Authors: Noah Mann
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Dystopian, #Post-Apocalyptic, #survivalist, #prepper, #survival, #Preparation, #bug out, #post apocalypse, #apocalypse
© 2014 Noah Mann
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, events, locations, or situations is coincidental.
ust south of Arlee, at the checkpoint on Route 93, I watched two soldiers from the Montana National Guard shoot a man who refused to disarm after stepping from his ten-year-old pickup.
I saw it from three cars back, my window rolled down, enough of the exchange drifting past the idling engines ahead that it was clear the man, who looked about fifty and was as anonymous to me as his killers, had reached some tipping point. One too many roadblocks, it might have been, having to exit his vehicle and have his shoes checked for spores, his tires sprayed down with chemicals the public had been assured were harmless to all but the invasive blight the concoction was designed to eradicate. Or one too many times having to surrender his sidearm, worn open instead of concealed, a practice that was either a longstanding preference of the man, or a statement of defiance.
He could just as easily have kept his weapon concealed beneath a coat or untucked shirt, as mine was while the incident unfolded, and the part-time soldiers would have never exerted the authority they’d been granted to ‘Temporarily Disarm Travelers of Visible Weapons’ while operating the checkpoint. The edict had come down from some federal bureaucracy with exactly that wording, and was stated explicitly on signage visible as one approached any one of the dozen checkpoints I’d passed through in the west of Montana, sometimes on a daily basis. Checkpoints that dotted the whole of the nation now like way stations where freedoms the populace had taken for granted were suspended. Most surrendered their rights willingly in the belief they did so for some greater good.
The man near Arlee was no longer one of those people.
He became the immovable object standing against the unstoppable force, a collision that ended with the FDA agent supervising the checkpoint screaming at the Guardsmen to ‘secure the troublemaker’.
Secure the troublemaker...
They moved toward him, he reached for his pistol, rifle shots cracked sharp, and the man went down. Drivers in their cars ducked down, terrified. I didn’t. I should have, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. The event held me rapt. Playing out like some slow motion human tragedy, lifeblood spilling from the man and puddling on the dirty shoulder of the road beneath the endless blue summer sky.
It was terrible enough to witness that, but what happened next cemented the belief I held, one that had been building over the past several weeks, that things had fundamentally changed. The benign distrust and disgust that had been simmering between citizen and government for more than a decade now manifested itself as something not external to the power structure, but
it. The organs of the state were rotting from the inside. I knew this for certain when one of the Guardsmen, after standing over the body of the man he’d shot, turned to face the FDA official and leveled his rifle at the incredulous man, eyeing him with withering contempt before emptying what remained in his magazine into him. The functionary from Washington spun and crumpled onto the hot asphalt as other Guardsmen rushed their comrade, taking him to ground in what looked a rugby scrum decked in woodland camouflage.
Screams rose. The killer Guardsman broke free of the attempt to subdue him, abandoning his empty rifle and drawing his sidearm. He chambered a round and waved the pistol at his fellow Guardsmen. Young men who were most likely friends. Possibly even close friends. They held back and tried to talk him out of his weapon as a National Guard lieutenant raced toward the scene from the checkpoint’s command post some hundred yards up the road.
The killer Guardsman, who news reports would later identify as twenty-four year old Kyle Ames of Bozeman, saw his superior rushing his way, drawing his own sidearm, screaming at the young man to drop his weapon. But he didn’t. In an act that might have been the most honorable thing I witnessed while stopped at that checkpoint, Kyle Ames raised his pistol and put it under his chin and pulled the trigger.
The maelstrom of screams that began with the first volley of shots spun loud and desperate now, from cars where travelers huddled in fear, and from uniformed young men and women paralyzed by what they’d just witnessed. Orders were shouted. Radio calls went out. It was chaos.
But in my pickup, some sense of calm filled me. I didn’t know how to explain it right then, but in the days and weeks that followed I was able to think back to that moment and began to realize that that I’d been, oddly, fortunate to witness what I had. In an instant, there, on that lonely stretch of highway, my eyes were opened to accept what was going to come. Had I not seen that, up close, without the filter of a television screen and talking head journalist between myself and the truth, I might never have believed what an old friend, my oldest friend, was going to tell me after summer turned to fall.
y foreman stood with me in my office and stared at the TV mounted to the wall, the both of us quietly incredulous at the images being broadcast, the same on every channel, talking heads trying to give context to what the audience was seeing. None was needed. What had happened was as plain as day. The amateur video told the story.
“Can you believe this?” Marco asked, expecting no answer. “This is insane.”
