Tea Time


Short Story


Katrina L. Velsor

April 15, 2039

Dearest Diary – It is the thirtieth anniversary of the day our journey began.  You have grown by volumes over the years and I treasure you as much today as I did then.  Hard to believe that I was ever thirty-five!!  What dreams I had…how naive to think we could prevent the inevitable.

I know that I have neglected you, dear friend.  It has become increasingly difficult to find private moments within the walls of our commune.  However, I could not let this important anniversary go by without entering a word or two.  I bartered with a fellow citizen to obtain the candles I am writing by.  Electricity is reserved for community use and individuals are not permitted to use it for things other than chores that benefit the whole.

Enough of my complaints!  I promised I would not do that today.   Oh…hold on.  Someone is at my door…


“Citizen Commander, we confiscated these handwritten volumes during a Commune Raid on Wednesday.  The citizen’s name was Mary Leigh, aged 65” said the soldier.  He placed a large box onto the chair in front of  the Commander of Commune Compliance and Citizen Modification.  It contained several books that appeared to be both professionally bound and handmade.  On the spine of each book were a volume number and the year in which it was written.  Some volumes covered one year and others only a few months.

“What kind of books are these, Soldier Citizen?”

“Diaries, Citizen Commander.  Apparently, Citizen Leigh has been unlawfully documenting her activities with an underground Tea Party Coalition for the past three decades.”

“THREE DECADES!?!?  HOW DID YOU LET THIS GO ON FOR THREE DECADES!?!?” The Commander’s face became twisted with rage.  He slammed his fist on the table beside him upsetting a photograph of the founding father, Barack, which drew a gasp from the soldier.  Realizing what he had done, the Commander quickly retrieved the photo from the floor and polished it with his uniform sleeve before returning it to its place of honor.

“Citizen Commander, Sir, Citizen Leigh had cleverly hidden her writings.  She has lived her public life as a model citizen.  We have had no reason to question her patriotism until Wednesday when a fellow citizen noticed the candle light flickering in her window.  Apparently, she assumed that the commune would be empty.  The reporting Citizen had forgotten his Compliance manual and returned to his room to retrieve it.  That is when he discovered the light in her window.  He advised us immediately and we proceeded to search the building in which Citizen Leigh resides.  Sir, we also recovered paraphernalia from the Tea Party Coalition.  This includes a list of some of the remaining members.  We are conducting raids on their communes as we speak.”

“Good work, Soldier Citizen.  I thought we had squashed those bastards fifteen years ago.  Please leave me.  I want some time to review the books and compile a report.  Where is Citizen Leigh now?”

“Deceased, Sir.  Upon careful review of the situation, we have determined that she brandished a weapon and had to be taken down.  We will send our regrets to her surviving family members.”

“Good, good.  Now leave me.” said the Commander as he waved his hand in a dismissive gesture.

The soldier nodded his head and quickly left the room, closing the door behind him.  Once alone, the Commander searched through the box.  He came upon a book entitled “Volume I, 2009 – A Joyous Beginning”.  It was in slight disrepair.  The cover was faded and the edges worn.

Walking to his desk, he made himself comfortable and opened the book to the first page…


April 15, 2009

Hello, Diary!  I have never felt comfortable writing to “no one” before.  Diaries seemed so silly.  But this is a momentous occasion for me.  I am going to attend my first tea party!  Our government has changed so drastically from the Founding Fathers’ original plan, they don’t listen to us anymore, and I fear the Health Care Reform Bill being pushed through Congress by the current administration will lead to a larger gap between us and the Constitution (by which we are supposed to live our lives).  I have never been one to be politically active; however, this is a cause I feel I must support.  I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.  Mary


The Commander thumbed through the volume until three words written in big, red letters caught his eye.  “WE HAVE LOST!” This compelled him to read further.


