I’d give a lot to say that my prediction came true but as with all things in life there are always those surprises. It isn’t that Matt wasn’t prosecuted for his crimes. And it isn’t that Matt didn’t go to jail for those crimes. It isn’t even that Matt wasn’t scheduled to be executed for his crimes. All three of those took place. Except the execution never took place. Somehow, some way Matt managed to find a way to pull himself out of the ashes at the last second.
“Easy Son, I’m only relaying what came down the information pipeline.”
“No. No way. My uncle … He’s alive?!”
We were all in shock. Well angry too as we were still recovering from hearing that Matt had been transferred to federal custody and moved to a facility out west.
Mr. Houchins had thought it important enough – and potentially upsetting enough – that he had Lon bring him to the Home Place. Honestly, when I first saw his face I thought there had been a death in the family; instead we find out that it was the opposite and it was for Jax. Of course, Jax reacted to it almost like it was a death.
It took a while to get the whole story – weeks and months of time as bits and pieces would reach us so that a clear picture and timeline could be constructed. Rather than dying Matt’s father had been bodily co-opted by certain powers that be to save what infrastructure assets could be saved in certain locations out in Colorado. Why Colorado? Possibly because of his experience with dams. However, what those assets were in the beginning have never been clear as it seemed that no matter what they tried the cascading effect of failures kept them on the move hopping from one bad spot to another. All we knew is that Matt was gone and not coming back. Ultimately we had no choice but to accept that what energies we had needed to be focused on our own survival. There was a bitterness that would have probably overtaken us if we hadn’t had so many other things that needed our full attention.
I was pregnant. Boy was I pregnant. To the hilarity of all, except for Jax and I, we eventually presented Kelly with a set of twin brothers. And this in the midst of Ginger’s pregnancy where Jax and I got our turn when poor Reggie collapsed upon hearing he had a daughter. Ginger and I went into labor within twelve hours of each other and Jax swore that if any of us did that to him again he’d cork half of us and tie a knot in the other half and that was all he was saying on the subject.
It took a month before Johnson and Alex could even get up the nerve to tell him that they’d miscounted as well and were due one of their own six or seven months down the road. I thought poor Jax was going to hyperventilate. Lon and Vern had a lot of fun at our expense, calling the Home Place the “Rabbit Hutch” on the radio. Or at least they did until their daughters informed them they’d be grandfathers sooner rather than later.
Time and energy. They were suddenly in very short supply for everyone; and what there was seemed to get away from us and move too fast. It took not one year but two for everyone to move to their own places year round. They tried to work it out that first year but what sufficed in the Spring, Summer, and Fall was simply too inadequate for the winter.
On top of the micro-environment we lived in, there were a great many changes that came during those two years out in the rest of the world. The war we faced was unlike any the world had seen before. World War One was supposed to have been the war to end all wars. It wasn’t. World War Two was supposed to take care of the problems left over from WW1. It didn’t. World War Three was … well it was terrible. There are still places on earth not fit for human habitation, some of them even here in this country. Not even the technology we have today is speeding up the process of the earth healing from the wounds inflicted upon it.
In hindsight had the war just been one of nuclear attrition it would have been over in a short period of time. Instead what we had to deal with was the occasional limited nuclear exchange, as well as some dirty bombs deployed by terrorists that never claimed responsibility out of fear of retaliation. There was also bioterrorism and the use of so many conventional weapons that we wondered where all of it was coming from.
During those two years something happened in our own government and there was a … I guess basically the Pentagon took control of the Executive Branch of the government because the Executive Branch either had their head in the sand or in their own backsides and nothing was getting accomplished. Many of them simply hid in the “continuity of government” bunkers waiting for the end of the world to get over with. Those that weren’t running around like lunatics or frozen like ice dummies were throwing the men and women of our armed forces around in such a way as it was plain that they had no understanding of war and no care that their ill-thought out chess moves were resulting in hundreds and thousands of our forces dying or being so injured they could not go back to fight another day. It was at that point that the Pentagon finally put a boot to the backsides of some that hadn’t expected it and changed the game from chaos and insanity back to one that, while not bloodless, relied on real strategy that had as its endgame a true win and not just a “last man standing” type of mentality.
While the Pentagon took care of the war outside our borders they were more than happy to allow Congress and the state governments to take care of what was going on inside the country. Surprisingly, many that were blatant screw ups on the international playing field were actually fierce warriors with some sense on our home turf. The first that accomplished was that Canada and the US formed a mutual aid treaty and combined forces to secure our borders against enemies both foreign and domestic. And by domestic I mean that you could practice your Constitutional right and protest but if you were found to be participating in terrorism of some type, you were likely to find yourself on a transport and dropped off in a war zone and you could choose to fight … or you could die … but you didn’t have time for sitting around making a nuisance of yourself. And the federal law already in place regarding crossing state lines to participate in violent protests and/or riots was strictly enforced. Immigrants, legal or otherwise, also found themselves caught up and shipped out to war zones. That type of deportation order could happen whether the person was male or female and aged fifteen or older. The rationale was that if you were old enough to learn to drive, you were old enough to learn to shoot.
