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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
“Wake up. It’s happening. Now. Just like we talked about.”

Kyle woke to see his Uncle Evans looking down at him. His uncle had that deathly serious look. The small bedside lamp was on but otherwise, the room was dark. No light came in through the windows. The windows were open though, and the cool, early autumn air came in, bringing with it the nighttime sounds of the Texas Hill Country.

“What time is it?” Kyle asked. Uncle Evans didn’t answer that question.

“Get up. Get your gear,” his uncle replied in a stern and simple way. “Get your rifle.”

That statement, “get your rifle,” drove all the lingering sleep out of Kyle in an instant. He was only sixteen, but he was old enough to understand that the world had become a very dangerous place. After their summer together, Kyle knew he needed to listen to his uncle.

Kyle swung out of bed and was dressed in a flash. He put on the dark, sturdy clothing and boots his uncle had him keep beside his bed for just such an occasion. Then, he grabbed the rifle his uncle had also given him. Uncle Evans called it his African Carbine. It was an older, military-style rifle, with a collapsible stock and a red dot sight mounted on its carrying handle. A clamp held a flashlight onto the barrel. Kyle knew how to use it instinctively because his uncle had drilled him on it. Without needing to even think about it, Kyle checked the rifle to ensure it was unloaded and on safe, just as he’d been taught. Then he moved through the darkened house to find his uncle. He passed a clock on the wall that said it was past midnight. On either side of the clock were mementos of his uncle’s military service: wooden paddles ornately wrapped in parachute cord, felt-lined shadow boxes, and a picture of his uncle with his friends in some desert, standing before a huge pile of bombs. Military pins and badges gleamed even in the low light; the multi-towered Combat Engineer Castle, the Explosive Ordnance Disposal “Crab” badge topped with a star, rank bars with alternating silver and red stripes. Kyle lingered for a second to look at one item; a picture of his uncle and two of his military friends standing before a mountain of captured enemy bombs. Then he continued and found his uncle in his office. His uncle was talking to somebody on his cheap disposable phone while at the same time studying a computer screen. A rifle with a thermal scope rested nearby.

“Yeah Dale, I’m looking at their feed and their social media threads right now. They’ve got our neighborhood on their target list for tonight. How many did you say were out at the entrance?” A pause, and then his uncle repeated, “A hundred? ****. Yeah, and more coming down from Austin I suppose. It says here midnight is when they are supposed to kick things off. You call the sheriff yet? Okay. Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I wouldn’t count on her doing anything.

“Okay Dale, start waking up the others. And Dale, no text messages or book-a-grams or anything like that, right? You either call them on the phone or knock on their door. I’ll be down to our spot in a couple of minutes. And Dale? Like I said, no phones. No phones.”

Uncle Evans hung up the phone and turned to Kyle. The old man looked gravely serious but still calm. He wasn't excited. He wasn't emotional. He looked like a serious man about to handle some serious business. Kyle knew his uncle had been in situations like this before; violent situations; life and death situations. His uncle spoke. His uncle spoke, calmly, clearly, and concisely.

“The PVD has targeted our neighborhood. They’re going to try and burn it all down and kill us tonight.”

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Emeryville California. Late May.

Mary and Keith Walsh watched the world burn from their fourth-floor condominium. On the other side of San Pedro Avenue, the big box stores and strip mall shops blazed orange against a midnight blue sky. Sparks and embers drifted across the skyline. Below, rioters danced like imps, backlit by the hellish glow of the fires. Up and down the avenue, many blocks away from the riots and the arsons, police vehicles sat motionless. Their blue and red lights flashed and spun, proclaiming their impotence.

“It is only going get worse from here on out. Summer hasn’t even started,” Keith said. He looked at his watch. It was almost midnight.

The riots began as a peaceful protest, as such violent riots always seemed to do. A local animation company that made feature-length movies announced it was relocating out of the state. The news was not well received. Egged on by loud and popular state politicians, protestors formed up outside the studios. They waved the typical signs and screamed the typical slogans. In reaction to the protests, the CEO made an announcement. The company would not leave California and he apologized to everyone traumatized by his earlier decision to move.

The apology didn’t cool tensions. Instead, it inflamed them.

Emboldened by the CEO’s display of weakness, the protests became riots, and the riots attracted the radical direct-action group known as the Progressive Vanguard of Democracy, also called the PVD or sometimes just, the Vanguard. The PVD was the latest evolution of past socialist-anarchist fronts. They were young, violent, politically connected, and well-funded. Dressed head to toe in black and wearing masks, the PVD arrived well after dark. While the police watched, the PVD broke into the studio and set it on fire with pre-made Molotov cocktails. Not satiated with that, and knowing they had free reign, they rampaged through the small Bay Area city, burning and looting with impunity.

“This is going to go on until the elections. And it is only going to get worse,” Keith repeated. Mary turned away from the window and looked deeper into their condo, where their only child slept.

“We can’t move. Not yet. We’re so close. Six more months, and then we’ll have enough money for a down payment on a house somewhere. Six more months and we’ll have enough to quit and leave.”

Keith and Mary Walsh each brought in three times as much money as the average American household. But that kind of money didn’t go far in their corner of California. The Walsh family had an 1,800 square foot condo, one car that got broken into every month, a son that would be ready for college soon (and no solid plan to pay for that), and not much else. Their plan had been to save up enough to move out of California to someplace simpler and safer. A place where they could buy an actual house. A place where they each didn’t have to work sixty hours a week in high-earning professions only to find themselves scraping by at the end of each month.

“It isn’t safe here,” Mary said. And as if on cue, the big home improvement box store across the street, burning for hours, imploded. The rioters cheered. Not a single police or fire vehicle responded. They were under orders to give the PVD “space” to “vocalize their trauma.” The fire moved to the next building, and so it went. And while this happened, their son Kyle lay awake in his room. He pretended to be asleep because, with his parents, that was easier. But he could hear his parents’ every word.

The mother and the father talked it out through the night and into the early hours of the morning. By 2 am Mary convinced Keith that sending their only child to go live with his uncle for the summer was the right thing to do.

“Your brother's a little bit crazy. No offense, but the wars ****ed him up. He’s got that guilt thing.”

“The wars ‘didn’t **** him up.’ My brother is fine.”

“Well, he’s got issues.”

Mary pointed out the window to the orgy of riots and flame. “That’s an issue. And that issue could swallow my only son up at any time.”

Keith wanted to wait, but Mary insisted on calling her brother right then and there. The decision was marked by the thundering crash of another imploding building.

Mary got on the phone and called her brother, Evans. It was just after four in the morning his time when she called. He answered the phone on the second ring.

Less than an hour after hanging up the phone, Uncle Evans left for California. His sister lived 1,700 miles away. Evans stopped only for gas and made the trip in a little more than a day. When he got to Emeryville, he loaded his nephew Kyle and his things into his truck, ate lunch with his sister and brother-in-law, then headed right back to Texas. Evans was an overly practical man. He didn’t sit still and he didn’t sit easily when there were things to be done. He wasn’t the kind of man who enjoyed wasting time. And he didn’t enjoy spending time in California.

Kyle didn’t speak much on the trip. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his Uncle Evans. He did, very much. He just didn’t like the situation. And he didn’t like the idea that he was being sent away with no say in the matter. He didn’t consider himself a kid anymore. He was sixteen. When they crossed the border into Nevada, Kyle asked his uncle, “Will my parents be safe back there?”

“They’re parents. It is their job is to worry about your safety. It isn’t your job to worry about theirs.”

“Is it safe in Texas?”

Uncle Evans shook his head. “No. Texas may be safer than California, but nowhere is safe. Not entirely. Not now. Not with this election coming up and driving all the crazy people even crazier.”

“The election’s still a long way away,” Kyle said.

“Maybe,” Uncle Evans said. “But the party in power doesn’t want to lose. If they have to burn down the country to stay in power, then they’re going to burn down the country to stay in power. It’s as simple as that.”

Many hours and many miles later, they drove past a timber and limestone sign that read, “Silver Springs.” That sign marked the entrance to the development where Uncle Evans lived. In the suburban developments that Kyle had seen, all the homes were packed in tight. Silver Springs was different. Most of the homes here sat on their own acreage, except for the two or three right next to the entrance and the sign. Rolling Texas hills spread in all directions. To Kyle's city-raised eyes, they were in an untamed wilderness.

That same day the PVD released a new communique over social media. They weren’t going to protest and burn and loot in the urban areas ever again. For the rest of the summer, they were going to target the suburbs. They were going to target rural communities.

“Nowhere is safe until our demands are met,” the PVD declared.


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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The Texas Hill Country. The end of May.

“Today we need to clear out brush and build a defensible space,” Uncle Evans said over his morning cup of chai tea.

“Defensible space, in case the PVD comes?" Kyle asked.

“I was thinking defensible space in terms of wildfires. It is hot and it is dry and it won't rain again until October. But for practical purposes, you'll find the two overlap."

