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Fatal Scales

Michael grinned to himself as he bent over the handlebars and pedaled steadily against the chilly November breeze. Grey clouds drifted across the sky above him, and at his back Kennesaw Mountain reached toward the sky.

It’s not every day you get to dress up like a bum, he thought. I hope I get through all right.

A car passed him and pulled into the used car lot on his left. Before the crisis of ’08 this had been a sparkling commercial district. After the crisis, it had gone slowly downhill, and after the crash of 2014 had deteriorated even further into rampant seediness. Now it was an empty parking-lot district, a haven for graffiti artists and the homeless.

Ahead to the left Michael saw an abandoned warehouse. Ivy grew on its concrete facing, and the windows were boarded over with faded plywood. He pulled in and walked his bike over the weed covered gravel to the front of the building.

“Hold it right there!” a female voice barked.

Michael stopped.

“Who are you?” the voice asked.

“Spider.”

“Okay. Who sent you?”

“Tabasco.”

“All right. I’ve been expecting you.”

The front door, also covered with what looked like solid plywood, swung open on concealed hinges. Michael was surprised to see a young Asian woman, perhaps about twenty. Her long black hair was pulled back in a no-nonsense pony-tail. She wore a black T-shirt and blue jeans, and in a leather holster on her hip she gracefully carried a pistol in flagrant disregard of the firearm ban.

“Come in,” she said, holding the door for him. “Bring the bike with you.” She locked the door, secured it with a crossbar, and followed him across the dark atrium. “Just leave the bike here.” She led him down a hall further into the building.

Michael followed warily. He was totally in her power now. The abandoned warehouse echoed under their footsteps. He shivered. “What’s your name?”

The girl laughed. “Most people call me Aden.” She turned left into what had formerly been a conference room and flipped the light switch. Two shielded work lights hanging from the ceiling came on, and Michael blinked.

To his left, directly beneath one of the lights was a large metal desk covered with stacks of paper. In front of him was a huge, ancient machine.

“What is that?” he asked “Aden.”

“Printing press,” she replied, sitting down in front to the desk and gesturing toward a stack of folding chairs. “So. What are you here for?”

“Well . . . The pigs are after me for jumping the state border – I took them on a bit of a chase and they’re riled up now. I’ve got some friends in Missouri who said I could stay with them if things got bad, but since the feds shut down the internet for good I haven’t been able to get in touch with them. Tabasco said you might know how to find them.”

Aden pursed her lips. “It might be possible. You know their names?”

“Yes.”

“We’ll see what we can do. For now you need a place to stay?”

“Yes. I guess.”

“Okay. Here in the warehouse all right for now?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” She turned to her desk, picked up a red pen and a stack of papers and began editing it. Michael realized the conversation was over. He stood up and walked over to the printing press, being careful not to touch anything. With its heavy gears and pulleys, it reminded him of a dinosaur. Something that belonged in a museum.

Behind it an electrical cord leading from a twelve-volt car battery was stapled to the sheetrock. On the far wall was a shelf of books. He’d never read any of them, but recognized most of the titles as being banned. Animal Farm, Boston’s Gun Bible, The Story of Anonymous, Unintended Consequences, The Anarchist Cookbook, Why I Will Die Young. Next to them were tidy files of different issues of a newspaper. “Can I read the paper?” he asked.

“What? Oh, sure.”

SAMIZDAT ATL: Voice of the Underground.

The first issue of a notorious incendiary newsletter. He read on.

The darkness is growing. Fear covers the earth, and the light of liberty is dying. But as long as the idea and the hope of liberty remain alive in one heart, it shall not die.

A shrill whistle sounded from the next room. Aden stood up and hurried to the doorway. Michael followed, curious. The meaning of the alarm became clear as he realized the room was filled with electronic security equipment. Someone had crossed a surveillance line at the front gate and was heading toward the building.

“That’s Whisker,” said Aden. “I’ve got to go let him in.” She turned and headed for the door. Michael glanced around the room and realized it held a surprising amount of communications and other electronic equipment. Shortwave receivers, ham transmitters, a pile of signal flares, Morse code keys, computers, modems. He watched Aden on the inside camera monitor as she unbarred the door. She was brave, he thought, and nice. Even, he admitted, kind of cute. Forget that, he told himself. Focus.