With the worst of the “agitators and terrorists” under control – real or imagined – the federal government instituted a public works program. With most forms of fiat currency in the tank those in the know considered it too economically dangerous to just hand out dollars to a small cross section of the population they were putting to work so they did the next best thing … barter credits. And they actually did something quite brilliant; rather than paying people in credits by the hour they paid in work credits by the job. This gave people that were motivated the opportunity to complete as many jobs and/or projects as they could handle. It also gave people the opportunity to build a team and then share the resulting credits between them. It was like thousands of independent contractors were created overnight.
How we got involved in our area is that it started in salvaging. The town really was almost too big of a mess to be worth saving but there were some structures and a boatload of materials that would be a crime to waste. We’d already gotten quite a bit of salvaged building materials the year before; none of us seemed to want to play pioneer and live in what amounted to a log-style lean to. Our experience put us head and shoulders above the outside crews that were brought in and fairly soon Ashton became sought after anytime a particularly tricky problem arose. Obviously enough Reggie became the go to for demolition work when a little “boom” was required.
Jax was a good shade tree mechanic that helped keep the tools and machinery up and running until they found out he had some medical training. He was then reassigned to the small clinic that was erected in the old Town Green. The clinic served the work crews and anyone else that happened to be able to make their way there. Jax was finally getting the training he’d always wanted. I was proud of him. More importantly Jax began to be proud of himself and most of the baggage that he’d been carrying around finally disappeared.
Mr. Houchins grew his farm even more by taking over some of the other farms in the area. No one objected and the food was desperately needed. He traded food for the building supplies the reclamation crews salvaged. He would use those building supplies to build homes for his growing clan, taking the pressure off of the farmhouse and getting them out of the travel trailers and tents that were beginning to break down and need replacing.
The other thing Mr. Houchins traded his crops for were supplies for rebuilding Ray’s Landing. There was a small tussle when the militia wanted to confiscate all of their work but peace reigned when that particular militia was discovered to not have registered with the state and were therefore not officially recognized or sanctioned. It also turned out that they were a militia in name only and were more akin to a roving band of thieves, living off of whomever was too weak to defend themselves. There were many such groups in those days and it took the end of the war to take away their excuse for existence.
During that second and then third year I went through a time where I wondered what I was supposed to do with my life, I was even maybe jealous. It came to a head when we found that Gennie’s family – what remained of it – had been looking for her. Strangely it was Jules that had returned with the news.
He had indeed left during that second winter and we hadn’t heard from him in two years. No one said it aloud but everyone, including Aiden, suspected he was dead. He hadn’t died, he’d gotten drafted after being in a brawl at a refugee camp where he’d been trying to trace his family. While he was serving out his term he got friendly with the techs that ran the huge databases where they were trying to count the dead and the living. After his tour was over and he was released he simply continued working with them, doing what he could to reconnect families who’d been separated by the war, finding relatives willing to take guardianship of children orphaned by it, and reconnected families with their elders that were desperately in need of help themselves. It was a job that seemed to bring him a peace he hadn’t had for a long, long time.
He put in everyone’s information – except for Jax and I since he knew we knew about our own families – and eventually Gennie’s information popped up that she was being sought. Knowing us he brought the news himself and he also told what he’d found out about the families. Reggie’s father and brother had died not long after the initial attack when it was discovered they’d secretly taken items from the town that wound up being contaminated. In fact that happened to several of the adults on those buses that left and never came back. Ginger’s family died in quarantine as did Ashley’s. Ashton’s parents were alive but refused, for a long time, to believe that Ashton was. Guilt is a powerful emotion and apparently they’d been baring quite a bit of it for some time. It was several years before they finally reunited and both sides could come to terms with what had happened. Everyone else’s story lay somewhere between those two extremes and are theirs to tell if they want it published.
After Gennie left it was like a hole had opened up in my carefully constructed world. She and I had made truce and I’d done what I can to help her even if it was without any appreciation. She had a lot of issues and I had to accept that I just wasn’t equipped to help her any further down her life road. It was then that I took a long look at myself and face my personal reality. I tried to deal with my regrets but only part way succeeded. I was never going to college. I was never going to be known as that smart girl that everyone thought was a little weird but had potential. Everyone was off finding their own path. I struggled to find my identity. Kelly and the twins were my life, as was the Home Place, but I was gazing off at that road not taken and wondering where it might have led.
I buried my frustrations the best that I could and put all of my energy into the kids and the farm. After all, most of the time it was back to just being me again. The others were building their own lives and didn’t need me. Jax was spending a lot of time at the clinic in town and was too tired by the time he got home to really see what I was going through. I existed like this for months. And then the past reared its ugly head … only at the time I didn’t recognize it for what it was.