Evans sipped at his tea. He took it in the Middle Eastern fashion, scalding hot and loaded with sugar. Maybe more sugar than tea. Kyle had no doubt his uncle picked up this habit during his travels in the military. Kyle scooped up a fork load of the eggs on his plate and took in the view. Uncle Evans lived on twelve acres of Texas hill Country; rolling hills dotted with oaks and elms and cedar trees. In the mornings, deer gathered around the house looking for their daily ration of corn. In the evenings, owls hooted, and coyotes howled. Scattered across the skyline were the roofs of the other neighborhood homes, red tile here, gray metal there. The neighbors owned similar-sized plots of land, which gave the land an isolated and untamed feel to it. It was a stark contrast to his native Bay Area California, where people lived on top of each another and the noise of traffic and people never ceased.

The inside of the house was also a sharp contrast to Kyle's coastal California home. He and his parents lived in an 1800-square-foot condo, with everything packed in. Uncle Evan’s home was twice that size, but it was sparsely decorated. He’d never been married, and the interior of his house showed it. It contained just a minimal amount of furniture. The only things hanging on the walls were mementos of his time in the military: photographs of him with teammates, framed certificates and awards, a scorched and battered bomb suit helmet mounted on a walnut slab. Uncle Evans didn’t even have a tv. The only electronic indulgence came in the form of a laptop computer and a few monitors in the office. Evans didn’t have a cell phone either, not a real one anyway. He had some cheap-looking thing that ran off prepaid minutes. The epitome of an old-man phone, Kyle thought. Or maybe a drug phone.

Another teenage boy might have raised hell at the idea of moving out of the city and all its distractions for the summer, away from friends and familiar scenes. Kyle wasn’t upset to be out here though. He’d been to his uncle’s place before. He liked the nature and the seclusion. He liked the quiet. He also liked his uncle’s simple manner and his hands-on ways. Kyle’s uncle was a much different man than his dad. Kyle didn’t resent his father, at least not more than any other boy his age, but Uncle Evans filled a paternal role that his dad never could. With everything that was going on in the country, deep down Kyle knew that his uncle could teach him things that his father could not. Important things. He knew things were going badly even though his parents tried their hardest to shield him from that truth. Uncle Evans on the other hand didn’t baby Kyle. He played it straight and didn’t treat his young nephew like a kid. That was another reason why Kyle enjoyed his time with him.

“So, what are we doing ?” Kyle asked between bites of egg. He gobbled the food down with teenaged-boy ferocity.

“Clearing out all the brush and dead trees. I’ve scraped out a bare path along the side of the drive up to the house. Any dead stuff that’ll burn, we’ll drag over there into one giant pile.”

“Are we going to burn it?” Kyle asked hopefully.

“I’d like to, but no. It would be safer to just burn it now. But there is a burn ban in effect. And I’ve got a busybody neighbor down the road. She can see the front of our place from her back porch if she uses binoculars, which she does. If she sees us burning brush, she’ll call the fire department. She’ll probably call them any away if she sees us stacking brush.”

“She sounds like a pain in the ass,” Kyle said. He wouldn’t think of talking like that at the table back in Emeryville. But this was Uncle Evans’ place, and his parents weren’t around.

“She is a pain in the ass,” Evans agreed. “I hope you don’t have to meet Lori, but I’m sure she’ll be around.”

Kyle gulped down the last of his eggs and said, “I’ll get the dishes.” You could say “ass” and probably a lot of other curse words at Uncle Evans’ place and get away with it, but you weren’t going to get away with not doing your share of the chores, and Kyle knew it.

Uncle Evans nodded once and sipped at his chai tea.

They left the house through the back door. Planted in the ground nearby was a cement pipe sticking straight up and capped with a wooden lid. It looked like it might be for cigarette butts, but Uncle Evans didn’t smoke. Kyle lifted the lid. The inside was partially filled with sand and on top of that were some metal canisters and road flares.

“Careful with that,” Uncle Evans said sharply. Uncle Evans didn’t raise his voice very often but when he did, his voice was clear and loud and had a way of making everybody nearby immediately stop and turn. Kyle jumped and fumbled with the wooden lid.

“Be careful with that,” Uncle Evans repeated. “Don’t mess with the stuff in there. It is dangerous.”

“What’s it for?” Kyle asked.

“It is for emergencies,” Evans said. He took the wooden lid from Kyle and put it back over the pipe. “Now these are for you,” and he handed Kyle a new pair of calf-skin work gloves. “The rest of the stuff we need is out of the barn. C’mon.”

They spent the morning and afternoon gathering up dead brush and piling it in one long heap along the driveway up to the house. At 10 am the temperature seemed to jump twenty degrees and the humidity was murder. Sweat rolled off Kyle in waves. “Drink water,” his uncle would say periodically. Uncle Evans kept a cooler full of half-frozen water bottles close at hand. Kyle would take off his new leather work gloves, grab a bottle, and drain it in only a few gulps. The sun rose higher and grew brighter, but Kyle kept at it. He gathered dead brush and fallen limbs of oak and elm and either tossed them directly in the growing brush pile or pitched them into a dump trailer attached to the back of his uncle’s tractor. Some of the smaller trees on the property were dead, killed during a winter frost. His uncle felled those with a chainsaw. Kyle came in after and dragged the decaying wood into the growing pile. By late morning his clothes were soaked through with sweat, but he refused to ask for a break or any kind of reprieve. To his maturing mind, the idea of not keeping pace with his uncle seemed shameful.

Just before noon, as he was hauling a bunch of dead and gray acacia limbs to the mountain of brush, Kyle heard his uncle call out. He turned and saw Uncle Evans pointing to the long drive that ran off the main road up to the house. A golf cart was trundling up the road, an angry looking woman was behind the wheel. Uncle Evans pulled his tractor up to Kyle and shut it down.

“Is this the neighbor?” Kyle asked.

“Yup,” Uncle Evans said as he pulled off his leather gloves. “This is Lori… and her dog.”

The dog was a gray and white pit bull. It was leashed up in the back of the golf cart, and it started snarling and snapping when it saw Kyle and Uncle Evans. Lori looked much like her dog. She was short and squat, and ugly. Her eyes were windows into a reptilian mind. She had a thick, punched-up face and gray and white hair that hadn’t seen a brush in far too long. And like the dog, once she saw Uncle Evans, she got snappy. She brought the golf cart to a halt on the gravel driveway, twisted her face into an unfriendly knot, and spoke.

“You know, there’s a burn ban in the county. I don’t know just what you think you’re doing here.” Lori said. Her voice was as unpleasant as her appearance.

“Afternoon,” Uncle Evans said with a smile. He stepped down from the tractor. Kyle was young, but he was perceptive. He noticed that his uncle kept his eyes fixed on the dog straining on its leash. He also noticed that his uncle kept one hand at his beltline, near a bulge under his shirt. The dog snapped and threw himself against its leash with enough force to make the golf cart tip. Kyle took a few steps closer to his uncle. Oblivious to her dog, Lori pointed a finger at the brush pile.

“You can’t do this. There is a burn ban in effect. You can’t burn this. It’s against the law.”

“I’m not burning anything, Lori,” Uncle Evans said calmly. “I’m just piling it up. It is safer to have it all in one big pile than spread out all over. And I know there is a burn ban in effect, same time as it was last year, and every year before that.”

“Don’t you lie to me. You’re going to burn it. Why else would you bother to pile it up.”

“Because something or somebody else might start a fire, and I don’t want fuel scattered all over my property.”

“Bull****. There won’t be any fires around here unless you start them. You’re going to burn it and burn the whole neighborhood down,” Lori snapped.

Kyle grew up in the Bay Area, just a short walk from the Berkely Campus. He’d met hundreds of women like Lori over the course of his life, and he had her pegged from the moment he saw her: unhappy, unpleasant, insincere, incapable of empathy, emotionally chaotic. They mistook being impolite for being strong and self-confident. They were always right, even when they were wrong. They were always impossible to be around and thus they were always lonely. That loneliness became anger that was directed at the outside world. Kyle eyed the dog. He knew without asking that it was a rescue dog, just as he knew that this Lori character trumpeted the fact that she rescued the dog every chance she got. The dog was evidence of her moral superiority. He also knew that the pitbull, still straining against its leash, was more dog than she could handle.

“Nobody is burning anything,” Uncle Evans said calmly, his hand still resting near his belt. “You know it, Lori. We went through this last year.”

Lori seemed to notice Kyle for the first time.

“Who the hell are you?” She demanded. Kyle started to answer, but his uncle cut him off with his loud and commanding voice again.

“Who he is, is none of your business, just like my landscaping is none of your business. Now turn your cart around and leave.”

“What is he? Some Mexican?” Lori huffed. Then she said, “I’m calling the fire department right now.” She was in full lecture mode and not listening to anybody but herself. "I'm calling the homeowners association too. You can’t have people living in your house without approval from all the homeowners.”

“That’s not true and that’s not what the homeowner’s association is for. They’ve told you that three times before." Uncle Evans was using logic and reason, and Kyle knew with a person like Lori, logic and reason did not factor in when her emotions were running high.

“It’s not safe. This giant… stack thing.”

“You mean pile?”