The truth was, I could believe it. It had been two months since the shooting at Arlee. There’d been other incidents around the nation, if reports sneaking past official attempts to quash them were accurate. There were no reasons to think they weren’t. Especially for me. I’d seen it happen.
And now it was happening again. On a larger scale.
“How could they do that?” Marco asked. The question, this time, seemed directed to some higher power. One that might, in some infinite wisdom, be able to explain, if not justify, what we were seeing.
And what we were seeing was clear. Horrific and clear. Recorded from an Arizona highway by a motorist stopped to document a glorious sunset on his phone’s camera, the twenty second video began with two bright spots against the darkening sky, one small, one large, both moving fast and low. Aircraft, it was clear, the larger one seeming to be leading the smaller one. Or, what it was in actuality, the smaller one chasing the larger one.
An exclamation from the man recording the incident preceded a stream of hot white specks spewing from the smaller aircraft. Then a curse from him as he realized that he was watching cannon fire from an Air Force fighter slice into a passenger jet, sending the larger plane into a wobbling descent as a wing sheared off, trailing fire, the whole of the fuselage disappearing behind a hill where a fireball bubbled skyward just before the sickly crack of an explosion reached the cameraman.
Every station was playing the footage detailing the final seconds of Flight 82. The final seconds of the one hundred and ninety souls aboard. People who had been trapped on the wrong side of the southern border when it was closed a week earlier. American citizens just wanting to get home to their families. Unrest spreading north from Central America had forced them into a desperate act, with the full cooperation of the flight crew. The story being reported indicated that the veteran pilots had filed a flight plan from Mexico City to Jamaica, but shortly after takeoff deviated from that and flew north toward the United States. Radio communications with the plane revealed that neither pilots nor passengers believed they would face any serious resistance to their return.
They were wrong.
“This is all kinds of crazy,” Marco commented, shaking his head, as angry as I’d ever seen him. The kind of anger that couldn’t be directed at any one thing, or person.
Things had gotten worse. Worse than checkpoints where citizens were shot down for doing nothing more than going about their daily lives. Now they were being shot out of the sky. Terrorists could fly jets into buildings, but Americans who just wanted to come home were dropped like some sort of enemy invaders.
Marco was right to be incredulous at everything. The checkpoints. The federal raids on warehouses holding ‘unapproved imports’. Corn chips and cereal, for God’s sake. They were sending in SWAT teams to confiscate snacks and breakfast foods simply because a single ingredient in them had come from a country where the blight had
It was hard to believe this had all started almost a year ago in a potato field in Poland, a hundred miles from the capital, Warsaw, when a farmer saw a spot on a leaf. A small patch of grey that might have been a gathering of dust clinging to morning dew.
But it wasn’t.
The farmer had first noticed the blemish when it was no larger than the tip of his thumb. He paid it no great attention, and only recalled that he’d seen it at all a week later when his entire crop, nearly a hundred acres, was little more than a wilting landscape of grey death, rotting and reeking. Local officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development examined the field, took samples, but could offer no explanations to the farmer as to why a field that had been in his family for nearly two hundred years seemed suddenly afflicted with some terrible disease. They promised to look into it further, but had little more they could offer him beyond sympathy and vague assurances.
One of the visiting officials left the site and traveled 30 miles to his next appointment. A routine stop at another farm where cabbage grew as far as the eye could see. He was there to deliver an inspection report to the farmer approving his use of a new automated bundling and baling system. He’d known the man for several years and on this visit spent an hour talking with him as they strolled between the rows of bright green cabbage, microscopic spores shedding from the official’s boots with each step he took.
A week later not a head of cabbage was left viable on the farm. Ten days after that, not a single crop of any foodstuff within 100 miles was anything more than a pile of noxious organic waste. Government functionaries from Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania struggled to understand the relentless disease spreading across their lands. They tallied the damage in lost product and increased cost of imported food for their population. But, to a person, every single brain the affected governments were throwing at the problem insisted the agricultural malady could, and would, be alleviated.
Then the pine trees began dying.
The story of how the blight had been discovered, and how it had spread in less than a year across Europe and Asia, finally arriving in South America, had been blasted across news outlets with the urgency of some approaching asteroid. One savvy network had even branded the unknown disease ‘The Blight’ in a stroke of marketing genius. And, with every story that told of the consequences a worldwide spread of the affliction would bring, equally vehement reassurances came from governments near and far. The United States, in particular, provided expert upon expert to detail the steps being taken to contain, identify, and, eventually, eradicate the blight.