threw them into the flames. Naked, bloody and shaking with fear, Earl continued to beg for mercy. The Generate leader called out, “Jacks, Flint, Graves come forth with your knives and remove the skin of our sacrifice.”

“NO!” Earl screamed.

The three men summoned stepped forward with long slender knives in their hands. Portia couldn’t help but admire the blades and by their design they were made for fileting delicate flesh.

The Generate leader stepped away and allowed the three to begin their work. Not hesitating and showing their skill, they began to cut, but they didn’t remove the skin. The one in front of Earl inserted his knife and slid it horizontal from left to right, from collar bone to collar bone, then turned the blade down and cut along the side stopping near the hip before cutting horizontal again from the waist across and up to the where he began. The others were cutting around the circumference of his arms and legs.

Earl screamed and shook uncontrollably.

Portia wanted to feel sorry for Earl but she couldn’t, though it was a brutal way to die, she felt he deserved every second of pain he was receiving.

The three Generates stepped back when they were finished carving on Earl’s body.

The Generate leader approached, nodded and said, “Remove the flesh and put it on the fire.”

The three Generates shoved their fingers deep into the top horizontal cut and together pulled. At first the skin barely gave, but on their second hard pull, it peeled back.

Earl shrieked loudly then passed out from the pain.

The Generates continued pulling until the front panel of skin was removed. One took it to the far left fire and placed it on the scalding hot grate which served as a grill. The flesh sizzled when it made contact.

The other Generates grunted and began to grow agitated.

Portia was mesmerized by the barbaric ritual, it was grotesque, beyond anything she’d ever seen, but for some reason she couldn’t take her eyes off of it. With her attention fully on what they were doing see didn’t notice that several of the women had passed out.

The three Generates pulled the skin from his arms and legs and put it on a grate. They continued to do this until most of Earl’s skin had been removed leaving his muscles, tendons and bones exposed.

Portia could see Earl’s chest gently rise and fall indicating he was still alive. It was awful but skill she couldn’t find an ounce of sympathy for him.

With the skin removed, the Generates went to attend to the cooking of the flesh.

The Generate leader came forward, removed his knife from its sheath and cut off Earl’s genitals. He held them up high and offered them to a woman close by who devoured them raw.

Finally, Portia pulled her gaze. She had reached her limit. A crippling fear came over her, this was how she was going to die. How could this be?  She asked herself.

“Children gather, come,” the Generate leader called out.

Unable to control her curiosity, Portia looked and saw a gathering of fifteen children assemble at the leader’s feet.

“Claw come forward,” the Generate leader said motioning to a boy about ten years old. The boy stood up and came to him. The Generate leader put his hand on the boy’s shoulder and held out the knife. “Take the blade and cut the man across the belly, there,” he said using his own torso as a guide. The boy nodded, took the knife and stepped in front of Earl. The Generate leader stood behind Claw and said, “Do it, Claw, open him up for us.” The boy raised the knife, pressed it against the exposed abdominal wall and slid it across. Instantly, Earl’s intestines poured out and fell to the ground with a plop. Claw stepped away, handed the knife back and sat down. The Generate leader said, “Children, take the bowels of this man and pull them out. Take them and put them in the bucket; the women will clean them for later.” The children did as he said. The grand finale was now here. The Generate leader faced Earl’s dead body, raised his knife and plunged it deep into his sternum. From there he sawed until he had a foot long incision in his chest. He sheathed the knife, reached in with both hands and pried open Earl’s chest.

The sound of cracking ribs made Portia cringe.

Nancy continued to sob while others were still unconscious and even more cried knowing their fate would soon follow Earl’s.

The Generate leader reached into the chest cavity, grabbed Earl’s heart twisted it hard and pulled it out. Being the leader of this tribe, the heart was his to take and that he did. He held it high then brought it down level with his face. He examined the bloody organ and clamped his jaw around a ventricle and bit down. Using his incisors, he twisted and turned his head until he was able to bite off a large chunk. He chewed repeatedly, breaking down the fibrous tissue until he could swallow. Blood ran down his chin and dripped onto his bare chest. Not finished, he took another large bite.

The tribe grew increasingly agitated due to hunger. They longingly looked at their leader then to the Generates cooking the skin. They were waiting for the word to go eat.

The Generate leader finished the heart with one last bite. He swallowed hard, licked the blood from his fingers and raised his hands. He looked to the Generates cooking the skin and ordered, “Done. Prepare it.”

They did as he ordered and removed the charred skin and began slicing it into hand sized portions.

The tribe began to grunt and moan as their hunger was increasing.

A wind whipped from the north and washed Portia in the intense smell of charred flesh. She gagged and dry heaved, trace amounts of bile coming up gave her mouth a bitter taste.

The Generates finished cutting the skin and signaled with a nod to their leader.

“Go eat!” the Generate leader hollered.

Like a pack of wild and ravenous animals, the tribe raced towards the table stacked high with charbroiled skin. They kicked, punched, scratched and clawed to get their hands on a piece.

With the tribe busy eating, The Generate leader motioned towards the body of Earl.

Knowing what came next, the three Generates who had carved Earl walked over, took the body down and placed it on a long table feet from the last fire. Using cleavers, hand saws and knives they began to butcher Earl’s body. As manageable pieces were cut off, one of them would toss it on the grate and began cooking it.

Portia began to wonder if she should find a way to kill herself. Dying the way Earl did wasn’t something she wishe


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d to experience. She thought about taking a knife from one of them and slicing her own throat and even leaping into the center of the bonfire. Both would be painful but only for a brief moment compared to the torturous death she’d just witnessed.

The Generate leader approached the women. He slowly walked past each of them, stopping in front of a couple. He reached the end of the line, turned around and began another pass. He stopped in front of Nancy, who had become hysterical, and said, “You’re next.”

“No, please, someone help me!” she cried out.

He pulled out his knife, cut her away from the cable and lifted her to her feet.

A combination of fear and shock made it hard for Nancy to stand. She went to take her first step but her legs wobbled and buckled. She collapsed to the ground and began to cry.

The Generate leader didn’t need her to walk. He’d get her to the post any way necessary. He bent down, took a handful of hair and pulled her behind him kicking and screaming. When he reached the post, he secured her to it like Earl was and pulled out his knife. He went to go remove one of her ears but stopped when he spotted the locket. Curious, he ripped it off her neck and opened it to discover Kyle and Portia’s pictures. With no real value, he tossed it on a table near him.

“God please, someone help me.”

He got in her face and smiled broadly showing his brownish yellow teeth.

Repulsed she turned her head away.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

Unable to control her bodily functions, she wet her pants.

Taunting her, he said, “I’m going to enjoy eating you later.” He took her left ear in his hand and with a single precise slice, removed it.


BATCHELOR GULCH, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Dana stopped at the corner in the hallway and peered around. The three remaining guards stood talking as she had left them, unaware that their comrades were dead. She looked back at the men and said, “Its show time.”

Cal reached up and touched her arm, “Be careful.”

Her face scrunched and with a tone signaling her annoyance with his persistent concern said, “Calvin, I’ll be fine, stop always saying that.”

Cal nodded.

Kyle watched the two interact and could tell they must have a romantic relationship or at the minimum he cared for her more than she did for him.

Before Dana stepped off she gave Kyle a look and winked. This wink didn’t go unnoticed by Cal, but before he could say anything, she was already heading down the hallway.

Cal scooted up to the corner and listened for her cue, with Kyle just behind him.

A guard named Mat saw Dana coming first and asked, “Where are the guys?”

“They’re coming, I thought maybe I could entertain you guys too. They weren’t enough for me,” she said seductively.

One of the guards raised a brow and asked, “I smell bullshit.”

Mat turned to him and asked, “What do you mean, Brad?”

By this time, Dana came to within a few feet of them and stopped.

“That I don’t trust her,” Brad said skeptically.

“Oh, come on, Brad, I know your wife and I bet she can’t take care of you like I can,” Dana said.

Mat ignored Brad’s skepticism and approached Dana, he went to touch her but she backed up just out of reach. “Where you going?”

“No touchy until we get back to the room,” Dana said.

The last guard stood in front of the door, he was young, about seventeen and this was his first detail working the Lair. He’d seen the older guards play around and violate their oaths but he was too scared to do so.

Mat spotted something unusual on Dana’s white shirt. “What in the hell is that?” Mat said pointing at the front of her shirt.

Dana looked down and saw blood splatter. Fear gripped her. She stuttered, “Oh that; it, it, its pasta sauce I’m preparing for dinner tonight.” While she spoke her right hand slowly drifted towards her back.

Brad stepped forward, leaned in and looked, “Pasta sauce, that looks like…” he said but was unable to finish as she pulled the pistol from her lower back and shot him in the face.

Mat watched in shock as his friend’s head exploded. He began to raise his rifle but was too slow. She turned the pistol on him and shot him twice, once in the chest and once in the side of the head. He dropped to his knees and fell to the ground dead.

Dana swiveled to confront the last guard but this time her luck had run out. He had his rifle trained on her. “Drop it!” Dana could see his hand was shaking. He was terrified and rightfully so, he had just witnessed two of his colleagues get gunned down.

“Here’s what we’re going to do, we’re both going to put down our guns and talk about this,” Dana said, her pistol still pointed in the direction of where Mat had stood.

“Put it down!” he yelled.

Back at the end of the hall, the others heard the commotion. Cal peaked around and said, “Shit, she’s in trouble.”

“Did she give the cue?” Kyle asked.

“No, trust me, she’s in trouble,” Cal said and bolted from around the corner.

With no other choice, Kyle and the others had to follow. They cleared the corner and began to race down the hall, covering the distance quickly.

The guard saw them and yelled, “Everyone fucking stop, freeze!”

“You’re outnumbered. I’m sure you don’t want to die!” Dana said.

“Please put down you gun!” the guard urged Dana, his hands shaking uncontrollably.

“You’re a young guy, I’m sure you don’t want to die. If you put the rifle down, I promise my friends won’t hurt you,” Dana lied, she had no intention of keeping him alive.

Cal and the others were closing in fast.

The guard stepped away from her until he walked into the door. His eyes darted between her and the men coming fast. In his head he debated what to do. If he surrendered and they killed Number One, he’d forever be known a traitor and a coward but if he fought back and died, he’d be hailed a hero of The Collective and there was no greater honor than that. He stiffened his back and said, “For The Collective!” He squeezed the trigger and unleashed a burst of rounds directed at Dana, striking her in the chest. She reeled back and dropped to the floor. He pivoted to engage the men but Kyle had the guard sighted in through the Trijicon MRO on his rifle and shot several times.

The rounds the guard squarely in the chest. He fell back, hit the door and slid down but was still alive. Thinking quickly, he keyed his radio handset and sounded the alarm, “We’re under attack, level five. Repeat, we’re under attack, level five.”

Kyle reached him first and without saying a word put two rounds in his head.

Tommy came up beside Kyle, turned towards Cal and Eric to see where they were. He found them kneeling next to Dana’s body. Cal had her in his lap, his trembling hand stroking her hair. “Oh baby, I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

Eric knelt next to him, holding her hand.

“There’s not time for this, I need the charges,” Tommy snapped.

The guard’s radio crackled to life. “Who was that? Come back. Who was reporting an attack on level five?” 

“Eric give me the charges, we’re going to have company soon,” Tommy barked.

Gunshots ripped through the door, one grazing Tommy’s leg.

Kyle stepped out of the way while Tommy crawled to clear the gunfire punching through the door from inside. “Looks like he knows we’re here.”


* * *

“Who is it?” Barry yelled at Cisco who was awkwardly holding the AR platform rifle at the hip.

“How am I supposed to know?” Cisco yelled back.

Barry raced back into the bedroom of the suite. Inside two young girls no older than twelve were there huddled in the corner whimpering. He looked at them and screamed, “Shut the fuck up!” He went to the closet, found a rifle and a pistol. He checked to see if they were loaded and headed back towards the living room. On his way past the girls, he aimed, shot and killed the them. "I told you to shut up."

Cisco fired another volley of rounds until the bolt locked back. “It’s empty! I need more bullets!”

Barry tossed him a fully loaded thirty round magazine.

Cisco caught it but had no idea how to remove the empty one. “How does this work?”

“For Christ’s sake,” Barry bellowed storming over to Cisco and doing it for him.

“Number One are you safe?”  a voice boomed from a radio positioned on the sofa table.

Barry picked it up and yelled, “No, we’re not. Now stop calling and send up everyone!”

“Everyone?”

“Yes, everyone!”


* * *

Cal stormed over to Kyle and shoved him, “This is your fault!”

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Kyle asked shocked and annoyed by Cal’s behavior.

“Dana’s dead because of you. I told you this was a bad idea and you supported her plan. Now’s she’s dead!”

“She died a hero. She was one of the toughest and bravest people I’ve met in a long time.”

Cal grabbed Kyle by the collar and pushed him hard against the wall. “I should kill you.”

Done with Cal’s tantrum, Kyle pulled his knife and poked Cal in the groin with it. “Let go or I’ll have you singing soprano.”

Feeling the sharp tip of the blade against his genitals, Cal looked down and took a step back. “When this is done, you and I will have a few words.”

Kyle cracked a smile and looked at Tommy, “Drama queens, I told you.”

Tommy wasn’t paying attention to the squabble, he had cut open his pants and was addressing the wound.

“You good?” Kyle asked.

“Fine, just grazed me,” he said tying a cloth bandage around it. “We need to get these doors open and now. Eric toss me the satchel,” Tommy said.

Eric did as he was told and threw the satchel over.

Tommy quickly set the plastic charges near where he guessed the hinges were located and stepped back. “Everyone get clear.”

The others stacked up against the wall and waited.

Tommy blew the charge. The concussion was loud and the hall was showered with wood, plastic, sheet rock and other debris.

Kyle was the first to enter, “Going left.”

Cal came in behind him with Eric right behind and Tommy bringing up the tail end.

Kyle scanned his area of responsibility and upon seeing no one was there, called out, “Left clear.”

“All clear here!” Cal hollered. “I’ve got a double set of doors here.”

“Me too,” Kyle said.

On either side of the large living room were entrances to two bedrooms.