“You’re going to unstack all this stuff, right now,” Lori demanded. Her voice peaked. She swept her hand towards the morning’s worth of collected debris. “Unstack it now or I’m calling the fire department… and the cops!”

Before Uncle Evans could again raise his shield of calm logic against Lori’s storm of emotional instability, the dog changed the entire situation. As Lori grew louder the dog grew more agitated. It threw itself against its leash, only this time it slipped off the back seat. The barks became yelps and then were cut off completely. The leash, fastened to one of the cart’s pillars, pulled tight like a hangman’s rope. Dog legs scrambled frantically in empty air. The heavy dog swung. The cart tipped, listed, and looked like it might fall over. The dog twisted on its noose, a leg found something solid, and pushed. The cart righted itself. The dog drew air, yelped again, spun, choked again. Lori ran to her dog, the brush pile forgotten. Uncle Evans moved quick and silent as a ghost. In an instant, he stepped in front of Kyle. A pistol was out and held low by his leg, almost behind it. Oblivious to it all, Lori moved to her dog in what might be described as a fast waddle and screamed, "My dog! My dog!”

She scooped up the struggling dog in her flabby arms and deposited it in the backseat. But after she did the dog bared its teeth and snapped at her. Lori recoiled in horror. But then she spun on Evans and did her own snapping.

“You see what you did? You almost killed my dog!” Her screaming voice was unsteady with emotion. Either she didn’t see the pistol or didn’t pay it any heed.

"You need to leave now," Uncle Evan said. His voice had an icy calmness to it that Kyle didn't quite like. "Get in your cart and go."

“Oh, I will,” Lori said. And unable to not get the last word in she added, “I’m going home and I’m going to call the fire department and the police. And the homeowner’s association.”

It seemed to take forever for Lori to waddle around, get in her little golf cart, turn it around and drive away. When she finally disappeared, Kyle said, “Well, she seems pleasant.”

“All kids your age as sarcastic as you?”

“Most of them.”

“Lori’s not the ideal neighbor,” Uncle Evans agreed. “She lives in the first house past the entrance to the community, the one that’s falling apart. I want you to stay away from her, and her dog. She has had a bunch of rescues over the years. All pit bulls. She rescues them and then sets them loose in her yard. She doesn’t train them or anything. They are all snappy and they all end up getting out and lost. Lost, or killed by the coyotes. Then she blames the neighbors for stealing her dogs. If you see that dog wandering around, let me know.” Evans slipped his pistol away.

“So, she’s unpleasant and she has a dangerous dog that she doesn’t take care of. Does she have a job, or does she just drive around making people miserable?” Kyle asked.

“She’s on a fixed income. She’s got a disability claim or something. Her husband lives with her. He’s in a wheelchair, and his mind’s not all there.” Uncle Evans brought his hand to his head a made a fluttering motion. “Her sister lives with ‘em, and she’s a disability case too. Lori’s probably hard up for money and just takes it out on everybody else.”

Kyle thought about that, but only for a moment. Back where he was from in California, everybody claimed to have some disability, some disorder, some neurosis, some issue that made them a victim. And their “victimhood” always gave them license to treat other people badly.

“So what?” Kyle said. “Everybody’s got problems. That doesn’t give you an excuse to be an *******.”

Evans turned to his nephew. “Well, look at you. I didn't realize you're such a hard case."

“Try living in San Francisco. All these whining victims will do that to you.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Evans said. He looked over his nephew. The scrawny kid was soaked through with sweat. Evans smiled and clapped his nephew on the shoulder. “C’mon. Let’s go inside where it is air-conditioned and get some lunch.

Just as Kyle and his Uncle Evans finished lunch both the fire department and the police pulled into the front yard. Somebody had reported illegal burning in the neighborhood.

That evening Kyle was alone in his room, wasting time on his computer as kids often do. It was maybe ten in the evening and the temperature was finally cooling off. Uncle Evans knocked on the door and came in. He had a serious look about him. “Come with me,” he said.

Kyle followed his uncle into his home office. The walls were decorated with memorabilia from his uncle’s time in the military. Flags. Awards. Souvenirs from far-away and violent places. Against one wall stood a bookcase partially filled with military manuals. A rifle rack was mounted on one wall. It held a half dozen rifles and shotguns of various types. A cable lock ran through their actions. Kyle’s eyes were immediately drawn to it.

“Where are the .22s?” Kyle asked.

“I keep those in the safe. This is the ready rack. I keep these weapons at the ready, just in case.”

“In case of what?” Kyle asked.

“In case of a lot of things, but lately, in case of this,” Evans said. He gestured towards the array of computer monitors on the desk in the center of the office. It was 11 pm on the East Coast, and the riots were in full swing. Queued up on the monitors were live streams of the chaos in cities up and down the Atlantic seaboard: New York, Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Camden, Wilmington. There was full representation. The major streamers captured the feeds of individual streamers on the ground and combined them so each of the three large monitors had six different feeds streaming simultaneously. Red boxes highlighted which video feed the current audio was associated with. Kyle shook his head.

“That’s why my parents sent me out of the Bay Area.”

“What’s happening back home is happening all over the country. The professional rioters are getting better and more organized every summer. Worse, they’re getting bolder every day. They know nobody will stop them. The police won’t do it. The military won’t do it. And if any private citizen does it, the law will come down on them with all their might.”

Kyle watched the multiple feeds. One caught his eye. A dozen rioters dressed head to toe in black had set fire to a dumpster. Now they were using it as a battering ram to smash into a Target store.

“At some point they are going to kill somebody,” Kyle said.

“They already have,” Uncle Evans replied. “Many times. It’s just that nobody talks about it.”

Kyle’s eyes drifted back to the rifle rack on the wall. “How would you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Stop them?”

Uncle Evans waited for just a second before answering. "The biggest part of why they are doing what they are doing is because they know they won't face consequences, not of any kind. If I was in charge, for starters, I’d stop it the same way they stopped riots and looters throughout history. I’d shoot a bunch. Shoot a dozen tonight, there will be a lot less out tomorrow night.

“But that’s only part of the solution. Stopping these riots isn't about just stopping the rioters. You have to stop the people who allow the riots to happen. A lot of people, government-type people, are collecting paychecks because they swore to enforce the law. But they aren't enforcing the law. They are allowing if not outright fostering this lawlessness in order to further their careers. Those enablers need to be held accountable too.”

Kyle thought about that. “What if shooting them makes it worse?”

“We already reached worse,” Uncle Evans said. On the computer screen, the rioters had smashed through the Target doors. Now they were using the burning dumpster as a catalyst to burn down the store. They grabbed up merchandise, held it to the flame, and then threw it alight deeper into the store. Looters poured in the smashed doors behind them, snatching up anything that was not burning. Mixed amongst the looters were more black-clad PVD. Many carried the short AK-47 style pistols called “choppers” on the street.

“And if left unchecked, it will get worse yet. Get me a can out of that fridge.”

In one corner of the office sat a mini-fridge. It was full of sodas.

“Any beers?” Kyle asked hopefully.

“Young man, if you can find a beer you can have one," Uncle Evans said with a smile. "Truth is I rarely drink anymore. Pass me a soda. Grab one for yourself.”

Kyle picked out one of the pop cans. The body was light blue, with red letters on a white badge. Kyle said, “I didn’t know they made this anymore. Who drinks this?”

“They do still make it and I still drink it. I picked up the taste for it overseas. Out there they didn’t have Coke or Pepsi. This was the only cola you could get. When it is 120 degrees out, you’ll drink whatever cold pop you can find.” Evans took a can and opened it. Kyle did the same. It tasted different. Not bad. Just different.

The uncle and the nephew drank soda and watched the riots unfold. By 11 pm Texas time the sun had gone down in the Rocky Mountains. Denver joined the fray, along with Houston, Dallas, and Chicago. Things were heating up in Austin. That city was just over an hour away from where they sat now, a fact Evans appreciated.

“You best get to bed now. We’ve got an early day tomorrow. We need to drive up to New Fredericksburg and pick up an old stock tank.”

"Ok," Kyle said. Then he asked, "When are my parents leaving California?"

“Your mom thinks they might have enough money by the end of summer. They say the housing market will be better for selling then."

“Housing market won’t mean anything if their building burns down,” Kyle said. He added, “My parents don’t tell me anything. They still treat me like a kid. I know why they sent me here. I was awake that whole night when they burned down the box stores and everything else across the street. They’re worried we’d get burned in the riots.”

"That's what parents do Kyle, they worry about their kids. And they weren't just worried about you getting caught in the riots. They were worried about you getting caught up in the riots. They were worried about you putting on black clothes and hitting the streets with those other idiots. We may be old, but we were all your age once. We know how exciting these riots might seem to a young person. I'm sure you know other kids back home your age who like this stuff, kids who are joining in on it."

Kyle didn’t say anything, but his uncle was right. Some of his classmates had joined in on the rioting. He’d monitored them from afar through their social media accounts. For some these riots were a grand and romantic adventure. But not for everybody. Not for whoever worked and shopped at the Target that was now burning to the ground.

