SHYLOH WAS ABOUT TO go to bed to prepare for his early start and long drive when someone knocked on his door. He opened it and Taalia pushed past him and entered his apartment.
“Close the door.”
Shyloh looked outside. A large, dark SUV was idling across the street. This wouldn’t be a long visit. He closed the door
Taalia stood with her arms folded staring at him. She was in battle-dress.
“I know what you’re planning and if I do Judith does as well.”
“Should I make us some tea?”
“No tea, Shyloh.”
He needed time to think, so he continued as if he hadn’t heard her. There was no point lying, but how he explained it could make a lot of difference. He had thought by keeping the plan as simple as possible and setting it in motion immediately they might be able to pull it off. He wondered how Taalia had found out and if Jenny was safe?
“What plan are you referring to?” He said, once kettle was on and herbs had been spooned into two cups.
Taalia shot him a look that was pure Judith. She didn’t resemble her mother nor was she like her which right now was probably lucky for him, but many of their mannerism were the same.
“Listen to me, Shyloh. Stay out of this. There’s lots going on and the last thing I need is to worry about you.”
“Thank you for your concern, Taalia, but you needn’t worry about me.” The water was boiling, he poured it into the cups and offered her one. She shook her head, so he put the cup on the table.
“You’re back on active duty?” he said.
“I can’t protect you.”
“I understand what’s at stake and the risk, Taalia. I’ve been there before.”
“Judith will kill you, don’t think she won’t.”
“I have no illusions about your mother.”
“And Aiya? Now she’s siding with the fascists.”
“You didn’t hear her speech? She’s come out in favour of more military spending, the five kilometre buffer zone, whatever it takes to protect Cascadia against intolerance, injustice and inhumanity.”
From his previous meeting with the two former members of the Triumvirate Shyloh got the impression that was how Aiya felt, but he didn’t think she’d state it publicly. Taalia’s assessment wasn’t much of an exaggeration, the intertwining of government and religion was textbook fascism. Sides were being drawn up.
“What’s really going on, Taalia?”
There was a knock on the door. Taalia drew her sidearm.
“Code Bluebird, Colonel,” the voice outside the door said.
“Understood.” Taalia holstered her pistol. “I’ve got to go.” She started for the door, then stopped, turned and hugged Shyloh. “I’d suggest you disappear for the next few days.”
As soon as Taalia was gone Shyloh grabbed his bag with his shaving kit and a change of clothes and left the apartment. He crossed the common area, went out the back gate and walked two blocks to where he’d parked the rented van. He’d leave now, while he still could.
He drove on side streets until he was as certain he wasn’t being followed, then found an entrance to the freeway and headed east.
As the city lights gave way to dark landscape, he began to relax and process what he’d learned from Taalia’s visit.
The stakes were high in this election and the outcome would have significant impact on the future of Cascadia. Apparently some factions in the country didn’t think the voters were capable deciding their own destiny and sought to influence their decision with a campaign of fake news and disinformation and if that didn’t work who knew to what other lengths they’d go.
Maybe Judith was as committed to the future of Cascadia as he was and saw the only way to preserve this oasis of civilized society was by building walls, specifically electrified fences, establishing buffer zones sown with antipersonnel mines, and conducting devastating preemptive attacks on potential enemies.
Maybe Aiya looked back at the millions of humans who’d been slaughtered in religious wars and saw one religion with her at its leader as the path to a better world.
If that was what the majority of his fellow citizens wanted then he might not like it, but he’d have to abide by it, at least until the next election. Democracy was about the rule of law and the reason those laws were obeyed and endured was because they represented the will of the majority of the people. It was a bottom-up process and anything else lead to discontent and eventually violence. Shyloh had seen it time and time again, self-determination ranked right up there with the most basic of human needs and was almost as essential.
And so it would be with the upcoming election, the voters would ultimately decide, but to make that most important of decisions, how to cast their vote, they needed the truth.
Shyloh wanted to make sure they had it. He was not going to sit back and let others manipulate his destiny and the destiny of his country.
If Judith came out on top of this power struggle, she could consolidate power and the actual Premier would be little more than a puppet. She’d have done it again only this time she’d been more subtle about it.
He couldn’t see any other course of action. Sometimes you had to do something and if it wasn’t the right you’d know and then could try other options–if you were still alive.