“Anymore charges?” Kyle asked.

“No,” Tommy replied.

“I guess we’ll have to do this the old fashioned way,” Kyle said. “Let’s take down the one on the left first.”

“I’m going to keep watch on the door, we’ll have visitors soon,” Tommy said going back to the breached doorway to provide watch.

A loud crash came from the opposite side of the room from Kyle. He looked and saw Cal kicking in the door. “For fuck’s sake!” Kyle ran over and said, “Get out of the way!”

Cal resisted at first but soon relented.

Kyle stepped back, aimed at the door handle and shot several times. He turned back to Cal and said, “Try now.”

Cal came forward and kicked hard. The doors flew open.

Eric raced in and looked around. “No one here.”

“I’ll check the bathroom, Cal check the closet,” Kyle said heading towards the bathroom, his rifle at the ready in his shoulder. He pushed the half closed door fully open and peaked inside. “All clear.”

“Closet too,” Cal said.

Heavy gunfire erupted from the front door area.

“It’s Tommy. Our guests are here!” Kyle said bolting out of the room. “Tommy, you good?”

While engaging guards further down the hall, Tommy replied, “I got this, go get your man.”

Wanting to show his bravado, Eric marched over to the other bedroom door and kicked it, “Open up!”

Not ready, Kyle hollered at Eric, “No, don’t!”

Gunshots ripped through the doors striking Eric in the neck, shoulder and chest. He stumbled back, tripped over a chair and fell into the coffee table. He immediately pressed his hand to the wound in his neck to prevent the blood from pouring out but it wasn’t helping as the blood oozed through his fingers.

Cal came to his side. “Oh, no, no.”

“No fucking time, he’ll be dead in a minute,” Kyle said callously.

“You don’t know that,” Cal said applying pressure to the wound on his neck.

“Trust me, he’s been shot through the jugular. He’s dead,” Kyle said.

Eric coughed and gargled volumes of blood before expiring with a gasp.

Cal stopped administering first aid and looked over at Kyle, “You’re an asshole. I hate you.”

“I hear that a lot, now are we going to accomplish what we came to do?” Kyle asked.

The backdrop of heavy gunfire from the hallway and doorway hadn’t subsided.

“How you doing Tommy?” Kyle asked.

“I need some ammo, there’s a shit load of people up here.”

Kyle ran up and handed him two fully loaded thirty round magazines for his AR. “This is all I can spare.”

Cal came up and gave him more, “These were Eric’s.”

Not lifting his head from his rifle, Tommy said, “Fellas, I’m not liking the odds right now.”

“We’ll be fine, Tommy boy, remember that time in Compton when we were beat cops?” Kyle asked.

“No time for reminiscing, go get Barry,” Tommy replied.

Kyle looked at Cal and said, “This time we do it my way.”

Cal nodded.

They went to the door.

“I’m going to blast the door handle while I want you to spray some rounds through the door. That’ll get them to retreat away from it…I hope,” Kyle chuckled.

Cal nodded, his anxiety was at an all-time high.

“On the count of three; one, don’t you love this shit, two, remember don’t kill Barry, and three.”


FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

One by one the women were either taken to be raped or butchered and consumed, except for Portia who remained tied up. Each time a Generate came towards her, the Generate leader would chase them off and warn that she was his. What that meant was unknown to her.

Portia had heard of these ceremonies but found calling it that was inappropriate, it was more an orgy of blood and decadence. It was no surprise after all she had witnessed that Generates weren’t even considered human anymore. How could a human do such a thing? The barbarism, the pure evil of what they did was so shocking that no one could ever understand if you explained it to them, the only way to truly comprehend was to witness it with one’s own eyes.

Weary, she waited for the moment the Generate leader would come for her. Each time he’d approached she wondered if this was it, was she now going to suffer everyone else’s fate. Nancy lasted longer than Earl, she was still alive up until he plunged his knife into her chest and pried it open. Portia hadn’t known her long and in that short period of time found her to be annoying and clearly a thief but she did feel sorry for what happened to her. Like her, Nancy had been a resident of The Collective and diagnosed with a terminal disease, solely because they needed fresh slaves to sell.

Many Generates howled as they feasted while others openly had sex with their females for all to see. The Generate was a clear example of how humans could devolve and become something horrible. To Portia it was like they were soulless.

The Generate leader sauntered towards her.

Portia watched him and again wondered if this was her time.

He stepped in front of her and smiled. His teeth were blackened from the blood and grinded to sharp points with small chunks of flesh stuck in between. His chin, cheeks, neck and chest were covered in blood.

“Is this it?” she asked calmly.

He removed his knife and leaned towards her.

Resigned to her fate, she closed her eyes. Suddenly the pressure on her arms behind her lessened. She opened her eyes to find him putting the knife back in his sheath.

“Get up,” he ordered.

“Huh?”

“Get up,” he repeated.

He had cut her free. She rubbed her wrists and gave him a long stare.

Impatient, he grabbed her by the hair and pulled her up. “Get up.” He drew her face close to his and said, “You’re mine. Time to go fuck.”

“Why me?” she blurted out, shocked that she even asked a question.

He ignored her question. He tightened his grip and pulled her along.

A single shot cracked in the distance.

The Generate leader stopped and looked around. Near the fire one of his tribe dropped dead.

Another shot rang out.

Again, another Generate fell.

The Generate leader tossed her to the ground and cried out, “Run! Go scatter.”

Portia fell to her knees and watched as the Generates began to run in different directions. The Generates were fierce when dealing with captives but it was widely known they weren’t great fighters if up against a superior force.

The single gun fire became a barrage of bullets coming from all directions.

In order to protect herself, Portia crawled towards a ditch and rolled in. The second she hit the bottom she regretted the hiding spot. It was a mass grave filled with the skeletal remains of their victims. The smell of rotting flesh and decay was too much, Portia began to throw up. There was no way she’d be able to stomach this, she crawled out and just lay on her back. If she was going to die by gunshot, fine, at least she wouldn’t be skinned alive.

Some of the Generates had managed to get to their dwellings to get firearms but a large number hadn’t. Whoever was shooting at them were accurate and the Generates were taking heavy casualties.


* * *

Portia lay for what seemed like an eternity. The screams of the Generates were like music to her ears. She didn’t know who was attacking them but whoever it was they were like guardian angels.

The gunfire ceased. She rolled over and looked around, Generate bodies lay scattered everywhere. An eerie silence washed over the encampment save for the crackling fires and muted moans from wounded Generates.

Figures began to emerge from the shadows. They split up and began to assess the carnage. Any surviving Generate was killed immediately.

Portia didn’t move for fear these people could be as bad as the Generates, if that was possible. The sounds of heavy footfalls behind her sent chills down her spine. She thought about running, but where would she go?

“I’ve got one here,” a man said towering over her.

Portia began to crawl away frantically.

“Look at it go,” the man laughed as he pursued her.

She jumped to her feet but didn’t get one step as he grabbed her by the back of her shirt and threw her to the ground.

“Time to say goodnight, Generate,” the man said holding an axe above his head.

“No, please, don’t, I’m not a Generate, I’m not a Generate, they captured me, please don’t hurt me,” Portia begged holding her hands out in front of her in a defensive manner.

The man hesitated and looked at her closer. “Were you from that slave truck?”

“Um, yes, the slave truck, please don’t hurt me.”

“Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” he said offering his hand.

Portia looked at him then his hand and thought she didn’t have anything to lose so she took his hand.

He lifted her to her feet and said, “Anyone else alive?”

She looked around and replied, “I don’t know. I know some of the women were taken to huts over there but you guys were shooting I just ran and hid in that pit but when I found out it was…” She stopped herself once she noticed she was rambling. “Listen, I don’t know.”

A shriek came from behind the man.

Portia looked over his shoulder and saw the Generate leader racing towards them with a knife in its hand.

The man turned around calmly, spun the axe in his hand and waited for the Generate to draw closer.

It continued to shriek as it came.

The man raised the axe, held it for a second then threw it. The axe spun through the air and came to a stop inches deep in the Generate’s face. It crashed to the ground and began to flop around. He ran over, put his boot on its neck and pulled the axe out its head, then for good measure swung it hard and planted it one more time in its face.

The Generate leader made an unintelligible sound, its body twitched for a few seconds before becoming still.

The man retrieved the axe and walked back to a stunned Portia. Using his long sleeve he wiped the blood off.

“You’re quite handy with that thing,” Portia said.

“This thing is amazing, you can’t really find them anymore. They’re called a Proof of Life axe, I don’t think that name fits, I call it my Proof of Death, as you can see,” he joked while motioning with a head nod to the dead Generate. He reached around to his back and pulled out a canteen, “Thirsty?”

“Yes, thank you,” she said taking the canteen and gulping most of it down.

“We got reports that a slaver truck was on the move south, we were going to ambush it but these fucking savages ambushed you first. By the time we found the truck you were long gone. From the attack we could tell it was Generates. Luckily for you, we knew this tribe had an encampment up here.”

“We could have used you earlier, but nevertheless, thank you,” Portia said handing the canteen back.

A woman walked up, she was adorned in heavy leather combat gear and was also holding an axe. Her thick hair was pulled back into a series of braids and across her face she had three dark blue stripes going diagonally from left to right. Attached to her vest was a frag grenade painted pink, with the name SALLY, written across it. She gave Portia a quick look, then faced the man and said, “No survivors."

“Thanks, Leigh,” the man said.

“Who’s this?” Leigh asked.

“A survivor from the slave truck,” the man answered.

“Then it wasn’t a total loss,” Leigh said.

“Go gather the team, tell them to post a watch while the others look for anything of value; weapons, ammo, etcetera. We leave in ten.”

“Sounds good boss,” Leigh said and marched off.

“I suppose I should introduce myself, my name is Jacob, I’m Leviathan.”


BATCHELOR GULCH, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Cal unloaded his magazine into the door. When the bolt locked back, Kyle used that as his cue; he stepped forward and kicked the doors. Unlike before the doors didn’t budge.

“He’s put something in front of them,” Kyle yelled. He stepped back out of the way.

“What do we do?” Cal asked.

Kyle looked around, when he spotted the fireplace an idea popped in his head. “We’ll smoke him out.” Kyle ran to the fireplace and turned it on. “Grab me those papers and the waste basket near the desk.

“What are you guys doing, hurry the hell up!” Tommy said. All around him pieces of the door and frame flew as gunfire hit all around him. “I’ve been lucky but luck will soon run out!”

Cal didn’t move.

“What are you doing? Go get me what I need!” Kyle barked.

Cal walked over to Eric’s dead body, reached inside of his jacket and removed a few items and held them up. Will these work?”

Kyle stood up and walked over to Cal, he looked at the items and said, “You had a smoke grenade, a CS grenade and flash bangs?”

“Eric was a demo guy, I suddenly thought he might have something on him.”

Kyle smiled and asked, “We’re in business.” He grabbed the flash bangs and walked to the door where a two inch opening was left from him trying to enter before. He pulled the pin on the flash bang and pushed it through the door.

Hollering came from inside the room followed by a loud explosion.

“What was that?” Cal asked.

“That my friend is a flash bang or stun grenade,” Kyle laughed. “Where the hell did Eric get those?”

“I have no idea,” Cal answered.

Moans came from the other side.

“Let’s do another for good measure,” Kyle said pulling the pin on the grenade. He pushed against the door giving him another inch of space and tossed it inside. “Oh, they’re going to fucking hate that one. A double fucking whammy.”

Screams and groans came from the room.

“Time to go in,” Kyle said as he started to push. “Help me.”

Cal got next to him and shoved hard. Slowly the door opened. With a foot opening, Kyle climbed over the dresser that blocked the door and into the room. On the floor he found Cisco rolling around in pain, blood coming from his lower abdomen. He picked up his weapons and asked, “Where’s Barry?”

Cisco pointed towards the bathroom.

“Thanks,” Kyle said then struck him in the head with the butt of his rifle knocking him out. He didn’t want him killed until he was sure Barry had the information he needed.

Cal made his way into the room and saw where Cisco pointed, he was on his way there with Kyle just behind him.

They reached the door, “Hello, Barry, its Driver Eight…”

Bullets ripped through the door missing them both.

“Barry, I’ve got a fucking real grenade here, I’m going to blast you out of there, now tell me where you sent my wife,” Kyle said, lying about the real grenade but anything to get Barry to come out.

“Fuck you,” Barry answered and shot again until he ran out of rounds. “Shit,” he cried out when he noticed he was out of magazines.

“Barry, I’m giving you one last chance. Just tell me, I won’t kill you, in fact I need you alive in order to get out of here,” Kyle said making an offer he wasn’t supposed to make.

Cal scowled at Kyle, “That wasn’t part of the deal.”

“Well, the deal has changed,” Kyle said.

No response from Barry.

“Barry, we’ve killed your people, your guards, no one is coming for you,” Kyle lied. It was a bad lie because Tommy was still miraculously holding off the guards from the doorway.

“I still hear the gunfire,” Barry hollered.

“Fine, you leave me no choice,” Kyle said taking a step back and raising the rifle.

Cal smiled hoping Barry would get struck by a bullet.

A thought came to Kyle. Why hasn’t he shot back?  He let that simmer for a second and made a rash decision thinking he was out of ammunition. He lowered the rifle and kicked the door. It burst open.

Barry jumped into the shower.

Kyle raced into the room with Cal just behind. He ran up on the shower, raised his rifle and said, “Got ya’.”

“Don’t shoot, I’ll tell you where she went, just don’t shoot.”

“Tell me now!” Kyle yelled.

“No, then you’ll kill me.”

“I told you I need you to get out of here,” Kyle replied.

“No.”

Kyle grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him out of the shower.

“That wasn’t part of the deal. Any second longer he’s alive is another second he has a chance of escaping. I won’t risk that.”

“He’s our bargaining chip on getting out of here,” Kyle said pulling Barry along with him.

“Kyle!” Tommy yelled.

“Coming,” Kyle hollered back.

They exited the bathroom. Kyle looked over and said, “Check on Cisco.”

“Will do.”

Kyle and Barry exited the room to find Tommy still engaged with guards but using on one arm. “You alright?” Kyle asked.