After Kyle went to bed, Evans lingered in the office, watching the mayhem unfold on the live streams. It was late, and the day started early on his slice of heaven. But he was an older man and didn’t need as much sleep as he used to. He watched the streams for a while. Looting. Arson. The mobs were much better armed and equipped than they were just a few short years ago. Evans saw uniformity in their gear. The same short-barreled AK-47-styled weapons. The same black body armor. The same cheap Chinese radios. Flashing blue and red police lights illuminated the scenes, but the police never actually intervened. They observed from a distance while building burned, lives were destroyed, and civilization unraveled. When it all became too tiresome, Evans shut down the computer, looked out the window into the night, and contemplated.

His sister had sent Kyle here to protect him from the anarchy exploding across the country. Protecting Kyle was his mission now. But how best to protect him? That was the question. He rarely went into the cities, and never went at night. The likelihood of them getting caught on the streets by the mob was near zero. Even with the PVD’s pledge to take the riots out of the cities, it was unlikely that a PVD mob would ever wind up in Silver Springs. If they did, it was a long way from the entrance of the development to Evans’ front door. If the mob headed this way, he’d have enough time to run out the back and hide in the wild acres around his house. He’d been trained in the military to do just that. He’d put his escape and evasion skills up against any Vanguard unit any day of the week, even at his age.

But was running and hiding the best way to protect Kyle?

People had been running and hiding from the PVD and the mobs that proceeded it for years. They pretended to ignore it. They hoped it would go away. But it didn’t go away. It came back every summer, bigger and badder and more organized than the year before. Every May the black-clad revolutionaries came out stronger and more politically connected than the year before. Running and hiding from the vandals and looters would work in the short term, but on a long enough timeline the mob would eventually swallow up everything. Was that the kind of country he wanted to leave his nephew? If at some fateful moment, Evans ran and hid instead of standing up to the mob, was he protecting his nephew? Or was he just kicking the can down the road? Passing the problem on to the next generation? Passing the problem on to Kyle? Would he be choosing a path of cowardice and telling himself it was prudence?

And the truth of it was that fighting the rioters meant more than just fighting the PVD. Surviving a PVD confrontation just meant you’d be fighting the police and the courts and the entire legal system later. The people charged with stopping the riots were actually enabling the riots and arresting and prosecuting anybody who interfered. It was like an uneven game of chess, where his opponent was starting with a full set of pieces and Evans only had two pawns.

No, that wasn’t right, Evans thought. One pawn and one king. Evans was the pawn, and his nephew Kyle was the king piece. And if a pawn had to be sacrificed to save the king, then so be it. That’s what pawns were for. That’s how the game was played.

Evans looked around his home office. He saw the rack of weapons. He saw the awards and the certificates. His ribbons. His EOD “Crab” badge. He saw that picture of him in the desert, flanked by his friends and standing in front of a mountain of captured artillery shells. He’d lived a full life. Now it was about Kyle. If the PVD ever came to Silver Springs he’d do what he always did, which was the right thing.

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Very entertaining.:)

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
The Texas Hill Country. Early June.

“Wake up. Time to get at it. We need to go get that storage tank.” Uncle Evans said. His voice was the morning reveille call and it smashed away sleep like a hammer on glass. Kyle felt around on the nightstand for his phone so he could check the time. He couldn’t find the phone and so he settled for looking at the window. It was still dark outside. If it was still dark outside, that meant it was early. Too early. Kyle slumped his head back down on the pillow. But then he heard his uncle working in the kitchen. No doubt he’d begun his morning ritual of brewing chai tea. Kyle knew it was time to get up. He groaned a teenaged groan and dragged himself out of bed.

“You got anyway to tell time besides that phone?” Uncle Evans asked after breakfast. Breakfast yesterday was bacon and eggs. Breakfast today was sausage and eggs. Evans was in the process of hooking up a large flatbed trailer to his pickup truck. Kyle shrugged.

“The phone gives me the time. Never needed a watch.”

“That phone does a lot more than tell the time,” Evans said. “And not everything it does is in your best interests.”

“What about you?” Kyle asked. “You’ve got a phone.”

“I do,” Uncle Evans said with a smile. “The least-smart phone I could buy. I’ve also got a watch. If things go bad, the watch will stay on my wrist. But the phone… the phone will disappear, along with my laptop and my one external hard drive. And since those are the only electronic devices I own, that will be that.”

“Seems a little paranoid,” Kyle said.

“Maybe it is. Or maybe it is just a good precaution. There’s usually a fine line between the two.”

“Who would want to track me?” Kyle asked. “I’m nobody special.”

“If I learned anything these past few years, is that even nobody special can get into the wrong people’s crosshairs,” Uncle Evans said. “And besides, you are not a nobody to me. You’re not a nobody to your mom and dad. But enough about that. You ever pulled a trailer before?”

Kyle felt his heart leap up into his throat. He looked over at his uncle’s pickup truck. With the flatbed trailer attached to the long bed, the entire vehicle seemed to stretch forever.

“I’ve never driven with a trailer before.” Kyle said sheepishly. “I’ve barely driven at all. Back home we mostly use the buses. Or BART. Or Uber. The car is too much of a pain to park. And gas is too expensive.”

“No better time to learn,” Uncle Evans said. He tossed Kyle the keys. The kid caught the keys deftly but stared at them in his open palm.

“Uncle Evans, I don’t think…” his uncle cut him off before he could finish.

“No better time to learn than now. Its early. There isn’t much traffic on the road, and what little there is will be going in the opposite direction. I’ll be sitting right next to you the whole time. The only tricky part is backing up, and we won’t have to worry about that for now. So, C’mon.”

Uncle Evans climbed into the passenger seat, a steaming metal mug of tea in one hand. Kyle looked at the keys in his own hand. He wanted to say no. If he was with his parents, things would be different. Certainly, his mother would balk at the very idea of her son doing something so dangerous as driving a truck with a trailer on the back. With his dad, he could resist the way defiant teenage sons do. But his parents weren’t here. Uncle Evans was just forcing him out of his comfort zone. He was forcing Kyle to test his own boundaries. On one hand, Kyle didn’t like it. It was scary. On the other hand, it was exciting.

Kyle took a deep breath and then got into the truck.

The drive out to New Fredericksburg was uneventful. Kyle kept to the right lane whenever possible and kept it slow. He could feel the pull of the trailer against the truck, and the sway of it as it drafted, but he got used to it quickly and he handled it well. By the end of the trip, he barely noticed the long trailer was there.

There wasn’t much traffic on the road. Part of it was the early hours. Another part of it was that people didn’t drive as much anymore. The price of fuel was too high, even in Texas. Kyle knew that was by design. Before he left the Bay Area, the federal government had come in and shut down the big refinery in Richmond California. He’d also seen a headline on one of his social media feeds that several oil company executives had been arrested by the EPA in early morning raids on their homes. Kyle was no economist, but it was easy to see why fuel was so expensive.

It was farm and ranch country between Uncle Evans’ place and New Fredericksburg. The land was all fenced in. Mounted on many of the fences were signs announcing, ‘land for sale,’ or ‘livestock for sale’ or ‘farm equipment for sale.’ These were the signs of a nation in decline. But mixed in with the signs of depression were signs of defiance. The Texas flag flew everywhere but more common than the Texas flag was the black and white “Come And Take It” flag, with its star and cannon.

Near New Fredericksburg they turned off the highway and onto a farm road of packed gravel. The trailer bumped and jostled and swung. Kyle slowed down to a crawl. Dust from the road rose and swirled and blocked his vision. He eased the truck up to a swing gate that was already opened for them. On the other side of the gate sat the farmhouse. On the porch of stood a farmer, drinking coffee and waiting for them. On the other side of the gravel lot sat the big water storage tank they’d come for. A small forklift was parked beside it. Kyle parked the truck.

“Good,” Uncle Evans said. “You just finished the easy part. Now back the trailer up to that tank so we can get it loaded.”

Kyle swallowed hard and looked around the gravel lot. The ground was open. There wasn’t a lot of obstacles or things he could hit. Even so.

“I’ve never backed up with a trailer before,” Kyle reminded his uncle.

“I know,” Uncle Evans. “And you never towed a trailer before this morning, but now you have. It is just like we talked about. Turn in the opposite directions and take it slow. Small turns. Don’t over-correct. Keep pulling forward and straightening out when you need to. You’ll be fine as long as you don’t get jackknifed, and I won’t let you get jackknifed.”

Easy for you to say, Kyle thought. He glanced at the farmer who would doubtless watch his attempts to backup with a trailer with a critical eye. The thought of a spectator made the pressure to perform even worse.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be right here and once you get used to it this will be a good skill to have. Even back in the city.” Nervous, Kyle took a deep breath and shifted the truck into reverse.

It wasn’t pretty, and it took him many attempts, but Kyle finally backed the trailer up to the old tank. After Kyle shut the engine down, the farmer walked down the steps off his porch. He was old and wore a green plaid shirt and overalls, and his head was nearly bald save for scattered whisps of long white hair. He smiled good naturedly.

“It was his first time backing up a with a trailer,” Uncle Evans explained.

“Yeah? I didn’t think he was an expert,” the farmer said with a smile. Kyle found himself smiling, even if it was at his own expense.