December 19, 2009

Dear Diary – Despite all of our efforts (letters to Congress, attending Town Halls, etc.) the health care bill has become law.  It saddens me greatly to know that 85% of Americans DID NOT WANT THIS, yet we were not allowed to vote on our own futures.  My parents are in their late fifties.  I wonder what awaits them if they get very ill and need long term care.  I fear for children born with disabilities.  I fear for cancer victims.  Something in my gut tells me our rights and freedoms as we know them will eventually fade away.  I truly am afraid.  Mary

Many hours passed as the Commander browsed through year after year.  Mary had been active in transporting children and their families to South America where a Constitutional Colony had been established during the 20’s.  The Border Guards rarely stopped people from leaving New America if they were disabled or elderly.  Those citizens were useless to our government and it saved money if they were under the care of someone else.

However, the government was not happy to lose Techies, Doctors, Nurses, healthy teenagers or those with the potential to work for many years in the Corn Co-Ops.  Many of them had slipped through the complicated network of surveillance equipment, fences and guards leading dogs to escape the oppressive atmosphere in New America.

Mary’s commune was part of the “new Underground Railroad” set up to facilitate their escape.  The government had attempted to remove all of the tunnels created in the early 2000’s by drug cartels in Mexico.  Many had not been discovered until recently.  Fortunately, they were discovered by the Tea Party Coalition and not the government.  Once in Mexico, the Constitutionalists had a fairly easy trip to the South American colony.

Little-by-little, the Constitutional Colony grew.  They bought land in large blocks and grew all of the vegetables they ate.  Cattle were plentiful, as were chickens, eggs, pigs and sheep.  As the years went on, they bought more and more land.  Doctors were able to build a hospital with modern equipment purchased from Georgia and Japan.  An old-style Main Street ran through the more populated area of the commune.  Schools popped up here and there.  Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and other religious structures were erected.  A Colonial Military was formed to protect the borders from invasion by the New American Guard.

During the time of construction, Mary’s parents fell ill.  No matter how hard she tried, they refused to leave their home in New America.  Gordon and Patricia Leigh were eventually relocated to an End-of-Life Facility only to pass away shortly thereafter.  It was difficult for Mary to come to terms with the fact that her parents would never see the Colony.

Not long before she was arrested, Mary had made final preparations to leave New America and take up permanent residence in the Constitutional Colony.  She wrote little of what those preparations entailed.  She seemed excited to begin her new life.  However, the Border Patrol had been exceptionally watchful and travel was very risky.  She decided to delay her trip until late summer.


Citizen Commander closed the final volume at 2 am.  He rose from his desk and studied his reflection in the large picture window.  He ignored the tears that tracked through the deep wrinkles in his face.  “I will have many years to grieve.  Now is the time to act”, he thought to himself.

The list Mary left behind named only those who were known spies for the government.  The Commander was certain some of them had obtained enough information about the “Underground” to do irreparable harm to their mission.  He was also certain that it was only a matter of time before they discovered his role in it.

He removed his uniform jacket and hung it on the back of his chair, gathered as many of Mary’s books as he could carry.  He reached into a desk drawer grabbing a bottle of Zippo fluid and doused the remaining books until the bottle was empty.  In the same drawer was a box of fireplace matches.  He watched as the books were engulfed in flames and left his office through a hidden doorway in his private bathroom.  He could hear fire alarms sounding in the distance as he descended the stairs that led down to one of the cartel’s many abandoned tunnels.  The Commander had made sure this one would remain open “so we have a means of escape in case we are attacked by those Constitutional whackos.”  A change of clothes had been kept at the ready.  He discarded the rest of his uniform and began the long walk through the tunnel to Mexico.

Eric van Ness entered the gates of the Colony a tired, hungry man.  He was greeted with hugs and handshakes from his fellow Constitutionalists who led him to a small diner on Main Street.   “I haven’t had a steak in years.  And baked potatoes.  This is heaven!” he said as he leaned back in his seat.

“Well, Eric, this is regular fare around here.  Get used to it” said the man seated directly opposite him.  A woman in an apron cleared the dishes from the table.  The man who had spoken was Lyle Talbot.  He was one of the original Colonialists.  “Anyway, we are deeply saddened about the loss of Mary.  She was one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“She sure was, Lyle.”  With that, Eric lifted up the pack he had been carrying.  He emptied the contents onto the table.  People gathered around to see what he had brought.