“I got fucking shot, twice, my left arm if totally fucked.”

Cal emerged from the room, “Cisco is dead. He had a bad wound to his stomach.”

“He’s a brave man, he jumped on that last grenade you threw in,” Barry said.

“Shit, looks like you’re my only source. You can’t die, you hear me,” Kyle said to Barry. “Hold him, let me check on Tommy,” Kyle ordered Cal.

Cal happily took Barry.

“What can I do?” Kyle asked reaching Tommy just as a few shots smashed into the door above their heads.

“Get us the hell out of here,” Tommy answered.

“I think we use Barry as a bargaining chip,” Kyle said.

“Hey, Driver Eight!” Cal called out.

Kyle turned to see Cal holding a pistol to Barry’s head.

“What the hell are you doing?” Kyle asked walking towards Cal his arm out motioning for him to lower the pistol.

“If he kills me you’ll never know where I sent your wife,” Barry cried out knowing his life was hanging in the balance.

“Cal put the pistol down. I need to know where my wife is, we made a deal.”

“What did you say? Well, the deal has changed,” Cal snarled then pulled the trigger of his Glock 17. A single nine millimeter round struck Barry in the temple, traveled through his brain and exited out the other side, taking parts of his skull and brain with it.

Barry dropped to the floor dead.

“No!” Kyle cried out. He looked at Barry on the floor, the blood pouring out and pooling around him. With Barry dead so was the chance on knowing exactly where Portia could be.

“Your turn,” Cal said turning the pistol on Kyle.

A shot rang out behind Kyle and struck Cal in the chest followed by a second, then a third. Cal recoiled and fell to the ground. He clawed at the three wounds in his chest.

Kyle walked over to Cal and hovered above him. “You took the one chance I had to save my wife.”

“Payback,” Cal said referring to Dana.

Tommy ran over, “Kyle we have to go, I can’t hold them off anymore.”

Kyle looked at the large plate glass window. “Are you afraid of heights?”

“Only spiders and tight places and right now this place is getting a bit tight.”

“We have one major problem, how the hell are we getting five floors down?”

“Then we need to go out into the hall, to the left at the far end is a stairwell. No one has come up it but I don’t know why?”

“Maybe it’s l


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ocked,” Kyle said.

Tommy looked to the door, “Bro, we can’t stand here talking, we need to go, now.”

Kyle looked down at the two remaining grenades on his belt. “We go for the door now,” he said running to the suite entrance. He peeked around the corner and saw seven guards slowly maneuvering down towards them. One took a shot when they saw him poke his head out.

Tommy came up behind him and said, “How’s it look?”

“Seven.”

“My lucky number,” Tommy said and grunted in pain when he shifted to get ready to run. The entire left side of his shirt was soaked in blood.

Kyle pulled the pin on the smoke grenade, stepped out and threw it. The spoon flew and the grenade popped. Smoke immediately began to pour out of it. He took the CS grenade, did the same thing and threw it. With the smoke providing cover and the gas grenade immobilizing the guards they sprinted from the door towards the stairwell entrance.

Tommy took several steps and tripped over something lying in the hall.

Kyle stopped, picked him up and said, “Come on, buddy, no time to be lying around.” He got Tommy to his feet and could see he wasn’t doing well. His face was ashen and sweat was pouring down his face.

“I’m good,” Tommy said pushing Kyle to go.

The two began to move when a volley of gunfire came at them.

Tommy took a round in the back and fell to the ground hard, his face smacking the floor. Kyle spun around and returned fire. He grabbed Tommy by the collar and began to drag him. The stairwell door was only a few feet away but it seemed like a mile. More gunfire came their way but luckily it missed them. With one arm pulling Tommy, Kyle was firing back with his other. He reached the door, and kicked it open. “C’mon buddy,” Kyle said dragging Tommy into the stairwell. “How ya’ doing?” he asked.

Tommy coughed up blood but keeping with his tough as nails persona, replied, “Never been better.”

“Can you stand?”

A serious look came over Tommy as he coughed hard. He spit out a mouthful of blood and said, “Bro, I’m fucking done. Leave me. Go.”

“Never,” Kyle said reaching down to lift Tommy up.

“No, leave me.”

“Not going to happen,” Kyle said picking Tommy up in a fireman’s carry. The first few steps was difficult but soon Kyle adjusted to the added weight. One flight after another he went. He saw a sign posted about the parking garage. He passed the main floor and kept going down. Above him, he heard the door open and people enter the stairwell, their voices echoed down pushing him harder. He took the last step there was onto a landing, the sign on the door read, PARKING GARAGE.  He opened it and walked in. The cavernous space was mostly empty except at the far end he saw a line of vehicles. He raced for them. His legs were fatiguing but he knew if he stopped they’d both die. Arriving at the first vehicle he checked to find it locked. Car after car he went, every one of them locked. He turned a corner and there like a shining gem was his truck. “No way,” he said out loud. All he could think was Barry had driven it over here to store. He ran as hard as he could towards it.

The door he exited at the far end of the garage burst open and guards poured out.

Hearing they were coming he pushed even harder until he reached his truck. “We made it buddy, can you believe my truck is here?” he asked placing Tommy carefully into the truck bed.

Tommy mumbled something unintelligible, his eyes shut.

Kyle knelt down and ran his hand under the lip of the truck’s body until he found what he was looking for, a spare key. He removed the magnetic canister, slid it open and let the key fall into his hand. “Thank God,” he said out loud. He unlocked the truck, jumped behind the wheel, and inserted the key. He pressed his eyes closed and said a quick prayer, “Start up, please.” He turned the key and the engine roared to life. Not wasting another second, he put the truck into drive and smashed his foot against the accelerator. The truck lunged forward. He turned the wheel hard left and sped towards the exit. In between him and escaping stood the seven guards who were in pursuit from the fifth level.

Seeing the truck coming at them, they jumped out of the way.

Kyle turned the wheel hard to the right and smashed through the gate and out onto the drive. He made a hard left and again slammed the accelerator down. The truck’s throaty exhaust roared like a lion. Ahead of him was the second gate. The guard saw him coming but didn’t know what to do except get out of the way. Like the garage gate, he plowed through that. The last remaining obstacle was the main gate. Like the others, Kyle’s plan was to run right through it. However this time, the guards were ready.

Two guards stepped in the middle of the drive and began to fire. The rounds hit the truck but weren’t enough to stop it. Unrelenting, Kyle pushed the pedal down as far as it would go. When the truck exploded through the heavy metal gate, he was going over ninety miles per hour.

The events of the past few hours turned out to be a complete failure. He’d risked it all and barely got out of there alive. The Underground would count the night as a victory but it came at a huge cost for Kyle. The one man who knew where Portia had been taken was dead and he was nowhere closer to finding her than he was hours ago.

CHAPTER 8

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FOUR MILES NORTH OF COLLECTIVE PRIME

Kyle cleaned Tommy’s multiple wounds, which totaled seven. He’d been shot more than he’d let on and had lost a lot of blood, so much, Kyle was having a hard time keeping him conscious. Seeing his old friend lying there, his breathing shallow and his skin pale, broke his heart. Out of the millions of miles he’d driven since the war, he never once came upon anyone he knew, now that he had, he was close to losing them.

Tommy shook for a second then opened his eyes to just above a slit. “Kyle. I’m thirsty.”

Kyle took a bottle of water from the table next to him and poured a little into Tommy’s mouth. “Hey buddy, do you want some meds. You know, pain stuff?” Kyle asked.

Tommy shook his head.

“You sure. Why feel the pain if you don’t have to,” Kyle said.

“Pains one of the few things that make me feel alive,” Tommy said, the tempo of his voice slower than it normally was.

“A glutton for punishment,” Kyle joked.

“That’s me,” Tommy said before coughing. “Argh, it hurts to cough, I hate that.”

“C’mon man, let me get you some pain meds,” Kyle insisted.

“No, I don’t want to die in a fog,” Tommy said.

“You’re not going to die, stop that talk,” Kyle said reassuring himself more than Tommy.

“I’ve missed you, brother. I’m sad that we didn’t run into each other years before but I’m so happy that we did when we did.”

“Me too.”

“There’s a place. Jacob found a map. They say it’s untouched. They say it’s paradise,” Tommy mumbled.

Kyle raised his brow in confusion. Was Tommy fading? Was this it? 

“You should go there, live your life in peace,” Tommy continued.

“Maybe after I find Portia we all can go,” Kyle said playing along. He had no idea what Tommy was talking about.

“Portia is such a beautiful name. I never found anyone. I’m not meant for it. Was never good at it,” Tommy mused.

“Maybe when we all go to paradise you’ll find a hot blonde with huge tits,” Kyle joked.

A smile stretched across Tommy’s face, “That’s sounds nice.” He coughed and groaned in pain. “I’m so tired,” he said as he closed his eyes.

“Thanks for saving me,” Kyle said taking Tommy’s hand in his.

Tommy opened his eyes and said, “My phone, find my phone.”

“Why?”

“Jacob. He might have called,” Tommy said pointing towards the window.

Kyle went to the pack and found the satellite phone. He took it out and checked it. The screen didn’t show a missed call. “No calls.”

“Outside, go outside.”

Doing as Tommy said, Kyle went outside. As soon as he cleared the house, the phone beeped, he looked at the screen and saw he now had a signal. He stared at it hoping a notification would pop up telling him the phone had a message.

A second beep sounded. The screen read, 1 NEW MESSAGE .

Kyle hit the message button. The phone dialed a number, clicked twice and the message began.

“Tommy, Jacob here, we tracked down a truck that had come from The Collective. It made a stop in Salina and was on its way to St. George when it was hit by a tribe of Generates. We’re now tracking the Generates. They have a small settlement west of Richfield in the Fishlake National Forest. Heading there now. I’ll be in contact soon.” 

Kyle ran inside, “Tommy, I think I know where she is. Jacob left a message. She was sent to the Republic.”

Tommy didn’t respond. His eyes were closed and he lay motionless.

“Tommy?” Kyle asked walking up beside the bed.

Still Tommy lay motionless.

Kyle checked his pulse but didn’t find anything. He sighed and sat on the bed next to Tommy. “Ah, shit. I’m so sorry,” he said. With Tommy dead he needed to press forward. First thing he needed to do was call Jacob and see if he had further information. Timing was everything. He left the bedside and headed back outside. Once he was in the open and the phone had a signal he dialed the last number on the phone.

The phone clicked and began to ring. He patiently waited, but no one answered. “Come on, pick up.”

With the best clues as to where Portia might be, Kyle began to load his truck with anything of value he could find from the house and Tommy’s truck. It took him a short time to get everything he needed, the last order of business was Tommy.

It had become custom to burn bodies as burying them led to Generates or other animals digging them up. Using a small amount of gasoline, he dosed the bed and surrounding area. That would be enough to ensure the entire house would burn down. When he was ready, he lit a Molotov cocktail and tossed it into the bedroom. The bottle exploded into a ball of flames catching the bed and everything around on fire. Soon the entire room was covered in flames with black smoke pouring out of the front door and windows.

Kyle got behind the wheel of his truck and watched as the flames now engulfed the small house. “Goodbye, Tommy, I’ll see you in Valhalla.” He put the truck into gear, slammed on the accelerator and sped off towards his first stop, Salina.


FIFETEEN MILES SOUTH OF JOSEPH, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Portia opened her eyes from a dead sleep and bolted upright. Sweat clung to her forehead and face. She looked around to find she was in the backseat of an SUV. The last thing she remembered was fighting the urge to fall asleep. Laughter came from outside. She twirled around to look but the windows were steamed up. She wiped an area and peered through the grimy window. Not far away, she saw the ragtag group sitting around a fire, talking, eating and telling jokes. Curious and hungry, she exited the truck. When she slammed the door the group all turned their heads and stared.

She gave them a nervous wave and cautiously walked towards them.

“Don’t be shy,” Jacob said waving her over. “We don’t bite.”

“Unless you want us too,” a large man with a thick beard said. In the group he was known a Crusher, it was a name he’d been given early on after he’d crushed a man’s skull between his hands. He was a hulk of a man, standing six foot seven with hands that were oversized even for his stature.

Portia took a seat next to Crusher who gave her a wink. “Smells good,” she said looking at the open pot cooking over the fire.

“Yeah, but it tastes like shit,” Crusher joked shoveling a large amount of the stew into his mouth.

“It’s my specialty,” another man said. He went by the name, Chef, primarily because that had been his occupation before the war and due to the fact he was the team’s cook. He stirred the contents and continued, “I call it Whatever Stew.”

“Hmm, why do you call it that?” Portia asked.

“Because I make it with whatever ingredients I have available,” Chef said his thick New York accent showing through.

Portia smiled.

“Would you like some?” Chef asked.

Portia nodded.

“I introduced myself last night, but I didn’t get your name,” Jacob interjected as he stirred his bowl of stew with a spoon.

“Portia,” she answered.

“Nice to meet you, Portia, again my name is Jacob, and going around from my left, you have Leigh, who you met last night, Crusher, Chef and Gunny over their on watch.”

In earshot, Gunny turned and waved.

“Some interesting names,” Portia said taking a bowl of stew from Chef.

“They think they’re super heroes or something,” Leigh quipped.

Portia gave Crusher a cautious look and said, “I can assume you crush things.” She nodded to Chef and said, “And yours is simple, you’re a chef.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Chef said.

“And Gunny because he likes guns?” Portia asked.

“No, on the account he was a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines,” Jacob said.

“Oh,” Portia said. She took a spoonful of stew and brought it to her lips. She blew on it and sipped it. “Hmm, has a meaty, wait, it tastes like corned beef hash.”

“Close, its a couple cans of dog food, mixed with potatoes, canned corn, powdered garlic and onion.”

A look of revulsion swept over her face as she put the bowl down.

“Now why did you have to tell her about the dog food?” Jacob said smacking Chef on the arm.

“I’ll have you know that those old cans of dog food are decent. It was made with decent ingredients. Hell, a can of dog food is a better meal than what you can get at any roadside slop house in the Republic.”

“But now you’ve got the lady all upset,” Jacob said.

Portis wiped her mouth and looked for a bottle of water.