He went down to the main room and sat down with the newspaper. In a moment Aden and “Whisker” came in.

“That sounds good,” Aden was saying. “Now I believe you’re to take some of these books? I’m getting a bit of a pileup. We’ve got to keep them spread out.”

“Yes, someone wanted The Code Book, and someone wanted One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I believe that’s it.”

Whisker was an old man, maybe sixty-five, with a slight limp. He spoke with an easy southern drawl.

“You know anyone in Missouri?” Aden asked.

“Yeah, my wife’s folks live over there. Why?”

“He,” she nodded toward Michael, “wants to get over there off radar.”

“Ah. My nephew’s driving over to Alabama tomorrow. Might be able to line jump and keep going. You willing?” He looked at Michael.

Michael shrugged. “Sure.” Things were moving faster than he’d expected.

Whisker talked with Aden for a few minutes, then picked up a stack of the latest Samizdat ATL and turned to go. “I’ll send him by here after dark this evening.”
Michael nodded and watched him and Aden head for the door. When she returned, he asked, “Where can I go to the bathroom?”

“There’s a room down the hall on the right. You’ll see it. Be careful of the water tank; it’s tricky to get closed all the way.”
He found the room, pulled out his cell phone, dialed a number and waited.

“You in?”

“Yeah. But I’m supposed to be out by tonight.”

“What time?”

“After dark.”

A pause, then, “We’ll be in position by eighteen-hundred-thirty.”

“Roger that. I’ll take down the surveillance and communications. Be careful. She’s armed.”

“You’re in with her. Be careful yourself.”

“Yeah. I’ve gotta go.”

He switched off the phone and returned to the office. Aden looked up and smiled at him. “You hungry?” she asked.

“I could eat something,” he answered with a grin.

Aden opened a cabinet and pulled out two cans of soup. She heated them over a small gas camping stove, then poured herself and Michael each a bowl.

“So,” Michael asked as they ate, “Why do you do all this?” He gestured to the contraband books and the printing press. “Since it’s illegal and all . . . .”

She thought for a moment, then answered. “It’s a long story. Back in ’08, my parents had just invested all the money they had in a housing investment firm – a little one. It went under, and they lost all their money, while the big banks and corporations got bailed out. It pretty much killed my dad; he started drinking and committed suicide a few years later. That’s when I really realized what was going on.” She paused and looked down at her soup. “We still had the internet then. I researched a bunch of stuff, and wrote some articles, and joined some protest groups. Eventually I wanted to go to college, but someone looked at my records and decided I was a ‘socially undesirable element,’ so of course there was no hope of that.

“After the college fiasco, I started my little paper, just as a hobby more or less, but after the internet got shut down it became a real news source to the underground. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time with the right connections.” She grinned. “Now, of course, I’m not the only one. There’s dozens of underground publications in Atlanta alone. But that’s the way it should be. If I get shut down, nothing should change. The resistance will continue.”

“Yeah,” said Michael, but his thoughts were elsewhere. He’d also been hurt by the crisis and then the crash had dashed his hopes of getting a college loan. But instead of fighting the system, he’d realized the only way to get ahead was to realize its inevitability and use it as a means of success.

Aden’s voice broke into his thoughts. “It’s getting dark. Whisker’s nephew should get here soon. You have everything you need?”

“What? Yeah.”

“You look distracted. Worried?”

“Not really.”

Aden left her bowl on the table and went back to her desk. “Just leave your bowl. I’ll clean up later.”

“Okay.” Michael waited, trying not to show his anxiety, trying to think about something else. The only job he’d been able to get after being from college was in fast-food, and he’d hated that. The long hours, the grease, the obnoxious customers. And then one day he’d met a recruiter.

Wreeet! Michael jumped as the alarm cut into his thoughts. Aden went down to open the door for Whisker’s nephew. Michael headed for the surveillance room. He unplugged the computer and the screens went black. He flipped open his phone and hit redial.

“Ready for us?”

Michael paused for a moment, envisioning the thicket around the deserted warehouse crawling with agents in bulletproof vests and armed with fully-automatic machine guns. Aden – she was nice, brave, cute – and a socially undesirable element.

“Yeah, come on in.”

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“Comparison”

Yes we’re different
Not by much
But it makes a difference
Doesn’t it?