The diner remained open all night as the Constitutional Colonialists took turns reading Mary’s books aloud…

Madam Citizen

Amelia loved her job.  For many years she seemed to wander aimlessly from place to place, never quite finding her niche in the New American Workforce.  Now she felt as though she served her Government in the most important branch of the Societal Wellness Ministry (SWM) – as Administrator of a large Hospice and Re-Training Facility.

It was hard to believe that forty years ago she was a starry-eyed graduate of the William J. Clinton College of Political and Societal Studies.  She worked in the now-defunct Social Security Administration evaluating claims.  When they eliminated Social Security benefits, she moved to the Office of Community Assessment.  That wasn’t too bad, she thought.  In her position as Neighborhood Coordinator it was her job to ensure that all HOA’s complied with the New American Directives regarding political and patriotic displays, green landscapes, gas and electric usage and ethnic percentages.  At least she had daily contact with people instead of being stuck behind a desk arguing with a computer all day.

Many jobs came and went, until a year ago.  If nothing else, Amelia was a true patriot.  The Government had been following her career closely and someone from the SWM felt she would be the perfect candidate for the position she now held.

The Hospice building was quite old.  It had been built in 1929 in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.  It was constructed under the watchful eye of a wealthy steel baron as a gift to his mistress (a starlet whose talents only seemed to shine in the bedroom).  She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1934 and the steel baron spent large sums of money making the home more comfortable for his beloved starlet.  Sadly, she passed away in 1940 and the grief-stricken man never returned.

The Government acquired the property from the State in 2020 in exchange for Carbon Credits.  It renovated the interior to comply with the New American Disability Empowerment Act.  However, the exterior remained little changed.

The grounds consisted of 400 acres of gardens, guest cottages, a barn and a 20 car garage.  Most of the buildings had been converted to living quarters for the Hospice Staff and their families.  Some newer buildings had been added to the landscape over the years.  But, Amelia still preferred the old house.

Upon entering her office, she noticed that the Administrative Staff had assembled at a large table on the far side of the room.  Corn cakes and soy bars were arranged nicely on platters in the center of the table.  Many Staffers chatted to invisible people via Tele-serts.  These were devices surgically fitted into the ear canal with highly sensitive microphones, much like a microscopic Blue Tooth.

When Amelia approached her chair, all conversations ceased.  She pressed a button on the arm of her chair and a holographic screen appeared between the corn cakes and soy bars.  The Director of the SWM appeared before them and said “Good Morning fellow Citizens.  Today we are going to complete our annual “Productivity Evaluations” of the residents of your facility and determine our course of action for the upcoming Spring Cleaning.  I believe I would like to hear from Donna first.”

“Good Morning fellow Citizen!” Donna responded.  “I have Citizen Joseph, age 21.  We have determined that he has sustained irreparable damage to his left knee thus rendering him unable to continue his obligation as Defensive Lineman for the New American Patriots football team.”

“Prospects for other forms of service to our Society?” the Director asked.

“Madam Citizen, we have determined that Citizen Joseph’s intelligence quotient is below that of an average Citizen.  He has been unable and/or unwilling to be educated by our Techie Team.  He does have breeding potential.  He shows no inherent weakness of the joints and the injury he sustained was as a result of an automobile accident.”

“Was the accident determined to be his fault?”

“No, Ma’am.  He was the victim of a hit-and-run while walking on the sidewalk with his former fiancée.”

“Okay.  Thank you, Donna.  Amelia, your recommendation?”

“Madam Citizen, I recommend we institute a re-entry program, place him back into society under close supervision and provide a potential mate.  We can re-evaluate him in 10 years.”

“Good enough. Do it.  Next case.  How about George.  We haven’t communicated lately.”

“Thank you, Madam Citizen.  Uhm, I have been assigned to Citizen Kathy.  She is a 65-year-old former teacher with Diabetes.  Although her sugar had been under control for many years, she seems to be erratic lately.  She regularly requires medical treatment above and beyond her daily insulin injections.”

“Citizen George, have you consulted with MedCom to determine if she is able to work in any capacity?”