“Well, keep at it,” the farmer said. “Keep at it and this time next year I’ll put you to work out here.”

They loaded the old tank onto the trailer and strapped it down. Before they left, the farmer’s wife came out with a plate of freshly baked muffins.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Uncle Evans said.

“You gonna charge them?” The farmer asked his wife. “Those muffins are worth a sight more than that old tank.”

“I’m just happy you’re hauling his old junk away,” the wife said, and she slapped her husband’s shoulder. “Go on. Take those muffins. That young one looks like he needs to eat. And keep the plate. I don’t need that old thing back. More junk.”

“Thanks, Judy. And next time I come back, I will bring your plate,” Uncle Evans said.

“Bring that kid instead,” the farmer’s wife said. “It’d be nice to have a young man to cook for again.”

Kyle smiled bashfully. Five minutes later they were back on the road. Kyle drove again. The trailer was heavier now. The bulk of the tank caught the cross winds and those would push the combo to the side of the road. There was more traffic out too, but not so much that Kyle couldn’t handle it. He felt good about himself, pulling the trailer down the road. He felt confident. After a few miles he asked, “What are we going to do with the tank?”

Uncle Evans paused before answering. It was the kind of pause that suggested he was carefully considering his answer.

“I’m going to use it to finish off a project.” His uncle said. He said it in a manner that suggested he didn’t want to speak about this project any further. Kyle wanted to protest, to make his case that he could help out, whatever this project was. But he thought better of it. If his uncle wanted to keep this project to himself, maybe it was best to stay out of it. Kyle changed the subject.

“Can we shoot the .22’s when we get back?”

“We can, but not today. I want you to shoot something else first. I want to get you spun up on my Africa Carbine.”

“The M16?!” Kyle exclaimed. Uncle Evans smiled at his nephew’s excitement.

“It isn’t an M16, not exactly. But I guess it is close enough.”

“We can’t have those in California.”

“I know,” Uncle Evans said. “But listen, this isn’t going to be just plinking at bottles and cans. I’m going to show you how to use this rifle. Really use it. The same way I learned how to use a rifle in the service. It’ll be fun, because you’ll be shooting a rifle. But it is going to be work too. A lot of work.”

Kyle thought about what his uncle said as he slowed for a stop light. Once the truck came to a halt he said, “You’re afraid of the rioters coming to the house, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Uncle Evans replied. “I am. And if that happens the .22s won’t cut it. I want you schooled up on a real weapon. And if the rioters don’t come so much the better. You’ll still know how to use a real weapon. You’ll have another skill.”

“Like driving with a trailer?”

“Like driving with a trailer,” Uncle Evans agreed.

Kyle managed to back the trailer up beside the barn, next to a pile of old scrap metal and a stack of rusting bales of barbed wire. After that they spent all afternoon and the early evening going over the Africa Carbine, an AR rifle with a barrel brought to 16” by a pinned and welded muzzle device. On top of the carbine’s carrying handle sat an Aimpoint optic old enough to accurately be called ‘vintage.’ Going into the teaching, Uncle Evans worried about Kyle getting bored, or frustrated, or just tuning out because of the heat, the long instructions, the physical corrections, and the math. Kyle stuck with it though. Uncle Evans gave him a crash course in rifle fundamentals, teaching the kid in a few hours all the rifle fundamentals the military taught him over the course of a week. By the time the sun was in the west, Kyle could hit a steel target at 300 yards 10 times out of ten. He could change magazines without fumbling and he could puzzle his way through most malfunctions. Uncle Evans checked the sun’s position in the sky. They had maybe an hour before dark.

“Come with me,” Evans said to Kyle. He headed off down a faint trail that led downhill. Kyle ran a hand through his wiry, black hair and followed his uncle.

They wove their way past cedars and elms and thick stands of prickly pear. Neither spoke. The sun dipped further and washed the landscape in orange light. The shadows grew longer and darker. The trail flattened out. Kyle heard road noises up ahead. They crossed a dry creek bed.

“Unload the rifle and set it down here,” Uncle Evans ordered. Kyle unloaded the rifle and set it down. They pushed a few meters further and the trail ended at a two-lane blacktop road. A sign nearby read, “FM 325.” A pickup truck sped by, oblivious to Kyle and his uncle on the side of the road.

“Think you could find your way down the trail to here by yourself if you had to?”

“Yeah,” Kyle answered.

“Can you? This is important.”

“Yes,” Kyle answered.

“Okay. Let’s head back then.”

Kyle recovered the rifle, and they got back to the house just before the sun dipped away to night. Uncle Evans asked Kyle what he wanted for dinner. Kyle thought about it for a second before answering.

“Just sandwiches are fine. But since you taught me about the rifle, I’ll make dinner.”

Uncle Evans smiled. “Alright,” he said. Kyle went inside, but his uncle stayed out on the porch to watch the sun slip away. Kyle thought it was a melancholy scene. His uncle looked like a lonely old man. One who might be watching the sunset for the last time. Or close to the last time. His uncle wasn’t old, not what Kyle considered old-man old. But his uncle had lived a hard life, and the wear of that seemed to make him older, maybe wearier.

After dinner they both headed up to the office and opened-up the live streams of the nightly riots. This would be their ritual for the summer.

The peak of the evening’s madness came from the outskirts of Raleigh North Carolina. A mob of protestors had swarmed on a subdivision of cookie cutter homes, each one more middle-class than the last. The protestors ranks were augmented by black-clad members of the PVD. All the PVD wore masks and IR readable “PVD” shoulder patches. They all carried choppers now. The uniformity of their clothing and equipment belied the narrative that the PVD was just some loose collection of common-man, working-class, activists. In truth the PVD were politically connected and well supported stormtroopers. They weren’t just, “an idea.” The truth was there for anybody to see it. But nobody wanted to see it, and if they did, they’d never admit it. Unfortunately, in this new America what was the truth could not be said, and what was said could not be the truth.

The protestors massed outside the entrance to the sub-division and chanted the usual slogans against fascism, racism, inequality in all its various forms. Reporters circulated through the mass, picking up comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis that would make for enticing soundbites. At the entrance, some residents of the community formed a sad looking picket line, hoping to defend their hearth and home. Some were armed, but the protestors didn’t show any signs of fear. Their brazenness suggested they didn’t expect the residents to shoot. Shouts and insults flew back and forth. Spittle flew off lips. Guns were waved menacingly.

“Look at them,” Uncle Evans said. “Most of the protestors are either older or really young. Mostly women. They’ve got some little kids with them. They’ve got a bunch who don’t look especially healthy. But the fighting age people, the fit ones, the young men. They are all in the PVD. They use the regular protestors to start things, then the PVD will swarm in when the time is right.”

An enormous woman with a surgical mask and purple hair tried to seize a hunting rifle from one of the residents manning the picket line. The man pulled his rifle back and the woman tumbled. Somebody shouted an insult. Punches flew. A protestor swung a cardboard sign at a resident.

“This will go badly,” Uncle Evans said. “Somebody is going to get shot.”

Kyle couldn’t help but agree. A protestor with multicolored hair was shouting and spitting in the face of one of the residents. A short distance behind her, black-clad PVD thugs stood ready with their choppers. The back and forth of insults continued. All the big live-streamers were carrying feeds from the scene now.

About a half hour later more buses started showing up at the subdivision. They disgorged their loads of protestors. Pierced and painted college kids. Urbanites who probably had nothing better to do than go on a destructive lark in the suburbs. Unhappy and directionless middle-aged folks looking to exact revenge on the “other” for their so-far unaccomplished and unfulfilling lives. More PVD arrived too. They came separate from the bused in protestors. They arrived in large, brand-new passenger vans. Again, their uniformity and organization betrayed the idea the PVD were just a loose collection of likeminded activists.

As more busloads of protestors showed up, the police arrived. Blue and red lights flashed and spun, but the police never confronted the crowd. They never issued any order to disperse. As far as Kyle could tell, they never left their vehicles. This was not atypical. When it came to these kinds of protests the police had not been doing anything for years. But then something new happened. Federal agents arrived.

The federal agents arrived in blacked-out SUVs and they wore tactical gear that rivaled what the military issued. The moved along the outskirts of the shouting mob. Some of the live-streamers tried to ask them questions, but they were always either ignored or pushed away.

“Do me a favor? Get me a cola out of the fridge?” Uncle Evans asked. His eyes were fixed on the array of monitors. Kyle went to the fridge and got two more cans out. He passed one to his uncle and opened the second one for himself. He drank and turned his attention from the mayhem on the monitors to the decorations on the walls.

One particular item that caught his interest was a wooden paddle. It was like the kind you’d find in any sporting goods store for paddling a canoe. This one had been sanded down and stained. Its handle was wrapped in intricate twists of parachute cord. Mounted on the blade was a silver EOD “Crab” badge, a silver dive helmet badge, a gold parachutist badge, and row upon row of military ribbons. A brass plate beneath the ribbons read: To CWO “Frankenstein” Evans. Kyle was lost in the display, especially the Frankenstein part. What did Frankenstein mean? His uncle didn’t look like a Frankenstein. He was neither tall nor broad, and despite his partial Japanese ancestry, his hair had been thin and light brown before it all fell out leaving a pale, bald, egg-shaped head. Kyle pondered this in his own world until the gunfire erupted.