Just before the small town of Hope he pulled into a rest area, drove to the far end and stopped. He’d get a few hours sleep and continue his journey in the morning. He always felt more optimistic in the morning, at least the sun had come up.
* * *
THERE WAS LITTLE TRAFFIC and Shyloh noticed how the population was more dispersed throughout the countryside than he remembered
The city’s and towns were smaller and there were more hamlets and villages some not even indicated on the map.
As Shyloh neared Creston, he pulled off the highway at a roadside vendor situated at the junction of a rural dirt road that lead to one such settlement.
“Does this place have a name?” he asked a young girl.
“Yes, but does it have a name?”
“Home, that’s its name.”
Shyloh bought some peaches and cherries.
“How long has it been here?”
The young girl gave him a strange look. “Here comes my dad, you can ask him.” A horse-drawn cart came up the road.
“He wants to know how long we’ve been here, Daddy.”
Her father smiled. “Eleven years, I guess. Cassie was just a baby.”
Josh was a car mechanic now farmer. Home was home for him and three other families, total population fourteen.
“Ever have any trouble with raiders?”
“No one has for some time, but were about forty kilometres from the border.”
“What about the raid on the farm last month?”
“I heard about that. Funny thing, no one knew the family or exactly where their farm was.”
Shyloh looked across the field to the orchard beyond. “Looks like the entire population and then some are out picking fruit.”
“This time of year we hire some neighbours to help us get the crop in.”
SHYLOH CHECKED INTO the Skimmerhorn Inn just outside of Creston in the early afternoon. Chang hadn’t arrived yet, so he took a shower and meditated in preparation for what could be a long, sleepless night.
At six in the evening Chang knocked on the door to his motel room.
“Any problems?” she said.
“Were you followed? Do you think anyone has revealed our plan?”
“I’m not aware of anyone,” Shyloh said.
“Do you think it’s too late to call this off?” Chang appeared agitated. “We could drive back to Vancouver with empty vans. We haven’t broken any laws.”
“If you don’t break this story somebody else will.”
“You’re right. And the timing couldn’t be better.”
Chang walked to the window and closed the curtains. She took a map from her shoulder bag and spread it on a desk.
“Once it’s dark, we’ll leave and head east on Highway 3, then take the Canyon Road cutoff and go south. Turn left on 36th Street and we’re heading east again and watching for the first road on our right. That’s Lloyd Road. We head south three kilometres and stop.”
“Wait. Once they’re sure we aren’t being followed they’ll contact us and lead us to the rendezvous.”
“What do we do for the next three hours until it’s dark?”
“I’m going to try to get some sleep,” Chang said. She looked like she needed it. “Once we pick them up, it’s a long drive back to Vancouver.”
“You’ve got a safe house all lined up once we get there?”
“Okay, see you in a few hours.”
The reporter was losing her nerve. If he’d told her a high-ranking officer in the CSF and likely others had learned of their plan, he was sure she would have called it off.
After Taalia’s visit, Shyloh decided he’d proceed with the plan regardless of who knew. Right from the inception he doubted the scheme would achieve its desired goals, or at least his. The witnesses credibility would be tested and found lacking, the weapons as evidence could easily be explained, plausible deniability was built in throughout the chain of decision making. The government would not fall, no individuals would be held accountable, the impact on the outcome of the election would be nil.
If Judith knew about the plan as Taalia had suggested and felt threatened or arrogant enough to make a move to thwart it Shyloh saw a possibility of still attaining his objectives. He didn’t want Chang to get spooked, because she had the contacts, so he hadn’t revealed that they were compromised.
Shyloh hoped he’d read Taalia right. She’d told him he was at risk because her conscience would not let her do otherwise. However, she had the authority to detain individuals without charge and hold them for up to fourteen days on the suspicion of terrorism. She could have stopped him and she didn’t.
Shyloh hoped she was thinking the same thing he was. If not a lot of people could be killed, himself included.
* * *
“WHAT TIME IS IT?” CHANG said.
Shyloh had left his van and was sitting beside Chang in hers. “Eleven-forty-five.”
“We’ve been here over an hour. It must be obvious by now we weren’t followed.”
They’d past the last street light three kilometres back when they turned onto the tree shrouded dirt road. The darkness was impenetrable yet Shyloh suspected someone, perhaps even a number of people knew exactly where they were. In fact, he was counting on it.