Coddling by State is your highest achievement
Never mind you have no mind of your own
The security of slaves is your lot
We don’t grudge it to you

We’re the loners. For government we have no use
Unfortunately you have determined to mold us into your collective will.
You and your benign Masters can try.
But remember. We’re different.

“Apathy”

If fog comes on little cat feet, 
Apathy comes in fog. 
Sunshine of activity, knowledge, liberty, 
Fades to muddled madness. 
The children call for justice their parents cannot ken, 
Thoughts of action muted by reality. 
Imagined obstacles overmount rebellion, 
Destiny darkens. 

The light goes out.

Rant

4th of July

eat apple pie

ain’t gonna

 

was Russia

we know they revolted

grew bigger

thirty-thousand died in Afghanistan

men knowing homeland

killed with boltguns

revolted us

 

we prospered and grew

bigger

fifty-thousand died in Vietnam

 

two powers

battling

for dominion

power

rules all

the rockets red glare

we kill they kill you kill I kill he she it kill

hated those who destroyed freedom

murdered those with freedom

 

we know

 

now we who understand

command you

who press forward

to backwardness

in corruption of technology

revolting domination

 

Stop.

 

we desire not blood of other nations

desire not blood of our own.

 

ye are strangers

in our country

we are strangers in our own country

 

ye were our brethren

ye have rejected our mother and father

we have remained

 

we endure

 

we were many in community

we are few

but in unity

 

ye are scattered

and ye cannot understand

the deed without a name

ye do

 

more than murder

ye have rejected life

we embrace it

 

for what is life without liberty

but death of the mind

and soul

and spirit

 

in the wind

 

we hear the cries

let our people go

we will never submit

surrender

to your chains

whips

and jails

 

we are one of a city

two of a family

striving

warring

 

against the flood

 

we have not yet resisted unto blood

but our blood will flow

in rivers

in torrents

kindling the fires

setting the captives free

 

ye can do nothing

 

and the fire shall devour you

 

ye shall fade away

 

we also shall be consumed

yet shall remain

a living seed

filled with the promise

 

the End is near

but the End has begun

the Beginning of Life.

“Why?”

A cool wind rustled the dark green oak trees along the edge of the berm. On the range below, Isaac Davison rolled over onto one elbow and wiped the sweat out of his eyes with the back of his sleeve. “Feels good, doesn’t it?” he asked his shooting partner Larry.

 

“It’s gonna get real hot pretty soon,” he replied. “It usually does.” He pushed a ten-round magazine up into the well of his M1A, dropped his right cheek onto the stock, and began shifting to find his natural point of aim. Isaac sighed, lay back in position, and followed his example, inserting the clip of 30-06 into his Garand and bringing his sights on target.

 

After he finished his eight shots he unslung and pushed up his muffs.

 

“How you think you did?” asked Larry, doing the same.

 

“Not so hot. Two I called low and to the right. And I think my sling slipped on the last one there. You?”

 

“I don’t think I did too bad. Let’s go look.”

 

Isaac reached the target line first. “Whaddya mean not too bad? You didn’t get one shot outside the 9-ring.”

 

“I mean I didn’t get all Vs.”

 

“Right. Oh well, you won that round. There’s my two 8s down there and a 7 up where my sling slipped. Shall we try again?”

 

They walked back to the 200 yard line and lay down. “I heard the CMP is having a sale on .22 match ammo,” said Larry.

 

“That so? I should probably get some. I don’t know how much I have, but it’s been a while since I bought any. And all the prices on ammo keep going up.”

 

“This stuff was a pretty good deal. I forget exactly what it was, but I was definitely going to pick some up. Say, are you going to the open carry demonstration up in Tennessee next Saturday? José and I were planning to drive up together, but we wanted to know if you were interested in coming along.”

 

Isaac looked at his friend in surprise. Rarely did Larry venture beyond the range, library, and grocery store. “You know, I’d like to, but Mary Ann and Bethany are coming over Saturday.”

 

“I forgot. Some other time maybe.”

 

“Sure. Tell José I’d have liked to come, but it just didn’t pan out.”

 

“Will do.”

 

* * *

 

Isaac sat with his daughter and granddaughter on the back deck, eating a late lunch and talking of their various activities.