The sounds of automatic weapons made Kyle spin back around towards the riots. Uncle Evans was out of his seat and leaning in towards the monitors. On the displays, protestors screamed and ran in all directions, arms flailing. More gunshots. Automatic chatter, distinctly Kalashnikov fire. Next came the answering fire of shotguns and hunting rifles, single shots, deeper and louder. Then screams. The screams of the dying. Cameras bounced up and down. Uncle Evans cursed. A live-streamer fell to the ground, his feed showing nothing but trampling feet. Another streamer was approached by a team of federal agents, each brandishing a military-style carbine. One feed showed the distinct muzzle device of an AK-styled weapon. The muzzle flashed, climbed upwards from the recoil, then disappeared out of the camera’s frame.

The gunfire stopped but the pandemonium continued. A federal agent charged forward and placed an open palm over a streamer’s camera. A second later that stream ended. Within a minute all the live streams of what would be called the Raleigh-Durham Executions went offline. Less than ten minutes later, all the livestreams went offline everywhere in the country. It wasn’t just Raleigh. The protests streams across the nation all went dark. Boston. Newark. Spokane. Vegas. They all went dark, as quickly and as easily as if somebody somewhere threw a switch. Computer messages declared, “This Channel is No Longer Available.”

Uncle Evans shutdown his computer and said, “The Kalashnikovs fired first. Remember that.”

“The Kalashnikovs? You mean the choppers?”

“Yes. The choppers.”

Kyle though for just a second then said, “They aren’t going to say that tomorrow, are they? That the choppers fired first?”

“No. No, they are not,” Uncle Evans said. “They won’t mention the choppers fired at all. They won’t even mention that both sides were armed.” His uncle’s voice was mostly devoid of any emotion. Mostly. But Kyle could feel the undertones of his uncle’s seething rage. That was on the inside. On the outside, his uncle displayed the unemotional functionality of a machine. It was easy to see how Uncle Evans made a career out of finding and disarming bombs.

“There’s nothing we can do about this. Time for bed,” Uncle Evans said.

Kyle went to bed, but he lay awake for a long time. North Carolina was not California, and the suburbs of Raleigh were not the urban sprawl of the San Francisco Bay Area. Even so, the PVD and their enablers had done their dirty work and demonstrated just how far they could reach. Even now those homes in North Carolina might be getting put to the torch, their owners being beaten by the PVD, or arrested by the police, or even shot. Was he safe out here? Kyle knew the answer to that was a resounding no. His uncle had confirmed as much. So, what would he do if the PVD came? More importantly, what would his uncle do?

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Texas Hill Country. June.

Kyle sat in his bed with his laptop open. The morning sun shone in through the window. Dust motes drifted in the light, and a video played on the laptop.

“The nation remains shocked and devastated after the brutal, politically motivated executions of peaceful protestors in North Carolina.” The anchorman spoke earnestly into the camera. The video kept playing, but it jumped to another newsman, on another channel, in another city. This one said, “Shocked and devastated, that is how our nation feels as it mourns the peaceful activists brutally executed in North Carolina.” Another jump, this time to an anchorwoman in San Diego. “The brutal, politically motivated execution of peaceful activists in North Carolina has left our nation shocked and devastated.” Another jump, this time to Denver. “All Coloradoans remain shocked and devastated after the brutal and politically motivated executions of peaceful activists in North Carolina.”

The video Kyle watched was a collection of news footage taken from local stations across the country, all edited together into one long set. There were different commentators in different cities, but they all said the same thing practically verbatim. Kyle took a deep sigh. In this digital age, it was not as if it wouldn't be noticed that all the news personalities were saying the exact same thing with the exact same words. KOMO 5 News in Seattle was only a click away from Fox 10 in Phoenix. Kyle didn’t know what the word Orwellian meant, but he knew wrong when he saw it. Disgusted and upset, Kyle kept watching.

Boston: “These peaceful protestors were shot executions style, likely by right-wing neo-fascists."

Salt Lake City: “It was likely right-wing neo-fascists who shot the peaceful protestors, execution style."

Tampa: “It was here outside this otherwise tranquil suburban neighborhood that the peaceful protestors were shot, execution style. Authorities suspect ultra-right-wing neo-fascism to be linked to these brutal crimes.”

Cleveland: “The peaceful protestors were outside this suburban neighborhood when they were shot, execution style. The murderers are believed to have ties to right-wing neo-fascism."

The edited video kept going, kept jumping around to different commentators, on different channels, in different cities, all saying slight variations of the same thing.

“These executions of peaceful political activists are truly a threat to our democracy.”

“Political leaders around the country say that these political executions truly threaten our democracy.”

“Jane, I feel that these executions of peaceful political activists are a true threat to our democracy.”

“When peaceful political activists are executed in the streets, well Dan, I think we all agree that that is truly a threat to our democracy.”

“It is all so tiresome,” Kyle muttered aloud, and he closed his laptop. He could smell his uncle cooking breakfast downstairs. He went through the morning routine of getting up and getting moving. On the way downstairs he took a detour into his uncle's office. He admired the weapons in the ready rack for a moment, but what he really came in to look at was the decorated paddle hanging on the wall, the one that addressed Uncle Evans as, "Frankenstein." He looked it over for some clue as to how that nickname came to be. He found none. Disappointed, but only a little, he headed down for breakfast. It was bacon and eggs. Again. And again, his uncle sat at the table sipping his chai tea. The scene didn’t feel repetitive. It felt comfortable. And it felt distant from the chaos and violence taking place around the country and on the screens of electronic devices. Kyle sat down with a plate.

“I wanna show you something,” he said to his uncle. He pulled out his phone and played the same video for his uncle. His uncle didn’t seem moved at all.

“Yeah, that’s been going on for a while now. Just a few big companies own all those local affiliates. They feed them all the same talking points.”

"It is creepy," Kyle said, and immediately after saying that he regretted his word choice. "Creepy," made him sound like a kid, and no 16-year-old wants to sound like a kid, especially to his wise, old, combat-hardened uncle.

Evans sipped at his chai tea and said, “You want creepy? When you wake up tomorrow, see if that video is still up or if it’s been pulled off the internet.” He set down the glass cup and added a heaping spoonful of raw sugar to the tea. “But we’ve got more important problems to solve. Think you can get the trailer hooked back up to the truck? We need to go down the road and pick up a skid steer from one of our neighbors. I’ve got some yard work in the back I need to get done.”

“Sure,” Kyle said.

“Think you can do it on your own? Remember how I showed you to do it?”

“Yeah, I guess. Maybe.”

“Well, give it your best shot. I’ll get the dishes and then meet you outside.” Kyle finished his breakfast, took the truck keys off the hook on the wall, then went to work connecting the truck to the trailer. Evans went to work on the dishes and watched his nephew through the kitchen window. He was proud of his nephew. The city kid's handling of the truck and trailer wasn't skillful, but he'd get there. It was just a matter of practice, and with practice would come confidence. And they had all summer. Maybe more, if his sister and Keith moved out here like they planned.

Evans moved slowly as he cleared away the dishes. His mind was on the “executions” of last night. The PVD was better armed, better equipped, and better organized than ever before. Their efforts had been coordinated with the federal authorities. That was obvious to anybody willing to pay attention. Those efforts were further coordinated with the media and with the tech platforms that killed all the national feeds on order. The end result was a bunch of Americans lying dead on some street, and nobody would know for sure who they were. And the “executioners” were just middle-class tax-paying Americans who wound up on the wrong side of the revolution. When they went out to defend their homes, they had no idea that they would be the villains in this narrative. They didn’t understand the nation was different now. Their world was different now. They were the bad guys. It didn’t matter how much they paid in taxes, or how many soccer games they coached, or when and how and where they might have served their nation in the past. It didn’t matter that the PVD fired first. It didn’t matter that they were just trying to defend their homes and families. They were the villains now. Cut and dried. Simple as that.

Evans kept a small radio in the kitchen, tuned to an oldies station. Not what somebody Kyle’s age would consider oldies, but oldies to an already old man like Evans. A song came on, Silver Springs by Fleetwood Mac. Music can stir up emotions, and this song certainly stirred emotions in Evans. None of them were good. The muscles in his face tightened and his jaw set. He ground his teeth. Without being conscious of his actions, Evans reached over and shut off the radio and then went outside to help Kyle. He left the sink full of dirty dishes, something quite out of character.

“We’re not going far, just towards the back end of the development,” Evan said. Kyle nodded. They drove downhill from Evans' place, away from the entrance to the community. They dipped down, went up another hill, then down the hill and up another. There was no shortage of hills. They rose and fell in all directions. Each hill had three, maybe four homes on it. Kyle had the window down. It was early enough in the morning that the air was still cool.

“The houses were built closer together near the front of the development. Out here, the plots of land got bigger and the houses farther apart,” Evans explained. “Out in the very back of the development, they didn’t even build houses. They just sold land.”