“Yes, Madam Citizen.  Upon careful examination of the Citizen in question, MedCom has determined that she is unable to work in any capacity for more than 10 hours per week.  Her condition is not due to outside causes such as alcohol.  Her body just will not respond to the approved Insulin.  We do not feel that this Citizen is capable of being productive enough to warrant the Government supplying her with an alternate Insulin product at this time.”

“At this time, Citizen George?  Or ever?”

“Uhm, Madam Citizen.  Well, uhm, never…Madam Citizen.”

George hated to give the Director bad news about one of his fellow Citizens.  He felt ashamed of his job.  Many nights George would sit up with his wife, Jenna, sipping wine and talking about their respective jobs.  The reason he got the position as Special Assistant to the Administrator in the first place was due to the fact that his wife was the Primary Assistant to the Director.

He never wanted the job.  But, Jenna felt that it would work in their favor when their time came to be evaluated.  This didn’t make George feel any better about things.

Amelia had always felt that George’s evaluations were somewhat sugar-coated.  She had let him get away with it only because the Director seemed to be quite fond of his wife.  However, this time George had crossed the line.  The evaluation he had presented for Citizen Kathy could cost the Government hundreds of thousands of dollars.   She adjourned the meeting and consulted with the Director.

George left the meeting quickly.  He wanted to see Citizen Kathy before he returned to his office.  He felt as though he owed her at least that much.

As he turned the corner, he felt a presence behind him…

Amelia thought the flowers smelled so lovely.  Lilacs were her favorite.  “Hard to find this time of year”, she thought.  The River by Garth Brooks played softly in the distance as she took in the beauty of her surroundings.

“I love the old-style country songs”, said the Director as she came up behind Amelia.

“Me, too”, Amelia replied.

“It was a lovely service.  Jenna put a lot of thought and caring into it.  But, then again, she always does.”

“Yes, Madam Citizen, she is a real keeper.”

The Director winked and walked toward the grieving widow.  Amelia was certain she would not have to evaluate Jenna anytime soon…

You’ve got mail…

LARRY:  Hey, John.  How’s it going today?

JOHN:  Not bad.  Mmmm, what happened to your flagpole, Larry?  Could’ve sworn I saw it yesterday.

LARRY:  Yeah, got a letter from the HOA telling me to take it down.  I have it in the garage.

JOHN:  Why? What’s wrong with the stuff you had on it?  American Flag, Marine Corps flag, POW/MIA…?

LARRY:  Oh, I violated the “Neutrality Ordinance”.  I should have known better.  My fault.  I need to go to the Compliance Store today and by the New American Banner.

JOHN:  Wow.  Did you get reported or was that your first warning?

LARRY:  First one.  (Larry lowers his voice to a whisper, looking up and down the street before he continues)  The Johnson’s were warned twice!  I’m kinda worried for them, you know.

JOHN:  (also speaking in a whisper)  Larry, the Johnson’s were “relocated” last night.  I know I shouldn’t have watched, but I couldn’t help myself.  A “Cultural Ministry” van pulled up at around 2 or 3 this morning.  Man, you should have seen the shit they pulled from his house.  American flags, a framed copy of the Old Constitution…sad, really.  Linda was crying and so were the kids.   Jeff tried to console them, but I think he was just as frightened as they were.  This is getting out of hand…

LARRY:  (in a normal tone of voice)  Well, John, have a good day!  Thanks for telling me about that New History meeting tonight.  I’ll see you there.

John looked around to see a neighbor approaching.  She was Vice President of the HOA and a real “New America” cheerleader.  John despised her.

JOHN:  What?  Oh, yeah.  The meeting.  Sure.  We’ll be there.

At 2 A.M. the next morning, Larry heard the sound of a truck pulling into John’s driveway.  He lay there in silence wondering if he was wrong to email the government about their discussion the day before…

Section 1233

Setting – A living room in Staten Island, NY

The Year – 2036

Scene – An End of Life Services Counselor comes to the home of a 65-year-old New York City firefighter who responded to Ground Zero on 9/11/2001 to discuss his medical treatment during the next 5 years.