Sensing her needs, Leigh pulled out a canteen and offered it to Portia.

Portia took it, swished the water in her mouth and spit it out.

“Give me the water back,” Leigh snapped unexpectedly.

“But I didn’t take a drink yet,” Portia said surprised by Leigh’s abrupt change in tone.

“You spit out a precious resource. I won’t have you wasting anymore water. I get you didn’t like the taste of the stew but we don’t waste,” Leigh barked. She looked at Jacob and said, “She must be from The Collective.”

Portia handed the canteen back and said, “I’m sorry.”

Leigh snatched it back. “If you’re going to run with us, rule number one, don’t waste resources.”

“I’m sorry,” Portia again said.

Jacob jumped in, “She didn’t know.”

“Jacob, what are we doing? This little side job cost us two days, we could’ve been in Puerto Penasco by now and on our way,” Leigh complained.

“I made a promise, you know that,” Jacob said.

“But you made a promise to your team first,” Leigh countered.

Portia watched the back and forth. Leigh was a strong women by all counts. She looked tough, but her persona screamed, “Don’t fuck with me.”  She was impressive looking with her war paint, intricate braids and leather clothes.

“My team is my top priority,” Jacob said defending himself.

“I don’t even want to go, but we voted as a team and the majority wants to go. I say fuck everyone, let’s go kick ass and at least go out fighting,” Leigh said.

“I agree with Leigh,” Crusher said nodding.

“I love ya’ girl, but I’m over this shit, I’ve been fighting for my entire life. If there is a place called Paradise, I want to see it,” Chef chimed in.

“Cause you’re a pussy,” Leigh growled at Chef.

“I am what I eat,” Chef countered with a devilish smile.

“Team, enough, we voted and it was three to two. And as always we do things as a team,” Jacob said.

“Dumbest thing ever,” Leigh said.

Portia loudly cleared her throat and asked, “What’s Paradise?”

“There’s been rumors floating around for years that an island exists, not far off the coast of Central America. It’s untouched by the ravages of war; no radiation, no Generates, no conflict. Anyway, up until recently I thought it was just a rumor until a map came into my possession. The coordinates point to an island exactly where all the rumors say it is, seven hundred plus nautical miles west of Costa Rica.”

“That map is bullshit,” Leigh said.

“Let me finish,” Jacob said. “My team has decided to leave this God forsaken place and sail there.”

“Half of your team is going in protest,” Leigh blurted out.

“The reason this is even an issue with our team is because over the past year, The Republic, The Collective, and other countries or territories have aligned under one cause, to wipe out all Leviathan. They’re afraid of us, so they want us all dead,” Crusher said.

“I think my husband mentioned your group to me; I think he told me he killed someone from Leviathan,” Portia said.

The group grew silent and all eyes stared at her.

Noticing the awkward silence, Portia asked, “Did I say something?”

“Your husband killed one of ours?” Leigh asked, her back stiffening.

Noticing everyone’s reaction, Portia said, “He didn’t murder him, it was a fair fight.”

“Give us a moment in private,” Jacob said motioning for everyone to leave the fire.

The three got up and walked away, Leigh giving Portia a hard stare as she walked off.

“How did you husband get into an altercation with a Leviathan?” Jacob asked.

“My husband was…is a driver for The Collective. It was years ago, that’s all I know,” Portia explained.

“He wasn’t operating under orders to kill Leviathan was he?”

“No, not that I’m aware. Like I said, this was a long time ago,” Portia said, fear began to creep in as she realized she might have said the wrong thing.

“Do you recall the Leviathan’s name?”

“No, my husband doesn’t talk to me much about what he does on the road. Listen, I don’t want trouble. I was placed into slavery less than a week ago. I’ve seen horrible stuff and all I want is to find my husband if he’s alive and from there, go somewhere safe.”

Jacob raised his right brow and asked, “Drivers are highly respected. What did you or your husband do?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’m all ears, I think you have time. We’re not going anywhere until nightfall,” Jacob said crossing his arms.

“Are you going to hurt me?” Portia asked thinking she might as well ask and wanting to steer the conversation away from the current topic.

“No. If we wanted you dead you’d be dead.”

“What do you plan on doing with me?” she asked.

“Don’t know yet, but I can tell you that we’re not heading anywhere close to The Collective. You’re more than welcome to walk out of here now, otherwise you’re coming with us. Unless we can drop you off on our way south.”

“You’re really leaving. You think this place is real?” Portia asked.

“I don’t know, but if we stay we’ll all end up dead. Everyone’s gunning for us now,” Jacob said.

“Why?”

“Because we aren’t beholden to anyone and we’ve been known to cause some problems for the elite. My team has caused quite a stir with our attacks against slavers. The powers that be don’t like that, hence why they’ve all joined a pact to have us all killed.”

“Do you have family?” Portia asked.

Jacob paused. He picked up a stick and began to poke the wood in the fire.

Sensing it was a sensitive question, Portia shifted the topic again. “I need to make contact with someone I know in The Collective, how can I do that?”

“I have a sat phone. You can make a call, you’ll need a clearing as this hillside and the heavy canopy cover will make it difficult to get a signal.”

“Jacob, Gunny here, we’ve got tangos to the north, I count fourteen. They look like Marshals,”  Gunny radioed.

Jacob jumped to his feet and cried out, “Team up, grab your shit, we’re outta here in two.” He keyed his radio and replied to Gunny. “Estimated time to contact?”

“Ten to fifteen mikes, over,”  Gunny answered.

“Copy. Get your ass down here Gunny, we’re leaving.”

“Roger that,”  Gunny said and started down the hill towards them.

“Fuck this, I’m so tired of running. Can’t we just make a deal with these guys? I’m so over this shit!” Chef hollered as he raced to the truck.

“Who are these Marshal’s?” Portia asked now on her feet but unsure of what to do.

“They’re the corrupt lawmen of the Republic. While we’ve been tracking your truck and these Generates, they were tracking us. We’ve kept ahead of them by a day but somehow they’ve locked onto us. I thought we were safe in these hills, miles from any improved road,” Jacob explained. “Go get in the SUV, we’re leaving now.”

Portia ran to the SUV and got in the back.

Leigh was right behind her and got in the front passenger seat.

Crusher, Chef and Gunny jumped into an old Chevy pickup.

Jacob tossed some gear in the back before he got behind the wheel of the SUV. He keyed his radio, “Crusher, you lead us out of here.”

“Roger that, boss,”  Crusher replied.

Leigh rolled her window down and stuck out her AR platform rifle. “Why are we always running? We should stay and fight. If we dug in we could take them.”

“There could be more, just keep your eyes open, we don’t need to be racing into an ambush,” Jacob said.

Leigh grumbled.

Portia put her seat belt on and stared out the window.

Jacob caught a glimpse of her in the rear view mirror. A question suddenly came to mind. “You never told me who your husband is. I’m familiar with a few Drivers for The Collective, maybe I know him.”

She locked eyes with him in the mirror and answered, “My husband is Driver Eight.”

He looked away for fear she’d see he knew something. He knew that name and had just heard he was dead. Timing was everything and telling her then that Driver Eight was dead was not the right time.


TWO MILES NORTH OF CIRCLEVILLE, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Five hours and forty-three long slow miles later, Jacob and his team pulled off the back roads and onto a long gravel drive.

“I saw a house, about a half mile in,”  Crusher radioed.

“Copy that,” Jacob replied following closely behind Crusher’s truck.

The drive gently winded along a dry creek bed until it stopped at an old cattle guard and gate.

Crusher stopped. He and Chef surveilled the area first before Gunny exited the truck to inspect the gate.

“You sure this is a good idea?” Leigh asked.

“I don’t know,” Jacob replied.

“What’s the problem?” Portia asked.

“Nothing,” Jacob said.

Gunny looked at the rusty gate and found it unlocked and pushed it open. The tired metal screamed as it grinded against itself. He looked at Crusher and waved him on through.

They all passed through the gate with Leigh closing it behind them. Ahead of them sat an old two story house with four outbuildings; one a large barn and the other three were sheds.

Jacob pulled the SUV alongside the front deck and scanned the house and the surrounding area.

Leigh didn’t waste any time, she hopped out and went towards the front door. When she placed her full weight on the first step, her foot broke through the dry rotten wood.

Crusher saw her and began to laugh.

She glared at him and said, “Fuck you.”

“Sorry, that shit was just funny,” Crusher said.

“Your fat ass better watch out then, you’ll fall through the deck,” Leigh shot back. She removed her foot and tried again, this time not breaking through. The house was in bad shape and appeared to have been abandoned for many years.

The team secured the house and out buildings before unloading their gear.

“Let’s get everything inside. I don’t want anything of value in the rigs tonight,” Jacob ordered hauling several packs inside.

Portia approached him and asked, “Can I borrow that phone?”

“Yeah, but let me make a call first,” Jacob said putting down the packs in the front room and removing the phone from his jacket pocket. He powered it on and waited patiently for a message notification to pop up, but nothing. He hit the green call button and waited. The phone rang and rang then disconnected. “Shit,” he said hitting the green button again, this time it didn’t connect. The phone beeped several times signaling he didn’t have any service. “Nothing, no service. We’re out of range of any sats.”

“Can I try?” Portia asked.

“Sure but don’t try too much, I don’t want to run down my battery,” Jacob said offering her the phone.

She took it and then realized she didn’t know her direct line, in fact, she didn’t know anyone’s direct line at The Collective. The phone service there relied on old phone lines. There were several lines at dispatch that allowed outside calls to come in but she didn’t know those numbers. “Jacob.”

“Yeah,” he replied, his attention on unpacking.

“Stupid question, but do you know the direct number for The Collective?”

He laughed. “Sorry, sweetheart, I don’t have them on speed dial.”

How stupid are you?  She thought. I have a phone and I can’t make a call because I don’t know the number. 

Jacob could see she was upset, he walked over and took the phone. “We’ll figure something out.”

“I need to know if my husband is alive,” she said somberly.

He lowered his head and said, “You said your husband was Driver Eight.”

“Yeah.”

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

“What?”

“It might be best if you sat down,” he said pointing to a dining room table in the next room.

Leigh was walking in and overheard his last comment. She scrunched her face and walked past, she was curious about what was happening.

“I don’t need to sit, if you’re going to tell me my husband is dead, it wouldn’t be the first time,” Portia replied standing tall.

Leigh placed a box in the far room and slowly opened the lid and pretended she was sorting through it, her ear locked on their conversation.

“Days ago I had contact with Tommy O’Leary, he’s one of ours if I didn’t mention it before. Anyway, he was heading to The Collective for a job when he’d received word that an old friend of his, a driver, was killed. I don’t know how but he told me his name was Driver Eight.”

“He didn’t mention anything about how?” Portia asked.

“Like I said, he didn’t say how, just that he was dead.”

Portia went to the dining table and sat down. She put her head in her hands and began to weep. She had been told of Kyle’s death before and it turned out to be a lie but this time it did make sense. All she had to do was look at her situation. Here she was hundreds of miles away from the one place she could call home. She had been almost sold into slavery and was witness to a Generate blood ceremony. It was conceivable Kyle was dead, a victim of Barry’s.

Leigh’s hard edge melted away. She walked over and knelt next to Portia. “I heard, I’m sorry.”

“I’m alone,” Portia whimpered.

Jacob came up and said, “You’re not. You’re with us now.”

“He’s right, you’re with us,” Leigh said softly rubbing Portia’s back.

It wasn’t often that Jacob witnessed Leigh’s softer side and he liked it. “I’m going to let you all talk, time to get the rest of the gear and secure the vehicles.”

“I want to go with you,” Portia blurted out to Jacob as he walked away.

He stopped and turned around, “To Paradise?”

“Yes, I want to go with you. I don’t know if it’s real but this place doesn’t offer me anything anymore. Whatever I can do, ask of me. I know I’m not Leviathan, but I’ll carry my weight.”

Jacob glanced at Leigh who returned it with a smile. “Deal, welcome to the team.”


TEN MILES NORTHEAST OF GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

Kyle pulled his truck over and fueled up. From his vantage point he had a good view of the city below. He had made the decision right from the start that he was going directly through Grand Junction, regardless of The Generate activity. Anything else would take him another half day or more, something he couldn’t do.

Driving through Grand Junction was already dangerous but doing so at night made it even more precarious because when the sun set, the Generates came out.

The glow of numerous fires below told him the city was truly occupied by the heathens. His one saving grace could be if they were preoccupied feasting or performing any number of their known ceremonies. For a group of humans that had devolved to their current state, they very much clung to things uniquely human, such as organized rituals and ceremonies.

Taking the main road through Grand Junction wasn’t going to work so he planned on driving back roads and side streets. The Generates were many but even with their numbers, they couldn’t man every road.

Armed with a street map of downtown, he plotted several routes and put them to memory. Part of his plan was to make the drive using only his night vision, he had hoped to have moon glow but his timing was off. He attached the night vision to his helmet, prepared every weapon he had and loaded every magazine. He was ready to go but needed to do one mo


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re thing. He took the phone and called the number. All he got was a steady ring. He began to grow concerned that something had happened to this Jacob character. Frustrated, he tossed the phone onto the seat, got behind the wheel, and headed towards the first turn off just a mile ahead.


TWO MILES NORTH OF CIRCLEVILLE, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Gunny walked in through the front door and headed towards the others who were grouped together around the dining table. The only light Jacob wanted on was a small battery powered lantern.

“What’s for dinner?” Gunny asked looking around at the long faces.

“Don’t know, Chef said it would be up but that was a good thirty minutes ago,” Leigh complained, she was cleaning her side arm, a Glock 17.

“Why does everyone look like their pet cat was just killed?” Gunny joked, taking off his tactical vest and hanging it from the seat back.

“Hungry,” Leigh answered.

Jacob was busy looking over a map while Portia just sat, lost in her own thoughts.

“Well, I’m going to go check on Chef, I promised Crusher I’d bring him some chow,” Gunny said and headed towards the kitchen. The hall was dark and from the absence of light coming from the kitchen, Chef wasn’t there. “Hey, Chef you there?” Gunny asked walking into the pitch black room. He removed a flashlight and turned it on. From the looks of it, Chef hadn’t been doing anything back here. He quickly exited and went back to the group. “Hey guys, Chef isn’t back there. And he’s not cooking shit.”