“What are we doing again?” Kyle asked.

“Our neighbor George is building a house out here. We’re going to borrow his skid steer. I need to do some digging.”

They reached the top of the next hill and the paved road ended at a dirt track. The dirt track ended at the decent beginnings of a house that would someday be best described as palatial. The foundation was laid and suggested a home of 6,000 square feet or more. Two swimming pools were underway, along with a pair of tennis courts. Stacks of building materials were scattered about the site, as were various pieces of machinery and big steel gang boxes for tools. Nestled close against this aspiring mansion was a rather uninspiring camping trailer. A lean-to had been built against the trailer and it housed a couple of old motorcycles in various states of disrepair. The door to the camper opened and a man with a rifle came out.

“George, put that ****ing rifle away,” Evans yelled from the truck.

The man with the rifle squinted. When he recognized Uncle Evans he smiled, set the rifle back in his camper, and gestured obscenely with both hands.

“Park it here for now,” Uncle Evans said, and he climbed out of the truck.

“It is good to see you today,” the man who had the rifle said, grinning. “But I think your calendar is wrong. ******* day is tomorrow my friend.”

Evans smiled. "George, this is my nephew Kyle. He's helping me out. Kyle, this is George Jimenez."

Kyle reached out and shook George's hand. Evans nodded in approvement. George looked to be in his late twenties and had dark hair, grey eyes, and skin that might be a little on the pale side if not for the Texas sun. He stood maybe 5' 9”. His face was kind. His smile was easy.

“George is building a house for his family.”

“My extended family, not my own family,” George corrected. “And I’m not really building. I oversee the building. I do the scheduling, the contractors…” George waved a hand towards the future mansion. “But it is slowly going. These days, it is hard to find the proper materials. When you do, they are not cheap. Slow going.”

“Money should be no object for a rich man like you.”

“I am not rich. The family and the business are rich. I am just like you; another poor, dumb-**** Texan.”

Evans turned to Kyle, “Don’t let him bull**** you. George’s family owns their own construction company back in Columbia. They’re loaded. The part about him being a Texas dumb-**** is true though. He went to school here in the states, but only because his dad bought his way in.”

“This is true,” George said. “But now I am here in Texas. The family wanted a house in Texas so, I’ll get the house built. But it is slow going as I said. No proper materials. No proper workers. When I find the proper workers, they are all too busy. Very slow.”

“Why do you want a house in Texas?” Kyle asked.

“To tell you the truth, the family is very rich, but this can be a bad thing. Colombia can be a dangerous country. Not like before, with the FARC and the cartels, and the Cubans coming in too. But who can say what the future will hold? The family wanted a place in Texas to go to, to be safe. And to protect the money. Real estate in the United States is always safe. Only these days…" George looked at Evans. "Only these days the United States maybe not so safe. Maybe you need to get a house in Colombia you can go to."

“I’m not buying any house your family built.”

George grinned. “We’ll build one especially for you. It will fall down right on your stupid head.”

Evans grinned too and Kyle found himself grinning at the two older men’s banter.

George addressed Kyle next. “But your uncle, he should not go to Colombia. His Spanish is not so good.”

“My Spanish is better than your Spanish,” Evans protested.

“Your uncle is wrong,” George said to Kyle. “He doesn’t speak Spanish. He speaks Mexican. Or Texas-Mexican. I don’t know which, but it is not good.”

“It was good enough the two years I lived in Mexico,” Evans protested. George waved a hand dismissively.

“You didn’t live in Mexico. You lived on a base with the other Americans.”

“I didn’t know you lived in Mexico,” Kyle said to his uncle. “I thought you were in the Middle East.”

“I was everywhere,” Uncle Evans said. “Uncle Sam can send you a lot of places in thirty years.”

George said, “Too bad they didn’t send you to into the real Mexico. Maybe somebody would have kidnapped you. Although they’d be pretty upset when they found out you were just another dumb-ass Texan with no money. They’d probably pay you to go away.”

They laughed. George spoke directly to Kyle again. “I make fun, but I like talking to your uncle. We can insult each other and he does not get upset. With some Americans, I cannot do this. They are very sensitive.”

“What the hell was the rifle for?” Evans asked.

George cursed in Spanish and then said. “Yes. That bitch dog was out here last night. Running loose. No leash. Barking. Dog tried to bite me. Lori, she came up on her little electric car. She screamed at me. I told her, ‘your dog comes here again, I’m going to shoot it.’ That made her even madder. She said she would call the police. She said she would call immigration.”

“Great,” Uncle Evans said. George smiled and waved a hand again dismissively.

“Joke is on her. I have a US passport. Dual citizen. She can call the police as much as she wants.”

“I’d still be careful,” Evans said. “If she calls the cops, she’ll probably tell them you have a gun or you tried to rape her or something. She’s vindictive. She called the cops and the fire department on us the other day.”

“Yes, John told me about that. She is vindictive,” George agreed. “So, you ready to borrow my machine?”

“Yes. But before we load it up, what’s going on with the bikes?” Evans asked. He pointed to the lean-to.

“Yes,” George said, and he nearly bounced with excitement. “John welded up some cargo racks for the back. Custom. So, I’m one step closer. I found a couple of old Bultaco’s down at Elmendorf that would be good for parts. John was going to take me down to get them, but his truck is not running.”

“John needs to fix that Dodge’s driveshaft,” Evans said. Then he explained, “George has got some grand plans. He’s going to take that old motorcycle and tour all of South America.”

“It’s a Bultaco. Spanish. The best. While the house gets built I’m customizing the bike and saving up money for the trip. Make this Bultaco a little better here. Make it a little bit better there. Then…” George made a slipping gesture with his hand. “Then take a year and travel around South America. See things. Eat. Drink. Fall in love. Fall out of love. Maybe take two years. Then, time to get serious and into the family business.”

“Sounds like fun,” Kyle said.

“Sounds like an adventure. Just be careful. South America can be dangerous,” Evans added.

"Everywhere is dangerous. South America is dangerous. Mexico is dangerous. But the United States is dangerous now. Texas is dangerous too. Dangerous and getting more dangerous. It is dangerous because most of you Americans don’t know how good you have it. You took it all for granted.” George pointed at Kyle. “That’s why I like men like your uncle. The veteran men. They’ve traveled all over the world. They know how bad things can be. They know how good things can be too. They don’t take these things for granted.”

“What about you, Kyle? You up for a little adventure?” Uncle Evans asked. “You ever ridden a motorcycle?”

Kyle looked from his uncle to George, to the motorcycle under the lean-to. He wasn't quite sure if his uncle was serious. He said, "No. I've never driven a motorcycle." The older men laughed.

“First lesson, you don’t drive motorcycles.”

“I meant ride,” Kyle said. Evans turned to George.

“Doesn’t look like you’re doing much building today. You want to give a motorcycle class? Teach this kid how to ride.”

George smiled. “How much you paying?”

“How about I don’t beat your ass in front of my nephew?”

George smiled. “You’re a powerful salesman, for a Texan.”]

“Make sure he wears a helmet and don’t go too damned fast,” Evans said out the truck window. He had the skid steer loaded onto the trailer. George and Kyle stood on either side of the Bultaco. Both waved. Kyle was all smiles. He looked like he was in heaven. That made Evans smile. He drove back to his place with the skid steer and left the other two to the lesson. He had a hole to dig.

When Uncle Evans came back a couple of hours later, Kyle and George were sitting on old crates in front of the camper, drinking cans of pop. The Bultaco stood on its kickstand nearby. Kyle and George were both covered with dust, but Kyle’s big smile shone brightly.

“He’s a natural,” George said. “Get him a motorcycle of his own. When I go down south he can come along.”

“Good,” Evans said. Then he addressed Kyle, “Sounds like you know how to ride now. You have fun?” His nephew’s smile seemed to grow by a foot at each end.

“It was great. It was. I want a bike of my own.”

“Well, you better clear that with your parents first. I’m not getting you a motorcycle without your mom’s say so. She’d probably kill me just for these lessons today. That reminds me. You better call her tonight.”

George gestured towards the truck. The skid steer wasn’t on the trailer. “You didn’t get all your holes dug?”

“I got one more to dig,” Evans answered. “Let me hang onto it for another day or two.”

“No problem.”

“And thanks for the riding lessons.” Uncle Evans said. He turned to his nephew, but Kyle didn’t need any prompting.

“Yeah, thanks for the time on the bike,” he echoed.

When they got back to the house, Kyle saw the pile of scrap metal by the barn was gone and so was the storage tank. The stack of rusting barbed wire bales was still there.

“Where’d the tank go?” Kyle asked his uncle.

“Don’t worry about it,” Evans said. “Call your mom. I’ll make us some dinner.”

“You want to watch the riots after?”

“Sure, if they are on. But I need to take care of something in the barn first. I’ll meet you up in the office after I’m done.”