COUNSELOR:  First of all, sir, I would like to say that your government thanks you for your service on 9/11.  We recognize the sacrifice both you and your family have made for our country.  I am here to discuss your medical treatment plan for the next 5 years.  Our goal, first and foremost, is to ensure your comfort.  Secondly, we must see to it that the cost of this treatment plan remains within the limits as provided in Section 1233 of the Happy, Healthy Americans Health Care Reform Act of 2009.

FIREFIGHTER:  Okay.  Well, uhm, I don’t think I am anywhere near the end of my life.  You know, with all the new medical techniques and treatments that are available I should be around for a long time.

COUNSELOR:  Well…you have had a few bouts of a rare cancer ever since 9/11.  And rest assured you are not the only first responder suffering at this time.  This particular cancer is bound to recur at some point during the next five years.  We have studied it very carefully.  Plus, you are 65.  To be honest, sir, the government feels that you will not be a productive citizen.  We cannot justify an expenditure of over one million dollars during the next 5 years on an individual with nothing to contribute to our society.

FIREFIGHTER:  Wait a minute!!!!  What the HELL do you want from me?  I “contributed to our society” for 30 years!  Even when I was diagnosed with cancer, I worked when I wasn’t undergoing treatments.  I have a wife and 4 kids.  6 grandchildren.  They need me!  What are you trying to say?  If the cancer comes back I just have to hold my head high and drop dead?!?!

COUNSELOR:  I wouldn’t put it quite like that, sir.  We will provide you with an attorney so that you can prepare a Will.  We will also pay for any and all pain medications you may require.  Besides, this is all hypothetical.  You have been cancer free for 3 years.  Yes, there is a high likelihood it will return.  We in the government hope this does not happen.  However, we need to prepare you for any and all possible medical emergencies.  The government wishes to make your final days comfortable and pain free.  We are looking out for the future of your family, you know.  The money saved can be used to provide medical care for them, run government farms so that they can have good food and pay union workers so that your grandchildren can have durable, government approved clothing.

FIREFIGHTER:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I know.  Next thing you’re gonna tell me is Soylent Green isn’t people.

(The firefighter begins to laugh at his joke.  However, the Counselor seems confused and a bit annoyed.)

COUNSELOR:  Well, no sir, of course it isn’t…



© 2012 by Katrina L. Velsor

Dew had settled on the grassy meadow, reflecting the fiery orange of morning sunlight.  An ant pushed his way between the blades in search of food.  He sensed something in the distance.  It was quite cool beneath the cover of the overgrown pasture.  The earth was very soft and difficult to traverse.  Yet, the ant kept his pace and trudged onward.

Lily had been watching the determined insect for a while now.  Occasionally she would place her finger in his path to see if he would turn back, or find a new route to his destination.  As the ant crawled over her finger and made his escape, Lily was distracted by the muffled sounds of people coming to life.

She was almost always the first to awaken.  At twelve, Lily was considered old enough to start the cooking fire and put on coffee.  The breakfast skillet was warming on a grate next to the coals inside of the fire ring.  Most days, breakfast included liquid eggs, veecon and soft corn tortillas.  Lily did not prepare the meal.  That chore was left to her eighteen-year-old brother, Lyle.

“How long you been up?” her mother asked as she walked out of the old farm house her family called home.  It was badly in need of repair.  The porch had sagged almost to ground level, the shutters long gone.  Tattered curtains waved from the windows in sync with the morning breeze.  The porch boards groaned painfully as her mother’s feet came in contact with them.

“Oh, about an hour or so.  The ants were in our cooler box again.”

“Damn!  Did they ruin anything?”

“Nope.  Got ‘em before they could do much harm.  Wish we could find a better spot for the food, Mom.  Why don’t we put it in the house?”

Her mother sighed and looked to the sky.  “Lily, I told you if we put it inside, the ants will be inside.  I don’t particularly like sleeping with ants, do you?”

“No.  I just hate fightin’ ‘em every day.  It gets to be a real pain.”  She reached into the cooler box and retrieved one of the glass bottles containing soy milk.

“Lyle!  Time to get up and start breakfast!” his mother called toward the house.  “Coffee’s done and me ‘n’ Lily are waitin’ on ya!”  A tall, muscular teenager appeared in the doorway, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.  He raised one hand to shield them from the sun that glared through the branches of the old cottonwood trees.