“Jenny, it’s me David.” A voice, then a face of a young man at the open driver’s window.
“Shit, David. You almost scared me to death.”
“Sorry. Move over, I’ll drive.” He got in the van as Jenny slid over.
“I’ll follow,” Shyloh said, and returned to his vehicle.
After a ten-minute ride they came out onto a paved road. They traveled along it briefly before turning onto an access road that lead to a farm. They parked beside the barn.
A group of people including children were gathered under the light in the middle of the structure. Everyone stopped talking when then entered and remained silent.
A man about Shyloh’s age broke away from the group and came forward.
“I’m Josh Myers, this is my place.”
“I’m Jenny Chang, the journalist, this is–”
“Shyloh,” Josh said. “I’m honored to meet you.”
Shyloh pressed his palms together and bowed his head slightly. He counted seventeen people including themselves. Assuming David, Jenny’s contact, stayed, they could fit everybody in.
“Okay, then. We don’t have any time to waste. Let’s figure out who rides with whom.” Chang’s anxiety was making everyone nervous.
“Does any one have any questions?” Shyloh said.
“What’s going to happen when we get to the capital? Will we be prisoners?” The woman had three young children around her, Shyloh guessed they ranged from about six to ten years of age.
“We’ve arranged for you to stay in a safe house. There’ll be interviews by the media and interrogations by our military. You won’t be able to leave without being chaperoned. Within a couple of days some of you will be asked to give testimony at an enquiry.”
“And then what?” a young man said. He held a camera at arm’s length and appeared to be making a video of the event.
“I’m asking for amnesty for you and the opportunity to apply for refugee status.”
“What if we don’t get it? What if you’re overruled?”
“That’s not likely, however, this opportunity is not without risk,” Shyloh said. “Hundreds of Cascadians have been murdered in border raids in the last decade. There’s those on both sides of the border who would continue this meaningless slaughter. It’s up to us to convince the majority of citizens that peace is possible, that these raids will end, and we can live side by side in harmony for our mutual benefit.”
These people looked desperate. Returning to their existing way of life didn’t seem to be an option.
“Any more questions?” Jenny said.
There was silence.
“Okay, lets get underway.”
It was decided two families would ride with Jenny. They included Josh, the Cascadian who owned the property and an American woman and her two children.
“They arrived on at my door seven months ago.” Josh was explaining to Shyloh. “Her husband had refused to take part in a border raid and had been lynched by the commander of the local militia. It was either take them in or turn them over to the CSF. With our policy of immediate repatriation for illegals that meant they’d be killed by the militia or starve.”
“You have no family of your own?”
“Had three kids. All died a while back from the Zombie flu. My wife as well.”
Her other passengers included a husband and wife and their infant.
A family of five would ride with Shyloh as well as and two young men.
“Where do you want the weapons?” one of the men said.
Shyloh looked over the arsenal laid out on a plastic tarp. There were four automatic rifles, ammunition cartridges and three pistols.
“A grenade launcher adapter. Fits on the automatic rifles.”
“And you are?”
“You’d better give me the gun you’re wearing.”
“If we get stopped, the only thing that gun will do is get you killed.
Jackson checked the safety lever and handed Shyloh the gun.
“Is it loaded?”
Shyloh put the pistol in his jacket pocket. “Can you come over here?” He hailed the young man shooting video with his camera.
“What’s your name?”
“Can you please take a picture of all this, Robert?”
“Why not make a movie of our entire journey,” Shyloh said. “Okay?”
“Let’s put the weapons in my van.”
A half hour after they had arrived they were on their way back to Vancouver. Shyloh checked his watch. It was half past midnight. If they survived until dawn they might have a chance.
The two vans drove back through Creston and west on Highway 3 with Chang taking the lead. In the second van Shyloh drove while the children slept and the adults were silent.
Robert sat up front with Shyloh, the camera on the dash.
“Where are you from, Robert?”
“Originally the New Orleans area.”
“How did you end up here?”
“Things got pretty impossible, what with flooding from rising sea levels and storm surges, and the malaria. People were getting desperate, doing crazy stuff. My parents heard it was healthier in the Pacific Northwest and decided to take the family on a road trip to check it out. My brother and I knew we weren’t coming back, I mean to what?”