The barn wasn't really a barn. It was a detached garage full of tools, boxes, random parts… the typical American clutter. It smelled of sawdust and machine oil. Evans unfolded a stepstool and took a cardboard box off a plywood shelf mounted high on the wall. He set the box on a workbench between a drill press and a belt sander. He opened the box and rooted through its contents. He found the first thing he was looking for right away. It looked like a big baby’s bib, only it was camouflage and covered with various pouches. He set that aside then dug deeper in the box and found the other thing he was looking for. He took out what looked like a big metal flashlight and set it next to the camouflage bib. The flashlight-thing was well used. Its surface was covered with small dents, and scratches, and worn down to bare metal. A yellow sticker on the flashlight-thing was almost completely rubbed away but two words were still readable, “Laser Radiation.”

Evans put the box back on its shelf, then he opened a cabinet beneath the workbench. Inside were two five-gallon metal containers labeled, “Transmission Fluid.” What he needed was behind those containers.

Evans spent a long time looking at those two metal buckets. When he was ready, he gently, ever so gently, moved the containers out of the way. He moved them one at a time, more gingerly than if they were eggs. With the transmission fluid out of the way, he took a mechanical tower out of the cabinet and set it beside the bib and flashlight-thing. The tower was painted the same color as desert sand. That done, he sat down, took a deep breath, and carefully considered the buckets of transmission fluid again.

While Evans worked in the barn, Kyle went back up into the office and turned on the computer. The monitors came to life with their electric glows. Kyle wanted to check the streams, but first, he wanted to know more about what happened in Raleigh the night before. His fingers typed away. The information the internet issued forth was not reassuring.

First off, the incident the night before was uniformly referred to as the Raleigh-Durham Executions. They weren’t called the Raleigh Murders, or the Raleigh Shooting, or the Peaceful Raleigh Protest that happened to go a little sideways. They were called the Raleigh-Durham Executions by each and every mainstream outlet Kyle checked. And there was no use of the qualifiers “alleged” or “allegedly.” These were executions. Period. End of Sentence. Consensus was achieved. The science was settled. The debate was over. "Their uniformity is a dead giveaway," he could hear his uncle saying. Kyle searched further.

Who were the Raleigh Executioners? That was easy enough to find out. Their booking photos were all over the internet; middle-class, middle-aged faces. Men and women. Sad and scared. Shocked and disbelieving. They looked like ordinary, law-abiding people who just learned out of the blue that they'd been sentenced to death. And they had. Their names and ages were published along with their booking photos, but there was more. Their addresses were also put out on the internet and not just by the fringe elements on the web, but by the big three-letter media outlets. Their addresses were published. The names of their employers were published. The names and photos of their spouses. The names of their children and where they went to school. What banks they used. Even their IRS records were accessible with just a few clicks and keystrokes.

What could not be found on the internet was who the executed were. The media outlets that were so forthcoming, so detailed about the identities of the villains were vague about who the victims were. Words like, "multiple victims," or "many victims" were used. But a specific number of victims was never given. Kyle watched an exchange from a press conference earlier that day. A blue-suited government lawyer spoke to a crowd of reporters.

“One of the executioners we arrested is Thomas Ramon. Mr. Ramon works at Greenhills Middle School where he teaches science and coaches girls soccer. He has two daughters, Tracy and Gia, and they both attend the same school. From electronic devices we seized at his residence, we were able to link Mr. Ramon to anti-establishment and conspiracy-theory internet movements, as well as fascist right-wing white supremacist movements that communicate via the dark web.

“The weapon Mr. Ramos used to commit these fascistic executions was purchased at Superior Pawn, located at 612 Wharf Avenue, Raleigh Durham. The owner of Superior Pawn is Crispin Hoskins. He leases the property from Gilman Commercial Equities and Investments. Their contact information will be made available on our webpage. He also took out several business loans from a variety of lending institutions. We will post their information on the website as well.

"A stockpile of arms, ammunition, food and anti-government literature was seized from Mr. Ramon's house. Also seized were a powerful telescope and two sets of binoculars that could have been used to spy on government facilities. We believe he was able to purchase and stockpile these war supplies through the extra money he made coaching and the money his wife Joanne made working at Shade Hill Mortgage and Trust located in Greenhill North Carolina. We believe he also hid some of his income to avoid taxes. In the interest of transparency, and in coordination with the IRS, we’ve made his tax records available to the public.”

“Can you tell us how many victims there were?” A reporter asked.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t comment on active investigations,” The spokesman with a straight face.

Kyle drifted through the internet, moving away from the Raleigh-Durham Executions and toward tonight’s activities. Most of the major cities held candlelight vigils for the nameless and numberless victims of the Raleigh-Durham Executions. Streamers moved through the crowds and past the candle arrangements. Kyle thought those all looked too choreographed, too slick, and the logistics too carefully planned to be authentic. Kyle surged some more. The sun was setting on the West Coast. Kyle found a live-stream out of Portland. Some protestor-looking kids had overdosed on the street. The paramedics were trying to get to the kids, but more protestors were shouting them down and chasing them off. They threw trash. A barefoot woman with a fistful of crystals and prayer beads sat over one of the overdose victims, trying to open his charkas and release the negative energy. The kid's lips were blue. Somebody heaved a chunk of concrete into the paramedic's ambulance. The windshield cracked and the ambulance drove away.

“Anything happening,” Uncle Evans asked. He came into the room with a box of stuff and set it down next to the computer desk. There was a slight chemical smell in the air. Kyle felt the inside of his nostrils burn. He sneezed. Then sneezed again. Uncle Evans left to go wash his hands. When he came back into the office he said, “Why don’t you shut that computer down.”

Kyle took one last look at the computer and shut it down. Uncle Evans took the mechanical tower out of the desk and set it on the desk beside the computer.

“What’s that?” Kyle asked.

“Salvage from one of my trips overseas. It’s a camera system that mounts on the roof of a vehicle. We used it to find bombs on the sides of the roads. It has a regular camera, a thermal camera, and night vision. It has a pretty powerful zoom, at least for its time. It has a spotlight and an infrared light built into it. It all works off a remote control. You can pan, tilt, pivot, zoom in and out, everything.”

“Where does the video go?" Kyle asked.

“It routed into its own monitor, but we can run it wireless into the computer monitors,” Uncle Evans said. He gestured towards the monitor array on the computer desk. “We’re going to mount this onto the roof of the house. It will give us a view of the neighborhood at least as far down as Lori’s house.

Kyle looked the big tower over. He wiped some light tan dust off an edge. “It’s pretty big. It looks pretty old,” he said.

“It was state of the art over a decade ago. It ain’t pretty or small, but it will work. We’ll have to fiddle around with it though. It is meant to run off vehicle power but I want to wire it into the house.”

“Worried about the riots and the PVD?” Kyle asked.

“Not exactly,” Uncle Evans said. “I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time. Now I’ve got the motivation.”

Kyle looked into the box, reached in, and pulled out the flashlight-looking-thing. “What’s this?” Kyle asked.

“That’s called a dazzler.”

“What is a dazzler?”

“It is a powerful laser pointer. We used them overseas to get people’s attention. Mostly to keep them driving through our roadblocks or crashing into our convoys.”

“Did it work?” Kyle asked.

Evans shrugged. “Sometimes it did. Sometimes it didn’t. If the dazzler didn’t work then we usually went to guns. A lot of people got shot for no other reason than they were bad drivers. But that was a long time ago. Anyway, we’re going to mount this onto the tower along with the cameras and lights.”

“You know how to do that?” Kyle asked.

"I can figure out the mechanical part. The electrical part, I'm not so sure about. Same with the tower itself. It was designed to run off vehicle power, but I want to wire it into the house. I could probably figure it out myself, but we've only got one of these and I don't want to fry any components because I crossed the wrong wires or didn't do the math right. I've got a friend down the street who used to be an electrical engineer. We'll take it by him for a look."

Kyle ran his hands over the camera tower. “It shouldn’t be too hard to add the laser and wire it all up. I took a robotics class for a year back in California back when I was in junior high.”

“Did you like it?” Uncle Evans asked. Kyle thought about that.

“I did like it. I should have stuck with it. I could have gotten more out of it.”

“Skills,” Uncle Evans repeated. “You can’t have too many.”

“Yeah,” Kyle agreed. He looked back into the box. “And what is this thing?” He pulled the camouflage bib with all of its attached pouches out of the box.

“That is called a RACK,” Uncle Evans. “RACK stands for Ranger Assault Carrying Kit. I traded a Ranger for it a long time ago. I can’t remember what I gave him for it. Anyways, these pouches here are for all the stuff you might need in an emergency: magazines for that carbine, water, a first aid kit, flashlight, knife, everything.

Kyle looked over the vintage piece of military surplus appreciatively. Uncle Evans went on.

“We’re going to keep the RACK in here, by the rifles. It is the best place for it. If we need it, we’ll know right where it is.”

Evans froze, reached into his pocket, and pulled out his old-man phone. He looked at the screen and asked, "Was anything happening with the protests?"

“Nothing really. Candlelight vigils for the Raleigh-Durham Executions,” Kyle said. He immediately regretted saying “Raleigh-Durham Executions.”

“Turn the computers back on. Look for a feed from Oklahoma City. Something is going down there.”
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