 

“Granddad, can I come to the range sometime?” asked Bethany. Dad said he’d get me an M1 for my birthday, but I haven’t shot my .22 in a long time and I want to practice some.”

 

“You shot it just before New Year’s,” corrected her mother. “That’s not a long time ago.”

 

“Well, all right. But it has been a while. May I, Granddad?”

 

“I suppose. I’d take you over this afternoon, but that would aggravate George. Does he have a weekend off from soccer anytime soon?” George was Isaac’s twelve year old, soccer crazy grandson. He and his father went to practices almost every weekend.

 

Mary Ann thought for a moment. “Two weekends from today should be free,” she said. “You could go then. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled.”

 

Isaac was sure too. George enjoyed shooting not because he enjoyed hitting the paper, but because he enjoyed making a bang. His muzzle control was atrocious, and Isaac often thought days on the range would be much more relaxed if someone would just give the kid a bundle of firecrackers.

 

“Patrick’s invited too, of course,” he said, referring to his son-in-law, as he and Mary Ann began to clear the dishes. “If he cares to come.”

 

“I’ll tell him,” she said.

 

Bethany had wandered down to the garden, and Isaac watched her walking between the rows, reaching down every few feet to uproot an weed that caught her eye. “She’s growing up,” he commented. “Almost eighteen. I remember when you were that age.”

 

“And a rough age it was,” laughed his daughter.

 

The faint sound of the telephone reached the deck. Isaac pushed open the glass door, laid the plates he was carrying on the counter, and picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

 

“Hello Isaac? This is José,” said the familiar accented voice. “You know how Larry and I were going to drive to Tennessee for the rally, but then the thing with my wife came up and it didn’t work out for me to go, so Larry went up by himself?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“The man who organized the rally just called me and said Larry had been arrested.”

 

“What?” He must have heard wrong. Larry? What could they have arrested him for?

 

“Yes,” José was saying, “for something about starting a riot. Apparently it’s something to do with crossing a state line…. I don’t have all the details. Do you want John’s number?”

 

“John?”

 

“The man who organized the rally.”

 

“Yeah, give it to me.” Isaac fumbled for a pencil and copied down the number. “Thanks José. I’m sure it’s some mistake.”

 

“I hope so,” said José, and wished him a good afternoon.

 

Isaac absentmindedly hung up the phone and turned around. Mary Ann was sitting at the table watching him. He sat down in the chair across from her and rested his head in his hands. Larry arrested? What a joke.

 

“Dad?” he heard his daughter asking. “Dad, are you all right?”

 

He looked at her blankly. “Yeah. I’m fine.”

 

She looked at him quizzically, than seemed to realize he wanted to be alone and went to the porch door. “The garden is certainly doing well,” she commented.

 

“Um,” grunted Isaac.

 

The door swung shut.

 

* * *

 

Lady Gaga was crooning her latest hit when the alarm came on at 5:30 the next morning. Isaac rolled out of bed and quickly switched it off. He dressed hurriedly, buckled on his pistol, ate a bowl of instant oatmeal, and headed for the truck. Within a few minutes he was on the freeway, headed east toward Tennessee.

 

By eight he was driving around downtown Nerrad, trying to find directions to the county jail. Of course it had to be Sunday, so the courthouse was shut up tight, and even the two loiterers sitting on the bench in the town square couldn’t — or wouldn’t — tell him its location.

 

Isaac rounded the corner and found himself in the parking lot of the police department. Someone here ought to be able to tell him where the jail was. He tossed his camo jacket over the Garand lying between the front seats, walked up the cement steps to the dilapidated brick building, and opened the door. A chime sounded, and a middleaged, heavyset blond looked up from her magazine behind the desk. “What can I do for you, Sir?” she asked.

 

“I’ve got a few questions. First off, what do you know about Larry Balarn?”

 

“That guy they brought in yesterday for disturbn’ the peace? He got took down to the county jail as of last night.”

 

“Arrested for disturbing the peace? You know anything specific he did?”

 

“Sure don’t.” The woman shrugged and looked about to return to her magazine.

 

Isaac sighed. “Could you tell me where the jail is?” he asked.

 

“Where the jail’s at?” The woman seemed elated at the prospect of ridding her office of this intruder. She briskly pulled out a map of the county and a pen and showed him how to find his way to the main government complex several miles north. “And the jail’s just up on the left,” she said cheerily. “You can’t miss it.”