“Maybe he’s jerking off somewhere,” Leigh joked.

“No, I’m serious, he’s gone, somethings not right,” Gunny stressed.

Leigh jumped up, quickly put the pistol back together, inserted a full magazine and racked the slide. “Let’s go look for Chef.”

Jacob turned to Portia who stood looking lost. He pulled out an old Smith and Wesson revolver and handed it to her. “Here, you’ll need something to protect you just in case.” Portia took the gun and held it in her open hand unsure of how to use it. “It’s simple, point, and pull the trigger. You have six rounds in there,” Jacob said and headed out with Leigh and Gunny.

“Should I come too?” she asked.

Jacob hollered out, “No, stay put.”

The three exited the house and found Crusher on the far left side leaning against the corner of the house. “What’s up?” he called out.

“Chef, he’s missing,” Jacob said.

“I haven’t seen him,” Crusher said.

“Stay on guard, Portia’s inside, Leigh go around back check out those small outbuildings, I’ll go search the barn and Gunny, go to the garage,” Jacob ordered.

Just as they all stepped off, the front door opened and Portia came out, “Hey, he’s in here.”

They all came back to the house. Jacob entered the house first, he was a mixed bag of emotions, first and foremost, he was concerned, but secondly, if he found out that Chef was screwing off, he’d be severely angry with him. “Where were you?” he asked Chef.

Hovering near the dining table, Chef answered, “I was out back, looking to see if the propane tank was off. The oven is gas, thought maybe I could cook something warm for us.”

Jacob approached him and asked again, “Where were you?”

“I told you, I went out back to see if I could find the propane tank.”

“You went back to the kitchen almost fifteen, maybe twenty minutes ago,” Jacob said, suspecting something was wrong.

“It’s that simple, don’t be such a stress monster,” Chef snapped. “And I’ll let you know I did find the propane and we have a pot of baked beans cooking now.”

The others stood just behind Jacob, all leering suspiciously at him.

“What the fuck guys, I was only trying to make sure we had warm food versus cold, lighten up,” Chef barked and stormed off.

“Next time tell us, if you haven’t been aware, we’re being hunted right now,” Jacob hollered.

“Give him a break, boss,” Leigh said and went back to the dining table.

“Communication is key to everything,” Jacob said.

“I disagree, I think its firepower,” Leigh said, dropping the magazine, locking the slide to the rear and catching the bullet as it flew out of the chamber.

“If I were fifteen years younger,” Gunny joked at Leigh and gave her a wink.

“That’s sweet Pops, but I like my men at least younger than eighty,” she fired back. “Although you’re hot for an old guy,” she said returning the wink.

“Don’t listen to her, I’m only fifty-five, but I can still get it up,” Gunny said to Portia.

Portia chuckled at the inappropriate conversation.

Jacob hadn’t moved, he was still looking towards the kitchen. He sensed something was wrong but couldn’t put a finger on what it was.


GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO, GENERATE CONTROLLED TERRITORY

The drive was slow but so far successful. He’d only had to make one detour and quickly got back on his route.

The glow from the countless fires helped illuminate his path and allowed him to go faster. The other major impediment was the debris that riddled the streets. He found himself swerving and veering around any number of large items left strewn on the street.

By his estimate he was over half way across town. He came to a crossroad street. From his memory, if he turned left and went south it would take him out of town but in order to get back on the old interstate he’d have to drive a few hours around through a pass. Straight ahead was direct and the interchange for the freeway was only two miles away. The issue was the bright glow from a bulk of the fires came from that direction.

“Which way?” he said out loud.

Out of the shadows a woman ran up and slammed her left hand on the hood, “Help, please.”

The clarity through the night vision wasn’t the best but it was good enough to tell him she wasn’t a Generate.

“Help, they’re after me, please,” she pleaded, her voice echoing down the street. Cradled in her left arm was a baby in a swaddle. “Please, help me.”

He revved the truck, hoping she’d get out of his way but she didn’t. He had three choices, run her over, help her or go in reverse.

The distinct cries from Generates sounded to his right. He looked but couldn’t see anything…yet, but they were coming.

“Help me,” she screamed, her voice panicked after hearing the Generates coming.

He revved the engine again and tapped the accelerator enough to warn her to get out of the way, but she wasn’t relenting.

“Please, they’ll kill me and my baby.”

This was not the situation Kyle wanted or needed to be in. He could easily run the woman over and even considered it, but doing so only made him like Barry or Xavier. No, he had to help her. He cracked his door and yelled, “Go to the passenger door!”

She ran for it just as a small pack of Generates cleared the corner of a building and raced towards them.

He leaned across the cab, unlocked the door and pushed it open.

She reached the door, put the small infant down on the seat and went to get in herself but was prevented when a Generate grabbed her arm and pulled her out. She hit the ground and screamed.

Kyle shot the Generate several times.

She rolled to her side and went to get up but three more Generates tackled her. She wailed in pain as they began to plunge their knives into her.

Kyle emptied his magazine into them but more came. She was dead and he knew it. He heard more cries from Generates and looked ahead to see what could only be described as a herd coming his way. Unable to save her, he slammed his foot down on the accelerator and turned the steering wheel hard to the left. His plan to save time by going through Grand Junction was over. If he wanted to live through the night, he’d have to take the longer route south.

Through the altercation, the baby cried and wailed but there was nothing Kyle could do to comfort it until he was well enough away.

The bright glow from the city grew more distant with each mile he took. Feeling he was at a safe distance, he pulled the truck over. He tore off the night vision, reached down and picked up the crying child and held it in his arms. “Ssh, baby, ssh, it’s okay now,” he said softly rocking the baby in his arms. By the size, the child was no more than three or four months old. After several minutes of rocking and shushing, the child grew quiet and began to coo.

“What in the hell am I going to do with a baby?” he asked himself out loud. “Am I cursed?” Not only had he tacked on additional time to Salina but he now had a baby to care for.


TWO MILES NORTH OF CIRCLEVILLE, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

“I don’t know how you do it, but you managed to turn regular canned beans into a gourmet meal,” Gunny gushed patting his belly.

Chef nodded, a big smile stretched across his face.

Through the meal, Jacob kept an eye on Chef.

Leigh picked up on this and was also being watchful.

“You don’t look that much older than me. How long were you a chef before the war?” Portia asked.

“Not long, I had just graduated culinary school and was on my way to my first real chef’s position when it began raining nuclear weapons. I was just west of Albuquerque when I started getting the reports on my mobile phone and on the radio. I never made it to Phoenix, thank God. I first went to a FEMA camp but that quickly deteriorated, I then spent a couple years migrating from place to place with a small group of others. One by one we began to get picked off by marauders and what not. A couple more years pass, I’m working for a warlord in northern Arizona. I run into Gunny here, he took a job working security for this warlord. What was his name?”

“I shit you not, he called himself King David, this dumb ass literally thought he was a decedent of the great Kind David,” Gunny answered.

“Yeah, King David. What a character he was. Liked his food cooked until it was burned,” Chef said.

“You were his cook or chef?” Portia asked.

“Yeah, it’s strange but warlords like having their own chefs, it’s like a status thing, very odd. I thought I was doomed having that as a skill set, but so far, it’s worked,” Chef said.

“How did you end up with everyone else?” Portia asked.

“Me and Gunny were running together after leaving King David, we met Crusher in a bar about a year later then about a year later we found ourselves prisoners to another warlord who operates or I should say, did operate out of southeastern Nevada. We were sent to a slave market but never made it to auction. Next thing I know, I see Jacob here shooting the lock off my cage.”

“You saved them from slavers?” Portia asked.

“Yep,” Jacob nodded.

“And what about Leigh?” Portia asked.

“He saved me a couple years later. I was being chased by some guys and before I know it, Jacob here is saving the day,” Leigh said.

“And Leigh, what is the deal with the pink grenade?” Portia asked.

“I found Sally years ago, she’s been with me a long time.”

“Sally?”

“I like the name,” Leigh replied.

“Why don’t you use it…sorry her?”

“I just don’t want to toss her for nothing, if I ever use her, it will have special meaning,” Leigh said prideful.

“I was a slave once too. A man by the name of Michael, one of the original Leviathan saved me. He was an old Marine, like Gunny here. He’d lost his family to marauders after the war. With nowhere to go, he dedicated himself to bringing justice to an unjust world. Some say he was the first Leviathan, but I don’t believe it,” Jacob explained.

“Who was?”

“There’s a lot of rumors, but I don’t think Michael was even though he was the oldest Leviathan I’d ever met before.”

“Who started the other teams?” Portia asked, genuinely curious.

“I helped get others started. While others have just sprouted up on their own,” Jacob answered.

“Fascinating,” Portia said, her tone clearly excited by the conversation. “What does one do to become like you?”

Chef blurted out, “No need to worry about that, soon enough it will all be over.”

Jacob gave Chef an odd look.

“Over?” Leigh asked.

“Yeah, like soon we’ll be sailing for Paradise,” Chef replied.

The crackling of a radio came from the kitchen.

Everyone got quiet and looked at each other.

Jacob jumped to his feet, followed by Chef, who had the look of fear in his eyes.

“We have the house in view, just trying to make contact with the mole,”  the gruff voice radioed.

Chef sprinted for the kitchen but only made it a few feet before Jacob tackled him to the ground. “Who is that?”

Leigh raced past them and into the kitchen, she returned holding the radio.

“We’ve got the place surrounded, just still waiting on our contact to let us know what it looks like inside.” 

Jacob punched Chef in the face and yelled, “What have you done?”

Blood streamed down Chef’s face from a busted lip, he opened his blood stained teeth and replied, “I did what you should have done. Made a deal. I’m sick and tired of this cat and mouse game. I’m tired of fighting, I’m tired of our stupid fucking code. I just want to live in peace. I want to do nothing but eat, fuck and drink and they promised me that.”

“In exchange for us? You gave us up to be killed so you can eat, fuck and drink? That’s all our years of friendship have come to equal?” Jacob asked, his face showing the huge emotional toll this was having on him.

“Teams one and two, just go, fuck this guy,”  the radio boomed.

Another voice came over the radio and said, “I’ve got sights on the big fucker, taking it.” 

“No!” Leigh yelled running for the front door. She threw the door open and screamed, “Crusher, get down!”

Crusher looked over at her and cocked his head, surprised that she was screaming at him.

A single shot cracked in the distance.

Leigh ran towards Crusher but it was too late. The single shot struck him in head. He slid down the side of the house and was dead before he hit the ground. Leigh ran to his side and cried out, “Ah, no, no!”

Hearing the gun shot, Jacob sprang to action, he ran for his weapons near the dining table.

Gunny did the same, while Chef got to his feet and ran out the front door. “Don’t shoot, it’s me, Chef, don’t shoot!” he yelled waving his arms.

The radio had been left on the floor where Leigh dropped it. The gruff voice said, “Light it up. Kill them all.” 

Chef heard the radio and turned to run back inside but didn’t make it to the front door. A massive volley of gunfire erupted from three directions, the front, west side and south. By the time his body hit the deck, he had over sixteen shots in him.

Leigh grabbed Crusher’s rifle and crawled under the deck for cover.

Jacob flipped the table over and called out to Portia, “Get over here!”

Portia did as he said and leapt behind the table.

Hundreds of rounds peppered the sides of the house, shattering windows and splintering the wood siding. Inside the house, rounds smashed into the walls, furniture, mirrors, and light fixtures. Glass, sheetrock and paneling flew everywhere.

All Jacob and Portia could do was lay low, hoping the thick wood table provided adequate cover while Gunny took shelter in a closet under the stairs.

The hail of gunfire slowed then came to an abrupt end. Distant voices could be heard calling for ceasefire.

“Gunny?” Jacob called out.

“I’m good,” Gunny replied.

“How are you?” Jacob asked Portia.

“I think I’m fine,” she answered.

“Gunny, have you seen Leigh?”

“Nope.”

Jacob looked up but couldn’t see anything, the house was immersed in darkness and through the shattered windows he could make out the faint light coming from the red dot scopes. “They’re coming!”

Gunny exited the closet and went to the back of the house, he looked out and saw the same thing Jacob had seen. “They’re coming from the back.”

“It’s pitch black, the best thing to do is make a run for it. We’ll have the cover of night,” Jacob called out.

Gunny came back and flatly said, “I’m done running. I’m making my stand tonight. Plus you’ll need me, it may be pitch black but those assholes probably have night vision, you’re not going to get ten feet without someone seeing you.”

“I’m not staying here to die, we’ll make a run for the vehicles in the garage, it’s fifty yards away,” Jacob said.

“I’m an old man, tonight I fight. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll lay down some fire for you and the girl here.”

“Are you sure?” Jacob asked.

“Yeah, you go, get her to safety, I’ve lived a long life.”

“You’re a good man, Gunny,” Jacob said.

“Oh, shut up, I don’t want to hear a bunch of gushy sentiment,” Gunny said heading towards the stairs. “I’ll have a better vantage point upstairs. When you hear firing, run.”

Jacob and Portia got to their feet and slowly made their way to the front door and waited.

“Jacob is that you?” Leigh called out from under the deck.

“Holy shit, Leigh, you’re alive,” Jacob said just above a whisper.

“Takes more than a few hundred rounds to take me out,” she said, her voice carrying through the slats in the wood.

“We’re making a run for the vehicles in the garage, come with us,” Jacob offered.

“Where’s Gunny?” she asked.

“He’s staying, going to provide cover fire,” Jacob answered.

Leigh didn’t reply.

“No time, are you in or not?” Jacob asked.

“Yeah, I’ll go with you,” Leigh said and crawled to the end of the porch.

Gunny opened fire from a position on the second floor. In the distance the Marshals began to holler and call out as they took cover.

“Let’s go,” Jacob said taking Portia’s hand and raced out the front door. Together they leaped from the deck and hit the ground running.

Leigh sprinted from her position and caught up.

The Marshals returned fire on the house.

“Come on you sons of bitches, come and get me!” Gunny hollered and followed it up with a howl of joy.

