To counter some of the doom an gloom out there, I’m working on a dystopia story with a bit more hopeful angle. I’m posting this in small segments for now. It’s still, more or less, a rough draft. I’ll shoot for two segments a week – and hope I don’t get stuck We are stronger than we think we are!
A Refuge – Part one
Theo rubbed weary eyes, and then tried not to. She had been driving for close to four hours now. Her route was planned to avoid the cities and major towns. There would be danger in the cities. More than she could cope with alone, at any rate. An open convenience store tempted her to stop. She didn’t hesitate. If they still had gas, she could fill both her tanks and maybe even get some coffee, if she was lucky.
As soon as she took out the key, she reached for her eye drops. That would wake her up better than coffee. She noted the lack of cars here and no traffic at all on the road, though the signs said this was a junction of roads between sizable towns. When she put the drops back, she shoved her pistol into the small holster at her back. She grinned, thanking her grandfather for his foresight to leave her this package at the school “just in case”. Something about the lack of traffic bothered her. Things were getting bad in a hurry.
“I need about forty gallons of gas. Do you have any fresh coffee?” She said to the attendant before she was properly through the door.
“You’ll have to pay first. Cash only.” He frowned at her and then tried to put on a more polite expression. His hair was dark and ragged with a scraggly beard.
Theo grinned, “Sure thing, I need to make a little stop first and get a few goodies for the road.” She did her best to imitate the airy, light mannerisms of one of her classmates. It seemed to drive the guy at the register as nuts as it had her. And that was her intent. He was setting off all sorts of alarms in her head.
While she did what she said she would, she also looked around. She heard a muffled voice in the storeroom next to the ladies’ room. She also thought she heard movement in the men’s room. So, there was at least one in the men’s room and two in the storeroom. Her main reason for going into the ladies room was to make sure her weapon was ready. She knew it was, but she felt better for checking it.
She took her time looking over the food, a mask of dumb blonde frozen on her face, though she was neither dumb, nor blonde. She wanted some quick energy boosters on hand and chocolate fit that role just fine. She had real food in her truck. The coffee was not nearly as fresh as she’d like, but it would do. Now she just hoped they were still taking paper money. The guy didn’t look quite smart enough to have grasped yet, just how worthless it was.
As she put her items on the counter, she saw greed leap in his eyes.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars.” He stated, without bothering to ring anything up.
“I only want forty gallons of gas, sir. The sign says it’s $4.99 a gallon.” His actions reinforced her impression that this guy was danger, and had no business behind the counter.
“Two hundred and fifty dollars.” This time, there was an implied threat hanging in the air.
She reached into her bag and carefully pulled out the required cash. She slammed it down on the counter and stalked out, just as her classmate would have and left to pump her gas. She deposited her purchases and quickly began filling the near tank, watching for the next move. It came in the form of another vehicle pulling up along side the same pump. Since there were three other pumps, the alarms were now ringing madly.
“Give me some gas, woman!” The driver said as he got out, making the word woman into a slimy, inferior thing. He approached her with his hand in his pocket, but if he had a gun, it was a small one. Then she smiled.
“You want gas, man” She managed to slur the term into the realms of a witless dog. “Okay, here you go.” Theo turned to him and held the nozzle to full force, dousing him with gasoline. He screamed in a language she didn’t know, but she got the idea.
“Since you seem to need help, would you like a light too?” She asked sweetly as she pulled a lighter out of her pocket. His eyes went very wide as his mouth dropped open and stayed there. “Now, we can escalate this and you die or you can walk away now. If you wash it off fairly fast, it won’t burn too badly.”
His face suffused with anger and he started to draw his hand out of his pocket. Several things happened at once. Theo saw the one in the store come to the door with what looked like an AK-47 and a badass looking military vehicle pulled up on her off side. She noted at a glance that the soldier on the gun did not wear a blue UN hat. Evidently, the gunner had managed to grasp what was happening fast enough to cut down the man with the rifle, while the vehicle pulled between her and the store. She caught that at the edge of her vision, as time seemed to slow down. She didn’t remember any order to her hand to drop the nozzle, but it was lying on the ground and her pistol was already coming up.