“So after about a week, we got no money, no food, and no one was looking to help us and we end up in Missoula, you know where that is?”
“It’s a government refugee camp, thousands of tents, really squalid conditions. Almost right away my Mom gets sick, she had type two diabetes and had run out her meds. So she dies of pneumonia and my Dad’s a broken man. He says it’s his fault, we should go back to New Orleans, he’d find work in the trades. He had a small contracting company, me and my brother worked with him. And we’re like, you’re crazy, Dad. There’s nothing back there but disease and rising water.”
Shyloh checked his watch. They had been travelling for an hour and had just passed through Salmo. There was no traffic, and they were making good time. Seven hours to safety.
“My brother and I are carpenters, don’t have our tickets, Dad taught us what we needed to know, so one day we’re doing some repairs on the camp latrine and this guy comes up to us and says he can get us out of there. He says they can use guys with our skills in Coeur d’Alene. They’re a group of White Nationalists who want to build a separate state based on Christian values and the Constitution.
“Len and I never had anything against blacks. We worked on the same jobs sights together, some even worked for my Dad in better times, but this guy could have told us anything, we just wanted to get out of there. Dad had lost his mind by then. He was either sleeping or talking crazy talk. So we said what the hell, what have we got to lose.”
“Did you ever participate in raids across the border?”
“No. We never did get to Coeur d’Alene either. We kept heading north and picking up more people was we went. Sort of a caravan controlled by these military types dressed in fatigues and carrying automatic weapons.
“One afternoon we stopped by a river, it was hot and a few of us decided to go for a swim. I guess we were nearly at their camp. There was a blinding flash and nine out of eleven trucks were replaced by a huge hole in the road and debris falling all around including body parts. I guess some were my brother’s.
“They claimed it was laser missile launched from a drone. They said you guys were responsible.”
“When was that?”
“Maybe six months ago.”
“So what happened after that?”
“The few who were left ended up in a training camp. We trained during the day; small arms practice, how to make an I.E.D. At night lots of propaganda about white genocide, crap like that. None one of us had the stomach to go kill and rob farmers and their families. The first mission they sent us on, once we were far enough away from the base, one guy killed the leader and the rest of us took off.”
Shyloh notice a pickup parked on the shoulder as they sped past, then watched in the rear-view mirror as headlights appeared. They were being followed
“How do you live?” he said.
“By my wits mostly. There’ are quite a few homesteaders, little clutches of families. I do field work, help out where I can. Most be people in the valley don’t pay too much notice of the border. I’ve worked on farms and orchards on both sides. I was helping Josh build an extension to his house when this opportunity came up. The buffer zone’s going to displace a lot of people.”
“What about protection for Cascadians?”
“People like me ain’t the problem. It’s your military and those white supremacists. Every once in a while they make a sweep and take young men and boys for their cause and your black-op guys bring the weapons.
“I figure the best way to keep everybody safe is help the homesteaders on the American side establish themselves. That’s your buffer zone. People who’ll fight for a better life.”
Could Robert’s testimony, and others like him, change minds? Shyloh hoped he’d have an opportunity to find out.
Chang’s brake lights came on and Shyloh slowed down. They came around a bend and he could see the pink haze of road flares ahead. He searched for an exit road to turn onto but, of course, there were none. Beyond the narrow shoulder was a deep ditch, beyond the ditch forest.
Chang’s van stopped. The headlights illuminated a pickup truck blocking the highway, beside the truck, four men all in black wearing balaclava’s, pointed automatic weapons at them. The vehicle that had been following stopped fifty metres behind Shyloh.
One of the armed men up went up to Chang’s van and said something to her.
“Are you recording this, Robert?”
As he approached the second van Shyloh looked for identifying insignia. There was none. The uniform was generic black ops worn by mercenaries throughout the world.
“Get as much as you can without them noticing, then eject the memory card and stuff it in your sock,” Shyloh said.
He got to the van and pointed the weapon in Shyloh’s face. “Follow the pickup,” he said. “Don’t do anything stupid and no one will get hurt.” He returned to the vehicle and two men got in the bed of the truck while the other two got in the cab.
The four vehicle convoy moved down the highway a hundred metres and then turned onto a dirt road and into an open, flat field and stopped. Before the headlights were extinguished Shyloh saw the silhouette of a helicopter.