Portia’s heart beat so hard it felt like it was going to burst. She counted each stride, knowing it basically equaled a yard. If she could make fifty, she was there.

“Runners on the right!” a voice cried out.

Rounds began to hit around Jacob, Portia and Leigh.

“Thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine,” Portia counted under her breath.

“Get some you mother fuckers!” Gunny screamed out.

“Forty-three, forty-four, forty-five,” Portia continued.

A shot whizzed by Leigh’s head. “Damn that was close.” A second round came but this one hit her in the left thigh, it went in and came out, but along its journey the five point five six millimeter round tore her artery. Her leg gave out and she tumbled to the ground.

“Leigh!” Jacob cried out. He stopped, picked her up and continued on.

“Fifty!” Portia said loudly but she was still sigh of reaching the garage by twenty feet.

“I’m bleeding badly,” Leigh said wincing in pain.

“You’re fine, nothing can happen to you,” Jacob said his voice cracking with emotion.

“Here,” Portia said reaching the garage. She flung the door open and ran inside.

Jacob and Leigh were just behind. When he crossed the threshold, Jacob tripped and both, he and Leigh fell to the ground hard.

Leigh grunted out in pain.

“Portia, here are the keys to the SUV, start it up, go,” Jacob ordered.

Portia took the keys and made for the SUV.

“Boss, I’m hit pretty fucking bad,” Leigh said.

Rounds started to hit the side of the garage.

“You’re going to be fine, you listen to me, you’re going to be fine,” Jacob said in an attempt to reassure Leigh.

The SUV roared to life, tossing light across the garage.

Now able to see her leg, Jacob was shocked at the volume of blood. He put his hand against the spot and applied pressure.

Knowing her fate was sealed, she placed her shaking hands on top of his and said softly, “Go, live a good life in Paradise.”

“I’m not leaving you,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears. For years he’d cared for her, but never wanted to express his feelings for concern it would be a distraction for the team.

She placed her left hand on his cheek and said, “Thank you for saving me all those years ago.”

He could see the life draining out of her. No matter how hard he pressed down on the wound, the blood kept pouring out. “No, please, don’t go, I need you.”

“You don’t need anyone, you’re the boss,” she said wiping a tear from his cheek.

“I’ll fix you, I will,” he said and pushed down as hard as he could against her leg.

The rounds kept slamming against the side of the garage.

Her hand wandered over her vest until it found Sally. “I’ve got my girl here. No, go, please, go.”

Portia watched the emotional scene play out and she too began to cry.

Heeding Leigh’s words, Jacob left her next to the truck and got inside the SUV.

“Go?” Portia asked.

He wiped the tears from his cheek, lowered the window, readied his rifle and said, “Drive.”


* * *

Gunny put up a fight but eventually, the odds and firepower were against him. After the Marshals’ cleared the main house and killed Gunny, they went to the outbuildings.

A young Marshal walked through the shattered door of the garage and discovered Leigh. “Ty, Aaron, guys, I’ve found another!”

Leigh took a labored breath and lifted her head.

Seeing her move the young Marshal cried out, “She’s alive, the chick is alive. Guys hurry up.” He walked over and shined a flashlight down on her.

Leigh was surrounded by a large pool of blood and her face was so white it almost looked translucent. Her hands were cradled in her lap with her legs spread out in front of her.

Six Marshals entered the garage, their individual lights casting a blinding light on her.

Aaron, the lead Marshal, stepped forward and knelt down to get a better look at Leigh. “Look fellas, she took a round through the thigh, you see that?” he asked pointing at the entry wound.

The others nodded.

“Now that’s a shot. By the amount of blood, that round cut through her artery and now the bitch is about to expire from blood loss,” he laughed.

“With her, that’s four, that means one got away, their leader,” Ty said.

“And he had someone with him, another woman,” the young Marshal said, excitement in his eyes at the prospect of torturing or even raping Leigh. “Senior Marshal Aaron, can we have some fun with her before she dies?”

Aaron stood, gave the young Marshal a hard look and asked, “Is that the kind of people you think we are?”

“Ah, but I thought…” the young Marshal said. He was new to the Marshals’ service.

“You thought right, go have fun boys, do whatever you want, she’ll be dead soon anyway.”

The men drew close to Leigh.

Another Marshal entered the barn bringing their number to eight total surrounding Leigh. “Senior Marshal, total count for us tonight is six KIA and seven wounded.”

“Fourteen,” Leigh muttered.

Aaron turned around and looked at Leigh, “Move out of the way.” The other stepped aside. “What did you say?” he asked her.

“Fourteen,” she answered, her eyes half open and a crooked smile on her face.

“Fourteen? What the hell does that mean?” Aaron asked.

Leigh exhaled her last breath. Her hands went limp, freeing Sally. The spoon flew off the grenade, it rolled between her legs and detonated.

CHAPTER 9

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SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Mindset. That’s all Kyle had going for him at the moment. Following over a week of fighting, beatings and torture he was now operating on nothing but pure willpower. After losing a couple hours because of the detour he pressed ahead to make up time, only stopping to refuel and urinate. He even ignored the screaming baby, a feat that was probably the toughest.

When he entered the Republic, hope began to rise in him. When he crossed into Salina, his hope turned to a rising confidence. Soon, he’d either find Portia or know where she wasn’t, then move onto the next stop. He had tried to call Jacob several times along the drive, but never reached him. The idea of a phone was great as long as the other person answered.

Now that he was in Salina, he’d be nearing the beginning of the end of his search. He rounded the last turn and up ahead stood the Rusty Nail. He wasn’t sure if this was the spot Jacob referenced in Salina, but it made logical sense.

He pulled the truck into the parking lot of the Rusty Nail and backed into a spot in the back. Across from him Conrad, the old lot guard, sat smoking a pipe. Today, he wasn’t going in to talk, today he was going in fight.

The baby began to stir and cry.

“Hey little guy, I’m sorry I don’t have milk or food, but I’ll have some soon, I promise,” Kyle said tickling the baby’s chubby cheek.

Kyle stepped out of the truck. He press checked two Glock 19s before stuffing them into holsters, one on his tactical vest and one on his hip. A third Glock 19 he kept on the seat of the truck, he’d carry that one in. He checked to make sure he had enough fully loaded magazines for his pistols and rifle, an old Daniel Defense MK18 carbine.

A whistle from across the parking lot jolted in out of his preps. He looked in the direction and saw one of the prostitutes standing near the back door smoking a cigarette. He nodded and went back to prepping. When his firearms were ready, he put Tommy’s Hoback knife on his vest, and attached Tommy’s axe on his left hip. An idea popped in his head, he looked back at the prostitute and waved her over.

She stomped on her marijuana cigarette and rushed over to him. “Look at you cowboy, you look like you mean business,” she said. She cocked her hip out and gave him a seductive look. She wasn’t older than seventeen and was wearing hot pants and a crop top with no bra underneath. Her blonde colored hair with roots hung down to her shoulders and her bangs were cut horizontally across her brow line.

“I do,” he replied reaching inside his backpack and pulling out a wad of Republic dollars. He handed them to her and said, “I need you to sit here with this baby until I return.”

“Baby?” she asked shocked by the request.

“Yeah,” he said nodding towards the child.

She looked in the cab and said, “Oh my, there is a baby, he’s so cute, or is it a girl?”

“Don’t know, haven’t checked. Can you feed and change him or her while I’m gone too?”

“I don’t know much about babies,” she said reluctant to take the proposition.

“Say, did you get some new girls in here a few days ago?” he asked.

“Yeah, ladies from The Collective, real prissy types,” the girl said.

“Any of them named Portia, average height, dark hair, lean build?” he asked.

“Nope, I don’t know any Portia,” she said smacking on gum. “You know, I’m not sure about this babysitting thing.”

“I’ll double the cash when I get back and I’ll toss in a bonus for you.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“I’ll set you free, you and all the girls,” he said putting his rifle sling over his shoulder.

“Free?”

“Yeah.”

“How ya’ going to do that?” she asked.

He looked her deep into her eyes and said, “Because, I’m going to kill everyone responsible for this place.”


ORDERVILLE, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

“Jacob, pull over,” Portia urged.

“No, we’re pushing all the way through,” Jacob replied. He was struggling to remain awake.

“Listen to me, you’re exhausted, I’m exhausted, let’s find a place to rest, just for a short bit, please,” she pleaded.

“I can’t, if we hadn’t stopped my team would be alive, Leigh would be alive,” Jacob said.

She put her hand on his and said, “That wasn’t your fault, that was Chef, he betrayed you and your friends.”

“How could he? After all those years together, he just turned us in. It all makes sense when I think about how he had been acting lately. For the past few days, every time we’d camp, we’d discover the Marshals are close behind. That bastard was giving them our coordinates.”

“It’s over now,” Portia said.

“And poor Leigh,” Jacob said fighting back tears.

“I didn’t know you two were together, I’m sorry,” she said.

“We weren’t, I mean we didn’t show the team our affection. I hid it for many years but had only recently opened up to her and now she’s gone.”

“Let’s pull over, please,” she again pleaded.

“Fine,” he said and immediately slowed and took the next dirt road off the old two lane highway. “We’ll park in that grove of trees,” he said pointing ahead some fifty feet.

“Perfect,” she said.

He pulled into the trees and turned the vehicle off. “We’re almost out of fuel.”

“We’ll take care of it later, let’s get some sleep,” she said, her eyes growing heavy.

“I’m really sorry about your husband,” he said.

“And I’m sorry about Leigh. Tell me more about Paradise.”

“What do you want to know?”

“How much further?”

“We’re almost in the Neutral Zone, then we go into Cartel country. If all goes smooth, we’ll be at the dock by tomorrow afternoon, so thirty some hours of driving.”

She yawned.

“You know something.


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We’re together because of pure fate. A simple call and now we’re sitting here,” he said looking over to see Portia was sleeping. He didn’t want to follow suit but it was becoming impossible. He removed his pistol and sat it on his lap. Leaning back he gazed south, closed his eyes and nodded off.

The drive through Cartel country wasn’t any more dangerous than anywhere else, it was a sparsely populated area due in part because of the Sonoran desert. After the war and the collapse of the grid, the once populated smaller cities emptied out, their population migrating northward towards what they hoped was abundant food and water. With no law and order, the Sinaloa Cartel moved in and quickly occupied, killing or enslaving those who remained. Conflict between the Republic and Cartel soon followed with both sides calling a truce and creating a barrier between their lands called the Neutral Zone. It was a band of land, twenty-miles wide that stretched along what had been the borders of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of New Mexico. The Cartel attempted to push east into New Mexico but ran up against a sizable force from the newly formed New Texas.

New Texas was a force to reckon with, they kept to themselves, but anyone who wished to compromise their sovereignty were quickly dispatched. New Texas was huge, spanning the former states of Texas, most of New Mexico, Oklahoma, southern parts of Arkansas and western Louisiana with their capital in Baytown, a port city in east Texas.

During the height of Jacob’s tenure with Leviathan, he and his team had operated in the southern part of the Republic, Sinaloa Cartel territory, and New Texas; they avoided The Collective and never entered California, unless the job would pay heavily. The once populace state suffered dearly from the war with dozens of high yield nuclear warheads hitting cities all along the coast and inland. From San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose and many of the military installations, the state had turned into one large wasteland west of the Sierra, Laguna and San Bernardino mountains. With civilization destroyed, roving tribes of Generates took control years back and had pushed east past the mountains, threatening the other nations.

The Generate problem was the real issue plaguing the land. However, like the leadership in The Collective, everyone was choosing to ignore it despite pleas from small towns and hamlets. Instead, the powers that be targeted a greater threat to their bottom line, Leviathan. With Leviathan in the cross hairs of every government, leader or warlord it put them all in a situation; stay and fight or leave. At the moment, Jacob was still on the path to leave but with his team now dead his decision wasn’t set in stone.


SALINA, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Kyle approached Conrad and stopped a foot from him.

Conrad barely gave him a glance before going back to whittling a chunk of wood. “You’re back. What’s your payment?”

“A group of slaves came in from The Collective, any of them named Portia?” Kyle asked.

Conrad peered over the reading glasses he’d gotten from Kyle before and asked, “Who wants to know?”

“I do,” Kyle said firmly.

Conrad looked at Kyle and saw he was holding a pistol in his right hand. “Don’t you look like Mr. Tough Guy? Um, any information will cost you.”

“How about your miserable life?” Kyle asked and put the pistol under Conrad’s chin. “Tell me if a woman by the name of Portia came here?”

“Listen, I don’t know shit, I just sit here and watch the parking lot,” Conrad begged dropping his knife and the carved piece of wood.

“You’re not helping yourself. This Glock has a five pound trigger pull. Being that I’m angry, it feels more like a two pound pull, and I’m squeezing it right now. I’d say you have half a trigger pull left to tell me what you know before your fucking brains end up all over the wall.”

“A truck came the other day, brought a bunch of them.”

“How many?” Kyle asked pushing the muzzle deeper into his chin.

“I didn’t count.”

“Guess then.”

“Oh, I don’t know, fifteen maybe,” Conrad stammered.

“Did they all stay?”

“No, some left, about nine or ten, but I swear I don’t know who or their names, I swear,” Conrad pleaded.

“How many men does Frank have in there?”

“Ten, he has ten.”

“Where are they usually?”

“Some hang in the bar, some are back with the girls and others have a break room near the back, for the most part everyone in there now is one of Frank’s men on the account it’s early in the morning.”

“Thank you,” Kyle said pulling the trigger.

The top of Conrad’s head exploded. The old man toppled off his stool and smashed into the ground.

“One down, eleven to go,” Kyle said, the eleventh being Frank by Kyle’s count. He shoved the pistol into his waistband, tossed open the door and entered the bar.

“Hey, no guns, read the fucking sign!” a large fat man hollered from the back of the bar. He was sitting at a table with three others playing cards.

Kyle brought his rifle into play. He raised it, flicked the selector switch to SEMI and began to fire. His first two shots struck the fat man, he made a subtle turn and shot the man to his right and another next to him. He pivoted to the left and shot that man. The men fell over or lay face down on the table, all were dead.

Screaming ensued as the few patrons and girls began to flee for cover.