Without saying a word, Lyle shuffled across the porch toward the fire ring.  He poured himself a large mug of coffee, shaking his head when Lily offered him the soy milk.  “Black this mornin’, Squirt.  I was up late studying for the driver’s exam.  Need all the wakin’ up power the coffee can give me.”  He winked at his sister as he blew on the steam rising from the mug.

As Lyle began to prepare breakfast, two other men emerged from the home.  The first was near as tall as Lyle but older and broader about the mid-section.  He made his way slowly toward the picnic table that was nestled under a group of cottonwoods.  Lily’s mom poured him a mug of coffee and one for herself then took a seat beside him.  They sat for a while in silence as the children continued working on breakfast.

The second man stretched and yawned as he exited the home, making “old man noises” as he sometimes referred to the oohs, ahhs and grunts that escaped his lips.  Lily’s grampa was not a tall man, but he appeared larger than his actual size.  His hair was full and snow white, which brought out the blue in his eyes.  He was barrel-chested, with strong arms.  His physique belied both his age and the disease that slowly fed upon his body.

Lyle called the family to breakfast and they gathered around the picnic table to eat.  This was Lily’s favorite time of day.  Grampa Jack was wont to tell stories at breakfast time.  Lyle and Lily loved to hear about the times before the Great American Clean-up, when cattle and horses roamed the plains of Colorado.  Today was what Grampa called “Independence Day”.  It always brought him back to the before times just prior to the birth of New America.

“When I joined the Marines in twenty-ought-two there were men with me from all fifty states.  We flew into Iraq in a plane bigger’n anything you ever seen.  We was scared, but knew we were doin’ right for our country.  If we’d a known how things would come about, I don’t know that we woulda been so all fired up to go.”

“Why’s that, Grampa?” Lily asked, even though she had heard the story dozens of times.

“Well, Lily-girl, we had no idear the whole damned world was gonna gang up on us and them people in Europe.  It was like the Government just gave up.  Left our boys in Afghanistan in the middle of a hornet’s nest.”  He stopped for a moment and looked wistfully out over the horizon.  He tried to remember the days before wind farms took over the landscape and solar panels popped up like ugly dandelions among the prairie grass.

“Gramp,” Lyle’s voice interrupted his thoughts, “so how did that change America?  I mean, mosta that crap happened far away from here.”

“It did, son.” Lyle’s father replied.  “But, there were things goin’ on right here at home that tied the whole mess together.  Damned politicians shoulda all been rode outta town on a rail for what they did.”  His wife placed her hand on his arm and gave it a squeeze.  “John, let your dad tell the story.  You get too worked up.”

John rose from his seat and began to clear the table.  He knew if he didn’t do something to keep himself occupied, his temper would heat up as it always did when his dad talked about the before times.  The kids had a right to know the real story, he realized that.  They certainly didn’t learn it in Vid-Ed.

Things began to change after John was born.  He was four when the Middle East rose up as one and took over the land that was once known as Israel.  Fuel prices soared to ten dollars a gallon and corporations who once imported fossil fuels worked feverishly to perfect alternative power technologies.  Farmland was confiscated by the Government and declared part of the Corn Co-Op.  Only vehicles that ran on electricity or ethanol were permitted to be driven by the Commons – those who did not work for the Government, Border Patrol or Intelligence Technology Department.

“You see, Lyle, we were in a mess when all them countries decided to lose their minds.  At least, that’s my opinion for what it’s worth.”  Jack looked his grandson square in the eye, no hint of the happy-go-lucky man he was known to be.  “What happened there almost started a second civil war in America.  Those states that had good supplies of fuel threatened to secede if the Government outlawed fossil fuels.  Cattle ranchers and dairy farmers were up in arms over the Corn Co-Op bill.”  The older man sighed, lost in thought for a moment.

“Anyway, luckily for us the Government was only taking land that had money owed on it back then.  That’s why we still got this house.  Your gramma, God rest her soul…”

“Dad! How many times do I have to remind you that that kind of language is unacceptable?” John said in a forceful whisper between clenched teeth.  “Heck, you could get us all sent to re-education!”