The vans emptied and occupants were lined up against them. One of the armed men came up to Shyloh.
“Come with me.”
Dressed in combat fatigues, standing by the helicopter was Judith. She looked relaxed and confident.
“What are you doing, Judith?”
“The only reason I’m here and you’re getting an explanation is because of our special relationship.”
Perhaps, Shyloh thought, but it was more likely she was unsure of her recruits and wanted to be certain the mission wasn’t botched.
“When I learned the reporter, Chang, had told you about what she suspected I wasn’t worried. Surely you would see that her story had no credibility whatsoever.
“When you contacted us to sound out our intentions, I told Aiya to not be forthcoming. You might have suspicions, but that was all. Aiya said we should tell you about our plan. She was convinced you’d support it. I wasn’t so sure, besides I didn’t think we needed you. But lately, as you may have noticed, Aiya seems to think she is omniscient. You don’t question her.”
Shyloh could hear Jenny yelling, children crying and Robert trying to be reassuring. Judith ignored it all as did her troops.
“After you refused to join, we couldn’t take a chance you’d find some way to derail the future, at least I couldn’t. You’ve always been resourceful to say the least. The problem was how to silence you without causing more problems for ourselves. I could hardly have you assassinated.
“So when you bought into that reporter’s ridiculous plan it was perfect. You’ll be killed by the same raiders you hoped to negotiate a ceasefire with.”
“You knew my every move.”
“Age old inducements supplemented by modern technology. No one can keep secrets any more.”
“What about all these other innocent people?”
“You should have taken my advice.”
“Why are you doing this, Judith?”
“Why? Cascadia is at risk whether you and your like want to believe it or not. Cuts to the military are unacceptable and while politicians dither the survival of our country is at stake.”
“It’s the same argument you used before,” Shyloh said. “The people saw through it before and they will again.”
Judith laughed. “The people won’t even know. And besides, this time I have God on my side.”
All the occupants from the vans were lined up against the vehicles with four of the mercenaries standing directly behind them. The lights of the pickup trucks illuminated everything like a movie set.
“I’m sorry it had to end this way. I spared you twenty-five years ago, but I can’t now. You understand.”
A single rifle shot broke the stillness. One of the mercenaries lurched back against a pickup and rolled off.
An amplified voice filled the night. “This is the Cascadian Security Forces. You are surrounded, drop your weapons. Immediately.”
From every direction shadowy figures cloaked in shrouds of leaves and moss, their grim faces smudged with camo-paint appeared out of the darkness with weapons poised to fire.
Two military troop trucks roared down the highway bouncing onto the access road and skidding to a stop in the field. More soldiers leaped out.
“Stand down,” Judith said. “Drop your weapons.”
The W.I.S.E. recruits obeyed. CSF troops surrounded them while others attended to the civilians.
“That means you too, General Wolfe. Drop your sidearm and place it on the ground.” One of the Special Forces members approached, automatic weapon trained on Judith.
“Taalia?” Shyloh said.
Judith drew her Browning 9 mm and aimed it at Shyloh. “This man’s my prisoner,” Judith said. “He was smuggling enemy agents and arms into Cascadia.”
“Put your sidearm on the ground, Judith,” Taalia said. “Stand aside, Shyloh.”
Shyloh stepped into the shadows. He felt the handgun in his pocket.
Judith ignored the command. She turned her weapon on her daughter. “You’re disobeying a superior officer during a military operation. I’ll have you executed.”
“CSF has taken control of the W.I.S.E. compound. You’re under military arrest for conspiracy to undermine the democratic government of Cascadia.”
Judith smiled. “You’re making a mistake, Taalia.”
“It’s Colonel Wolfe,” Taalia said. “Drop your weapon now or I’ll shoot you.”
Someone was going to die.
“Drop your gun, Judith,” Shyloh said. He flicked off the safety with his thumb.
“I should have killed you, Shy, twenty-five years ago,” Judith said, never taking her eyes off Taalia.
Two shots. Judith took both in the chest at close range. She was dead before she hit the ground.
“Give me the gun, Shyloh.” Taalia reached for his smoking weapon. “Medic,” she shouted.
Shyloh knelt beside his friend and with his fingertips gently closed her eyelids.
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