Kyle wasn’t going to let anyone off the hook though, he leveled his rifle at a patron and squeezed two shots off striking the man in the back. He turned and engaged two more men, driving bullets deep into their chest. Clearly he’d changed the targets but after seeing these men preying on the girls, he decided to add them to the kill list.

The break room door flew open and three of Frank’s men came running out, weapons in hand.

Kyle turned and unloaded on them. All of his shots hitting.

The men didn’t have a chance and tumbled to the ground dead.

Kyle’s next destination was through the green door, he threw the door open and entered to find one of Frank’s men coming towards him. He was zipping up his pants and had his weapon under his arm. This was too easy, Kyle raised his rifle and fired, the first shot struck the man in the upper chest but no second shot came as the bolt locked to the rear. The man dropped to his knees and cried out in pain.

Kyle hit the magazine release. The empty magazine fell to the floor with a clang. He loaded a fresh magazine, hit the bolt release and squeezed two more shots off. The man fell backwards.

At the far end of the hall, a woman stuck her head out, looked at Kyle and screamed in terror before slamming the door shut.

“Portia are you here? Portia!” Kyle yelled. He walked to the first door on the right, kicked it open but found the room empty. He proceeded to the door opposite, this time he found a man in bed with a young girl. He leveled the rifle and drilled the man with two well placed shots to the chest. The young girl sprang out of bed, tripped and lay in the corner crying. Kyle said, “You’re safe now. Do you know a woman named Portia?”

The girl shook her head vigorously indicating she didn’t know anyone by that name, fear gripped her as she lay huddled on the floor.

“Put your clothes on and just wait for me to return.” Kyle exited the room, stepped over the first man he’d shot and went to the second set of doors. He stepped back to kick it open when a volley of bullets burst out of the door, two striking him in the chest. He stumbled back and grimaced in pain. His armor plates had saved him. He stepped forward, kicked the door open and stepped back. “Portia, are you in there?”

The man inside opened up again with a nine millimeter pistol, the bullets hitting the far hallway wall and door jam.

Kyle waited patiently for the pistol to empty. When he heard the distinct metal click of the slide locking back, he stepped into the open doorway and fired a burst of fire at the man who was hiding behind the bed. Kyle’s shots were true and the man fell over. Like before, Kyle told the girl in the room to get dressed and just wait.

Room to room, Kyle went until he had cleared them all, but came up empty handed. Finished, he proceeded back to the main bar. He peeked around the corner to see Frank talking with one of his men. “I don’t give a shit, find him and kill him, now!”

Kyle stepped out, his rifle pointed at Frank and hollered, “Frank, it’s over, all your men are dead. I’m here looking for a woman named Portia.”

Frank quickly raised his shotgun and pointed it at Kyle. “You’re a fucking dead man. You know that? The second the Republic finds out you attacked this place, you’re a wanted man.”

“Too late, I’m already a wanted man, now answer the question. Where’s Portia?”

“I don’t know any cunt named Portia!” Frank screamed.

Frank’s lone man, stood next to him behind the bar, his hands fiddling with something.

Kyle turned and shot him in the neck then trained the rifle back on Frank. “I said don’t move.”

Frank watched in horror as his man, gagged and choked, his neck squirting blood. The man stumbled back and fell down. “You’re a fucking dead man.”

“Where’s Portia?”

“I don’t know anyone named that!” Frank yelled back.

“She’s not here, she went south on the truck,” Candace said appearing from the red door.

Keeping his muzzle pointed at Frank, Kyle looked at Candace. “She’s not here?”

“No,” Candace answered fearlessly walking to Kyle and opening her hand to show Kyle the ring. “She gave this to me and said if someone came asking for her, this would prove she was here.”

Kyle glanced at the ring for a second then put his attention back on Frank. “Candace, go gather all the ladies, get everyone ready to leave.”

“Really?” she asked.

“Yes, you’re free.”

Candace turned and headed towards the Red door.

“You stop, Candy, don’t you dare get the girls. You’re not going anywhere!” Frank barked.

Candace stopped and turned to face Frank. “Fuck you, Frank!” she barked back holding up her middle finger.

Frank’s face turned red. He pivoted the shotgun in her direction.

Kyle was still trained on him and took the opportunity to fire. Several rounds blasted out of his rifle and struck him in the torso.

Frank reeled back, his finger pulling the trigger of the shotgun but the blast went into the ceiling.

Kyle ran towards him, hurdled the bar and found Frank on the floor coughing up blood. “You look like shit, Frank.”

“Fuck you,” Frank gargled.

Kyle let his rifle hang from the two point sling, he removed the axe, held it high then swung down, burying it deep into Franks’ face. “I told you I might come back.”


* * *

Candace rocked the swaddled baby in her arms and talked to her softly, “You’re so cute, yes you are.”

Seeing the tender and nurturing side of someone was a welcome reprieve for Kyle. Candace had agreed to take the baby girl, her gender finally identified. It was a happy ending for the child and for the girls from the Rusty Nail.

“You’re free, where will you go?” Kyle asked.

“Frank had a ranch, five miles up the road. We’ll go there for now. I know there aren’t any guarantees but we at least have a chance,” Candace said.

“That’s true,” Kyle said.

“I can’t thank you enough. Your friend said you were the hero type, I guess he was right after all,” Candace said flanked by twenty-two women and girls.

“I’m not so sure about that. You’ve got enough vehicles and weapons?” Kyle asked.

“Yep, we’ll be fine. And you’re sure you know where you’re going?” she asked referring to the Generate encampment.

“Yeah, I know it’s not exact coordinates, but I’ll find it and hopefully, Portia.”

Unable to resist, she leaned in and gave him a hug, “I hope you find her and if you do, tell her Candy did her part.”

“I will,” he said touching Portia’s ring that now hung from a leather strap around his neck.

“If you ever find your way back here, you have a place to stay, I circled it on the map.”

“Sounds good. I’ll say goodbye then,” Kyle said and hastily walked away. He wasn’t a fan of farewells so he always tried to shorten their duration.

“Goodbye… Kyle Grant,” Candace said.


SINALOA CARTEL CONTROLLED AREA

Portia sat up and opened her eyes. Around her was open desert. “Where are we?”

“You have been out for a long time,” Jacob said.

Portia rubbed her eyes and stretched. “This is so barren, dry. Are we in Arizona?”

“That’s what it used to be called, it’s now called Sinaloa. How nice they name their new country after themselves,” Jacob quipped.

“I’ve never seen the desert,” Portia said.

“Nothing here, makes for a boring drive but the bonus is we can go a hundred miles per hour,” Jacob said.

Portia leaned close to the windshield and gazed towards the southern horizon. “Is that blue sky?”

“A sliver, we get more glimpses of blue the further south we go.”

“I’ve seen it, just not all that much in Prime. I remember the sky was always blue when I was a kid, now it all seems like a dream, like the gray has been there forever.”

“I hear the sky is a deep blue in Paradise,” Jacob said.

“I can’t wait,” Portia said drawing her knees close to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.

“Listen, when we get to Puerto Penasco, we won’t have much time to board the boat and leave,” Jacob warned.

“Why?”

“On the account I lied to our cartel contact.”

“What did you tell them?”

“They allowed the boat to dock in exchange for a large food shipment from The Collective that I’m sure we’re not going to get. Tommy, a Leviathan who was doing a job in The Collective, was bringing a truck load to us. I haven’t heard from him so I can only assume he’s dead.”

“Why don’t we wait?”

“It’s best to leave, get on the boat and set sail before the cartel knows we’ve lied.”

“Okay, whatever you say,” Portia said reaching up towards her neck to play with the locket that normally hung there. When she recalled it was lost, she sighed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“You look upset,” Jacob said.

“I had a locket from Kyle but it was stolen. I’m just sad that I don’t have anything of his except memories.”

“Be happy, that’s more than most have. At least you had a decent life.”

“The Collective was horrible,” Portia countered.

“I know that’s your perspective but look at the world you were almost sold off into. Whatever you dealt with paired in comparison.”

She thought about his comment and concluded he was right. “Sorry, I’m just being a baby, I miss Kyle and just wanted to have something of his, something tangible.”

“It’s just about perspective, that’s all, soon enough we’ll be on our way to a new home.”

“I’m excited,” Portia declared.

“Me too.”


FISHLAKE NATIONAL FOREST, UTAH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN REPUBLIC

Just when Kyle thought he was lost he saw thin wisps of black smoke rising from the adjacent ridge line. He looked at the map and determined it had to be the Generate camp.

Unable to take his truck, he parked it in a thick massing of tall shrubs. Like he’d always done, he disabled the truck by removing the battery and several spark plugs. He could never be too careful.

The hike to the camp was a haul, after first descending five hundred feet, he made that climb plus another three hundred by his estimates.

The distinct smell of burnt embers hit his nostrils telling him he was close. He made the last dozen feet and stood on top of the ridge. Below him a large clearly spread out and the obvious remains of a Generate camp lay before him. To his right huts and to his left lay huge heaps of charred blackened wood and ash. Between it all were bloated bodies. It was clear the Generates had been attacked and he could only assume it was Leviathan. He trudged to the huts and began to search, he turned over every female body he came upon until he reached the makeshift tables and grills used for their ceremonies. Flies and other insects swarmed over the burnt human remains that lay there. Unable to go further because of the putrid smell, he pulled out a handkerchief and tied it to his face.

From the remains there were at least seven or eight bodies that had been dismembered and cooked.

Was one of them Portia? 

He thought. Putting aside his revulsion he went through the pile of limbs and torsos looking for something that would tell him she was among the dead. He started at the first table and moved left. As he headed to the last table his eye caught the glint of something in the tamped down grass. He picked it up and instantly recognized it as Portia’s locket. His legs began to feel weak and his stomach tightened. He fell to his knees and vomited. There was no doubt she was dead; and worse, murdered and consumed by savages. Deep sorrow overwhelmed him as he began to sob. He’d come so far only to find that the worst possible thing had happened to her. There would be no happy reunion, no, his life was forever changed. There was no amount of revenge that could temper the feeling of loss, but he’d try either way. He got to his feet, put the locket around his neck and headed back to his truck, an empty man but one with a new purpose; kill every Generate and slaver that crossed his path.


PUERTO PENASCO, SINALOA CARTEL CONTROLLED AREA

Upon seeing the expansive sea, Portia froze and stared in amazement. Having lived her entire life in the mountains the sight was beautiful and foreign, a feast for her eyes. The salty air filled her nostrils and washed over her face. Unable to resist, she removed her shoes and stepped out across the sand towards the water.

“You were serious when you said you’d never been anywhere other than The Collective,” Jacob said watching Portia walk towards the lapping water.

“It’s so beautiful. Is this the ocean?” she asked stepping into the warm water.

“Not technically, it’s the Sea of Cortez, or that’s what it used to be called.”

Her feet disappeared under the shifting sand and water. She wrapped her arms around herself and instantly thought of Kyle. Her heart ached knowing he was dead. If only he could be there with her to experience this.

“I know this seems nice, but where we’re going it’s a hundred times nicer,” Jacob said.

“Are you sure? How can such a place exist?” Portia asked her eyes still fixed on the horizon.

“That’s why they call it faith.”

She looked at Jacob over her shoulder and said, “I’m not sure I can thank you enough for saving me.”

“It’s what we do. Now come, the boat is ready,” Jacob said motioning towards forty foot sail boat tied to the side of the dock.

“I’ve never been on a boat before,” Portia said.

“It’s fun.”

Fun?  That wasn’t a word she used often. How could she enjoy something knowing Kyle was gone?

“Portia, come, let’s go,” Jacob urged.

She looked down and wiggled her toes enough so she could see them. Looking up towards the open water once more she took a mental snap shot. This was a moment she never wanted to forget. Today marked the first day of a new life. If Jacob was right and a Paradise existed out beyond the horizon, she’d soon be there; free of the burdens from her old life and with a hope that one day she could find love again.

“Portia, come on, they’re waiting for us,” Jacob said pointing towards the waving crew of the boat.

“I’m coming, I just wanted a moment to collect my thoughts,” she replied stepping out of the water. She picked up her shoes, and headed towards him.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, I just wish Kyle could be here with me.”

“He would want this for you, I know that.”

A man whistled from the boat and waved, “Time’s wasting!”

“Are you ready to go find Paradise?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

The two walked along the beach until they reached the dock.

An elderly man by the name of Winston stood on the aft of the boat smoking a pipe, he gave Jacob and Portia an annoyed looked before he snapped, “Anytime you two want to go would be nice. The cartel could show up anytime and change their bean eating minds.”

“We’re going old man, calm down,” Jacob laughed.

Portia leaned in and whispered, “Is he always that grumpy?”

“Pretty much,” Jacob admitted.

“Great.”

Jacob put his hand out and she took it. With a slight lift, he helped Portia climb onto the boat.

A young boy popped his head out from below. “Welcome aboard.”

“Oh, hello,” Portia said with a smile. “Who are you?”

“I’m Nathan,” the boy, who was about eleven answered.

“Shut your mouth boy and get back to work,” Winston barked. “Jacob, untie us, and be quick about it.”

Jacob did as he said and tossed the lines on board the boat and gave it a shove.

Winston turned a key. A small engine that powered a single prop near the keel of the boat came to life.

Portia turned and watched as the boat drifted away from the dock but Jacob wasn’t on board. “Jump, come on.”

Jacob shook his head and replied, “I’m staying. My fate is tied to these lands,” he said.

“But you said you were coming, all that talk!” Portia exclaimed, her face flush.

“I was when my team was going, but that all changed. I’m sorry, but I need to go start what I finished with the slavers and those marshals,” he hollered, the boat drifting further and further away.

“They’ll kill you, no please, come with us. Turn the boat around, now!” Portia ordered Winston who in return gave her a frown.

“If the man wishes to stay, he stays, simple,” Winston growled.

“Turn around, please,” Portia begged.

“Portia, you’ll be fine. I know Winston is gruff but he’s got a good heart and Nathan, don’t let his tenderness fool you, he’ll protect you, he’s tough and strong,” Jacob hollered.

“Why?” Portia asked flustered and sad.