 

Isaac couldn’t. The razorblade barbed wire, the tinted-window surveillance towers, and the drab block walls all served to make the Nerrad County Jail unmistakable. He parked and walked into the jail.

 

“No weapons,” said the guard behind the desk, pointing to Isaac’s hip.

 

“Sorry about that,” said Isaac, and walked back out to put his pistol in the glove compartment.

 

When he returned, he showed his I.D., emptied his pockets, passed through the metal detectors, and was led down a narrow cement corridor to a room with three grungy couches.

 

“Wait here,” ordered the guard, and disappeared through another secure door. Isaac remained standing. A security camera stared down from the corner, and an air vent hummed from the ceiling. The secure door swung open again, and Larry walked in ahead of the guard.

 

He sank dejectedly into one corner of the couch nearest the door. Then he sat up straight and grinned at Isaac. “I sure didn’t expect to get arrested coming up here,” he said.

 

“What’d you do?”

 

“Oh, we were all talking about how the government is overstepping its bounds and ignoring the Second Amendment and all the rest of the Bill of Rights, and I said something about how I’d fought for this country and would do it again, and any government that would try to take away my rights would deserve to be overthrown, and ought to be, even if it pretended to be our own. Well, then they came and arrested me. Accused me of intent to incite a riot or some such nonsense.”

 

“I see.”

 

“Well, that’s the story.”

Isaac exploded. “Talk about the government overstepping its bounds. Intent to incite a riot indeed! There’s this thing called freedom of speech I guess they’ve never heard of.”

 

“Careful,” said Larry, “or they’ll have you in here for causing another ruckus.”

 

* * *

 

The blue lights flashed out of the thunderstorm onto his rearview mirror just before he reached the Tennessee/Georgia border. Isaac pulled onto the shoulder, turned off the engine, and sat watching the raindrops roll down his windshield. Thunder pounded somewhere off in the distance. He glanced at his mirror. The door to the patrol car was opening now.

 

* * *

 

What idiot would call at two in the morning? Bethany rolled out of bed and tiptoed down the hall. “No,” she heard her mother say. “No, it can’t be.”

 

* * *

 

Bethany’s birthday dawned oppressively hot and still. The ceremony was short, a good thing because of the armies of mosquitoes and gnats that buzzed around the mourners. She watched from the edge of the parking lot as they lowered the coffin. She could hear her mother behind her, telling it again. “– and they say they thought he had a gun drawn, but when they searched his pistol was in the glove compartment, and –”

 

She didn’t need to hear it again. They’d killed her grandfather. She clenched her fists. She had her rifle now. A Garand, just like his had been. She would keep his memory alive. She would.

 

–Junie Sparrow

Salamanders

We were sitting on the steps of the bank, not even chanting, “We are The 99%.” Just sitting. Waiting. Talking quietly among ourselves. The march wasn’t supposed to start for another half hour, but we’d decided to show up early. So had they.

It was an unmarked white van. It pulled into the curb on the other side of the street and the doors opened to release a stream of black coated thugs, fully equipped with body armor, tear gas, and their little tacti-cool rubber bullet guns. The four of us looked at each other, then at the army of them. The van couldn’t have fit more than fifteen people, but at least to me it looked like about twice that number were heading for us.

We weren’t going to run. That had been decided beforehand in case of such an occurrence. But I thought about it for about a half second before I got knocked down and handcuffed.

They were swearing at us. Over to my left Mike was wriggling. Maybe they kicked him; I’m not sure. It it’s hard to think coherently with your face against the asphalt.

Someone with a bullhorn was chanting. “Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.” I twisted around and looked up the street. About a dozen protesters were headed resolutely toward us. They scattered, though, as a tear gas canister landed directly in front of them. But the chants of shame were growing louder. People had begun to filter into the area from everywhere, not just more protesters, but civilians too. All around us the cry filled the street as we were dragged to the van, our captors silenced by the crowd of bystanders. We rolled off.

We spent the night on cement, but were released early the next morning. I’ll never forget what it was like to see so many people responding to the violence against us by speaking up against the violence. We are awakening. Maybe we’ve got a shot.

–Amy Farmer