It was so exactly like practice. The lighter dropped unnoticed as her left hand joined the right and she acquired the sights as her hands locked into position. The firing was just as automatic. Then she emptied the clip center mass. He seemed to topple over in slow motion and then everything rushed in. She breathed again.
“Ma’am, are you all right?” It was incongruous, that courtesy in the soldier’s, no Marine’s, voice after they had each just killed someone. He didn’t look at her, but kept his eyes up and out, scanning.
Theo couldn’t help it, she laughed, though it came out as a slightly hysterical squeak. “I’m alive, so yes.” Her eye fell on the blood pooling about the body of the man she had just killed. The shock of it jarred her back to reality. “There are at least three more inside.” One reality. The other one would have to wait.
She got to see the efficiency of a well-trained squad in action as the man behind the driver made a hand motion and three other men boiled out of the vehicle, weapons up and out. Two went to the near corners of the building so fast they were blurs. The one she guessed was in command, dismounted on her side, but the gunner on top remained. One more came to stand beside her other side.
“Ma’am, you stay here. And get that weapon reloaded!” That was from the sergeant, she could see his stripes now. She sprinted back to her truck, reaching in quickly to grab more clips. A new one was in place and a round chambered before she turned back.
The sergeant gave her a short nod of almost approval. She took a good look at him. He didn’t look old enough to have so many bars pinned to his shirt. His face caught her attention, the steady, hard set to his dark features and the determination in his eyes spoke of more than just the current situation. The assessment had taken seconds, but Theo knew without doubt, she could trust this man.
Movement inside the store caught their eye. The marines held their fire until they had better targets. That didn’t take long. Impatient, someone stepped around the candy display and hosed the windows. Theo jumped at the sound. The man tried to duck back under cover, but he didn’t count on the gunner’s sights and he shot as soon as the first round hit the windows. They could see into the store clearly now and two more figures were moving around, keeping low. The two marines at the building had disappeared. Theo thought they must be checking the back. The sergeant murmured something into his microphone and a moment later one of them came around to the corner, keeping low.
“Close your eyes, Ma’am, and stay down,” the sergeant told her.
The next instant she heard two distinct small explosions followed by boots running. She eased up to peak over the edge. Something was said over the radio, but she couldn’t catch it.
“All clear, Ma’am. I need to check my men.” The look the sergeant gave her plainly was “Stay out of the way” and he’d rather she didn’t go in at all.
Theo wondered if it was because she was a woman, or simply a civilian. Probably the later, she guessed. Either way, she wasn’t ready to stand around and wait to be told what to do.
“Gunny, we found a body, probably the owner, in the storeroom. What now?” The marine who spoke looked far too young, even to her eyes, to be a marine. He didn’t even look old enough to shave.
The tiny hesitation was all Theo needed. “Sergeant, if I may suggest, let the local sheriff handle it. You’ve the two prisoners there, for one thing, and from what I’ve seen, there may be more trouble in the area. The sheriff can warn us of any spots to avoid and if he’s not quite ready to believe how bad things are getting, this should wake him up.” She grinned up at him, his bulk making her feel small. “Besides, who’s going to argue with you? You’re Marines!”
“The lady has a point.” The young marine grinned at her.
The sergeant gave her a hard look she couldn’t read and sighed. “Very well. A small town sheriff should be okay. That’s if the phone works.”
Miraculously, the phone did work. By the time the sheriff pulled up, they had decided these were either some pretty inept terrorists or a band of the many illegals that had invaded the country in recent years. The sergeant, Matt Greer, added that they could be both. Once he got over his shock at the incident, the sheriff called in an ambulance and loaded the prisoners into the back of his SUV.
He came up to Theo and Gunnery Sgt. Greer. “I should have you come to the station and file a report, but I have a feeling there’s no real point. Process is going out the window fast. Would you come to town for dinner though? With your men and Miss Stevens, of course. I think I owe you one.”