“Goodbye, Portia Grant, live a good life,” Jacob said. He turned and walked towards the embankment.

Portia kept her eyes on him until he got in the SUV and drove over the hillside and out of sight. Her stomach was a ball of mixed emotions. In front of her lay open water, behind her a life that had given her moments of joy and love but mostly loneliness and stress. What will happen to me?  She asked herself and drifted off into deep thought.

“Don’t worry, ma’am, I’ll keep an eye out for ya’,” Nathan said taking a seat next to her.

Nathan’s sudden appear jolted her back to the present. With a gently smile she asked, “You’ll look after me.”

“You bet, ma’am, it’s what we do,” he said. It was a common phrase Jacob would say.

“Then I feel better already,” she said tucking the fine loose hairs that came loose from her ponytail behind her ears.

“Jacob saved me too,” Nathan confessed.

Not shocked to hear even after knowing Jacob for a short while, she replied, “He’s a good man.”

“And so is Winston back there. Like Jacob said, he’s got a good heart,” Nathan said glancing back at Winston who returned his glance with a scrunched face.

“Will we ever see Jacob again?”

“Ma’am I’ve been told to always be honest and the answer is simple, no. He’s on another path and he has a mission to fulfill. Believe me, I wish it weren’t the case but Jacob is gone, forever,” Nathan said.

“That makes me sad,” Portia frowned as she put her attention to the shifting water around her and noticed she couldn’t see land anymore. This made her a bit fearful but she also couldn’t escape feeling excited about the adventure she was on.

“Jacob said you were a teacher. Is that true?” Nathan asked.

“Yes, it is true, I was an elementary school teacher in The Collective,” she replied.

The boat rocked as it hit bigger waves.

“Good, then maybe you can show me how read and maybe even write?” Nathan asked sheepishly.

“You don’t…” she said before stopping herself from saying something insensitive. Not every child was given an education like The Collective. She didn’t know Nathan’s story but he was a post-war child and she had a feeling he had been a slave and educating slaves wasn’t a priority. “Of course and if you want we can start now.”

“Really?” Nathan said, his eyes wide with excitement.

“We’ll start with the alphabet. Have you ever heard of that before?”

Nathan shook his head.

She recited the letters of the alphabet then encouraged him to follow along.

As he did, she got up and headed towards the aft. “Any water?”

Winston grabbed a bottle and gave it to her.

“Thank you,” she said taking the bottle and taking a drink.

“Why are you bothering?” Winston asked nodding towards Nathan.

“Because everyone deserves a chance to learn,” Portia answered.

Winston grumbled, “He’s learned all he needs too.”

“If where we’re going is what Jacob says, he’ll need to know,” she said turning back to go sit down when a sliver of deep blue sky penetrated the gray clouds. She stared and longed for a day when she could see the entire sky blue. It had been many years since she’d seen that and sometimes she wondered if it really was blue or just a dream. And just as fast as it appeared, thick gray clouds covered it but didn’t darken her spirits. Whatever lay ahead gave her the promise of a new beginning and even if she were given the chance to turn around she’d turn it down. She didn’t know if anything about Paradise was going to be how Jacob described it, in fact it could all be wrong, however; the one fact she did have was it was going to be her new home.

CHAPTER10

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TEN MILES EAST OF CANON CITY, COLORADO, COLLECTIVE PROTECTED ZONE

ONE WEEK LATER

Kyle sat at the intersection. He could go east towards Pueblo. It was the most direct route, but the last reports he’d heard weeks ago had Generates there. The other option was south through more mountains then break east. Going through Pueblo was risky but it saved time and for him, time was everything, with that in mind, east it was.

He didn’t know what to expect when he entered New Texas. All he’d heard were rumors. Though The Collective had an open trading agreement with Baytown the shipments were always exchanged at the western border. Much like the Rocky Mountain Republic, the Texans didn’t take kindly to strangers.

He glanced through the gun port and saw the sun had just dipped below the horizon. Soon he’d need to find a place to bed down for the night. He wasn’t sure what was ahead but he did recall an old abandoned town just north of him. It was off route, but there were numerous buildings and one could provide the cover he’d need for the night. With his decision made, he turned the wheel left and hit the accelerator.

The road was narrow and winding, hugging along the sides of the steep hills to his right. He came up on a sharp S turn and slowed. Debris littered the road just ahead of him giving him pause as it looked like the perfect place to get ambushed. He carefully maneuvered around everything taking notice of a small drive to the right that cut up the steep slope, he didn’t recognize it. The last turn was just ahead. He drove around it and came face to face with a roadblock. He slammed on the brakes. With the road being narrow, he couldn’t turn around, his only choice was to go back and pull into that driveway he remembered seeing. He put the truck into reverse and began to retreat.

Bright lights kicked on and beamed down blinding him.

From behind a large five-ton military truck approached, blocking the road and preventing him from exiting. He was trapped with nowhere to go. Frustrated at his predicament, he slammed on the brakes and cursed, “Shit!” He wasn’t going anywhere. Was this it? Had he driven his last mile?  Not one to go out without a fight, he grabbed his rifle and readied himself for a gun fight.

“TURN OFF THE ENGINE AND EXIT THE TRUCK. KEEP YOUR HANDS HIGH OR WE WILL SHOOT!” boomed a voice from a bullhorn.

In front of him he counted eight shadowy figures approaching. He looked over his shoulder and through the rear gun port and saw some coming from behind.

“TURN OFF THE ENGINE AND EXIT THE TRUCK. KEEP YOUR HANDS HIGH OR WE WILL SHOOT!”

With only one choice, he did as they said. He turned off the truck’s engine, slowly opened the door and stuck his hands out to show he was unarmed.

“STEP OUT, KEEP YOUR HANDS HIGH!”

He did as they said. Once out he got a better visual. In front of him standing tall were eight armed men, all in uniform. Behind him he had the same.

“WALK TO THE FRONT OF YOUR VEHICLE AND PLACE YOUR HANDS AND FACE ON THE HOOD.”

He did as they ordered, praying they weren’t going to take him prisoner only to sell him into slave labor.

Several men surrounded him. One came forward and patted him down. “All clear.”

“Hey, who are you guys?” he asked.

Someone stepped up behind him and said, “You can get off the hood.”

“Thanks,” Kyle said wiping his hands and face off, then turned to see who had stopped him. Standing a foot away was a


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n older man in a camouflage uniform. “Hi.”

“Where you heading?” the man asked.

Finding no reason to lie, he told them the truth. “I’m heading to Adelaide, it’s an old ghost town. I’m looking for a place to rest for the night.”

“Where are you coming from?”

“The Collective,” he answered. His curiosity grew as he looked closer at their uniforms. “Say who are you? You guys look, legit.”

“We’ve heard reports the leader of The Collective is dead, is that true?”

“Yes,” Kyle answered.

“Are you just passing on rumors you’ve heard or do you really know?”

“I really know because I’m the one who killed him.”

A shocked look appeared on the man’s face. “You killed Xavier Smith?”

“Yes,” Kyle replied.

In the distance a man called out, “That means you’re Driver Eight.”

Kyle looked and saw a man approaching. He walked slow and deliberate. When he got close the others stepped out of his way. He walked up and stopped directly in front of Kyle. “Who are you and why did you stop me?”

“I’m Major Avery, but you sir, you’re the infamous Driver Eight,” Avery said holding out his hand. “It’s an honor to meet you.”

First he was being stopped and frisked, now he was being greeted with compliments. He took the man’s hand and shook. “Nice to meet you. Again, who are you?” Kyle asked motioning to all the soldiers and their vehicles.

“I hear you’re trying to get to Adelaide. Well, it’s off limits, sorry.”

“You’re not going to answer my question are you?”

“I think we have the prerogative.”

Kyle nodded. “Why is Adelaide off limits?”

“On the account we’re using it as a staging ground,” Avery answered. His arms folded in front of him. On his shoulders he had patches, one an American flag and on the other a unit patch. On his chest he had his name tapped over one pocket and US ARMY, over the other.

“Are you United States military?” Kyle asked, his tone clearly indicating he was shocked. “I thought you all had died off or disbanded. No one’s heard from anyone with the old government for…well, forever.”

“We are the United States Army and I can attest we haven’t disbanded and we’re all very much alive.”

“Where have you been?”

“Cheyenne Mountain,” Avery replied.

Kyle cracked a smile and chuckled. His chuckling quickly turned into laughter.

Avery looked at Kyle strangely, his brow furrowed, “What’s so funny?”

Kyle laughed so hard tears came to his eyes.

“Are you okay?” Avery continued.

“It’s a long, and I mean long story, but the irony of running into you guys now is comical.”

“I’m happy you find this humorous,” Avery said, his tone signaling he was becoming annoyed with Kyle.

Thoughts came of Tiffany and that fateful day. His laughter stopped as his face tightened and jaw

clenched, “Where were you when we needed you?”

“I don’t understand,” Avery said. “Are you feeling well?”

“I fine…” Kyle said and paused as he thought. “Scratch that, I’m not fine. I’ve driven these roads for almost two decades. I’ve been everywhere but no sign of you. Now you show up? Why? People needed you and you weren’t there.”

Avery broke eye contact with Kyle, he nodded and replied, “We’ve been regrouping.”

“For nineteen years?”

“It’s a long story,” Avery answered using Kyle’s own words.

“What are you staging for?”

“I’ll tell you what, come back to The Mountain. There we can debrief you on everything.”

“I can’t do that. I don’t have time to waste. So I’ll say my goodbyes and head back south. I’ll let you boys do whatever you’re doing,” Kyle said turning around and opening the door to his truck.

Avery nodded at a couple soldiers. They stepped towards Kyle, one slammed the door while the other took Kyle by the arm.

Kyle chuckled and said, “Let me guess, you insist?”

“Yeah, we’d like to talk to you about The Collective and what not,” Avery said.

“There’s nothing I can say to convince you?” Kyle asked knowing his fate was all but sealed.

“No and please, don’t make us force you.”

Kyle pulled his arm forcibly away from the solider and stepped up to Avery. “You’re old enough to remember. Tell me, there was a message on loop telling survivors to go to a set of coordinates. Was that real?”

Avery sighed and nodded, “It was. We took in an additional thousand before shutting it off about six weeks after. Why did you hear it?”

“Yeah, you could say that.”

“Why didn’t you come?” Avery asked sincerely.

Kyle didn’t answer. Once more thoughts came of Tiffany and that winding mountain pass. There wasn’t a day in the nineteen years since it happened that he hadn’t thought about it. Over and over he replayed the events trying to find an answer to the question of why. He blamed himself. If only they had left earlier, hell even later, if maybe they hadn’t stopped or if he had kept driving, just maybe he would have seen the warning signs and prevented it from happening. It was all a matter of space and time.

“Driver Eight, why didn’t you come?” Avery repeated.

Avery’s question interrupted Kyle’s troubled thoughts.

“Driver Eight?”

Kyle cracked a half smile and said, “I tried but you could say we ran into a little trouble. But now I’m here, after nineteen years. It must be some sort of fate, wouldn’t you say?”

“Does that mean you’re going to come willingly?”

“Of course.”

“Follow me,” Avery said, holding his arm out for Kyle to follow.

As the two men walked towards a Humvee on the far side of the roadblock, the thumping sounds of a helicopter’s rotor sounded overhead.

Kyle looked up and smiled at the sight of the helicopter as ideas of how he could use one came rushing to him.

“I’m sure the president is going to want to meet you,” Avery said.

“There’s still a president?”

“Yes, he’s new and the reason why we’re on the surface in force.”

“So the US of A is back, huh?”

“You could say that,” Avery replied.

The men reached the Humvee but just before getting in Kyle asked, “My truck?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll have it brought back to The Mountain and if you’re nice we might even detail it for you.”

Avery picked up the handset of his radio and keyed it, “Charlie Mike Actual, this is Romeo Three Actual, come in over.”

“This is Charlie Mike Actual.” 

“Be advised, I’m coming back to base with a package over. Please advise Rhino that we’ve secured a high value intelligence source and that he will want to be available for briefing.”

“Roger that.” 

“Romeo Three Actual out,” Avery said putting he hand set down. He gave Kyle a pleasant look and asked. “What do I call you? You know, what’s your name?”

“My name is…” Kyle said before stopping himself. Was he Kyle Grant anymore and if so, who was that or had he become someone else? If he answered honestly, he’d say, Kyle was the man who had failed two people he cared for most in the world. No, he wasn’t going to be that man anymore. When he was on the road driving, it wasn’t Kyle behind the wheel, it was Driver Eight. People didn’t know the name Kyle Grant, but everyone knew Driver Eight. That name was notorious and brought him respect and fear; two things one needed to survive on the open road. If he was going to see tomorrow and the day after, he was going to have to abandon Kyle and fully become who he was destined to be. He looked at Avery and said, “My name is Driver Eight.”


THE END OF BOOK ONE

BOOK TWO COMING NOVEMBER 30, 2017

PRE-ORDER DRIVER 8: DEAD END HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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G. Michael Hopf is the best-selling author of fourteen post-apocalyptic novels. He is a veteran of the Marine Corps, former Executive Protection agent and whiskey aficionado. He lives with his family in San Diego, CA.

Please feel free to contact him.

www.gmichaelhopf.com

www.facebook.com/gmichaelhopf


NOTE TO READERS

Thank you for reading. If you have time, please leave a review. Your perspective is valuable and provides future readers information to make discernable choice as to what to read.

BOOKS BY G. MICHAEL HOPF

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THE NEW WORLD SERIES

THE END

THE LONG ROAD

SANCTUARY

THE LINE OF DEPARTURE

BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS

THE RAZOR’S EDGE

THOSE WHO REMAIN


DETACHMENT

DETACHMENT BOOK ONE


THE VAN ZANT CHRONICLES

EXIT


NEMESIS

NEMESIS: INCEPTION


OTHER BOOKS

HOPE with A. American

EXTINCTION CYCLE: MOTHER

DAY OF RECKONING

Copyright

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Copyright © 2017

G. MICHAEL HOPF

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

For information contact:

[email protected]

www.gmichaelhopf.com

All rights reserved.

ISBN-13: 978-1979203234

ISBN-10: 1979203237


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