Jack shot his son a look that would have made a blind man freeze in his tracks.  “Son, this here son of a bitchin’ Government has done enough to me, to US, and I will be damned if I am goin’ to let them fuck with what is in my heart. Ya hear me, boy?!?!”

John’s wife moved quickly to sit between her husband and her father-in-law.  She took Jack’s hand in hers and directed his attention away from John.  “Dad, I know you miss Momma.  We all do.  There are many things we wish were the same as the before times, but they aren’t.  For the sake of Lily and Lyle, please take care with your words.  We’re your family, Dad.  We already know what’s in your heart.”  She smiled slightly and squeezed his hand.  Jack’s anger eased a bit and the redness began to leave his face.

“Susan, I just don’t know if I can keep doin’ this.  Things are easier for you and the kids – you grew up knowin’ it.  I had to relearn my whole way a thinkin’ and actin’.  It’s…it’s just so damned wrong.”  He released his hand from hers and took a sip of water that Lily had gotten from the water barrel.  Lyle and his sister sat opposite him and waited to hear the rest of his story.

Susan stood up and brushed imaginary dust from her jeans.  It was an involuntary action that seemed to help her push away the tension of the morning’s conversation.  She often took the role of peacemaker between her husband and his father.  It was difficult for either man to stay angry when they saw the determination in her big, auburn eyes.  She had a soft strength about her, much like that of her late mother-in-law, and commanded respect without ever speaking a word.

“Lyle, Lily.  I think the story tellin’ is done for this morning.” said Susan over her shoulder as she set up the wash tub used to clean the dishes.  “Lyle, don’t you have that test today?  Or is it tomorrow?  I can’t recall.”

“Today, Mom.  Sure hope I didn’t over-study myself into forgettin’ everything.”  Lyle had worked hard at the Co-Op and he was one of only three men to be chosen to take the exam.  His dad was well-respected at the Co-Op and had license to drive any machine in the fields.  Lyle hoped he would pass on the first try so his dad wouldn’t have reason to be disappointed in him.

Jack also worked with his son and grandson.  There was a time when he held a high position within the Union, but his age and health had conspired against him.  He now worked in the pole barn supervising the workers as they sorted corn for fuel and seed.  In years past he looked forward to spending the day in the fields.  Lately he found himself feeling angry and resentful.

“Okay, guys. Let’s get a move on.  I want to get an early start on turnin’ that far field today.”  John kissed his wife and gave Lily a quick hug before he headed toward the car.  Jack stood up and uttered a few more old man noises.

“You guys gonna eat at the cafeteria today?” Susan asked her father-in-law.   “Yup.  Think so.” Jack replied as he followed his son to the car.

Susan placed her hands on Lyle’s shoulders and looked him in the eye.  “Son, you are a smart, capable person and I know you are gonna ace your test today.  I believe in you.”  With that, she gave him a hug and a kiss on his cheek and sent him on his way.

As Lyle walked away, Lily called out “Hey! Don’t blow it!”  Lyle turned around and gave her a smile.  “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Squirt.  Love you, too.”

Susan and Lily watched as the three men drove away leaving a cloud of dust in their wake.  The small, electric car made little more noise than a bumble bee’s wings.  Once they were out of sight, Susan cleaned up the breakfast dishes as Lily placed the food back into the cooler box.

Vid-Ed began each morning at nine-o’clock.  Lily had set up a make-shift desk at the far end of the sagging porch on which to do her work.  The Government had developed Vid-Ed in the twenties in order to ensure that every child across New America followed the same curriculum.  Lily never saw the other children who were connected via their Government issued Community Connectors.  The classes consisted of lectures given by selected educators, video and audio texts, and some work done on the chalk board feature built into the Connector.

Every Common in New America was given a Connector when they were five years old.  It was required that each common citizen carry their Connector at all times.  The Government explained that this was necessary in order to keep their citizens up-to-date on new regulations and services, as well as providing them with an immediate alert system should a national emergency arise.  The device was similar to its predecessor, the iPad.  Apple™ became the Intelligence Technologies Department in twenty-twenty five when the Government bailed them out of bankruptcy.  After Steve Jobs passed away in ‘eleven, the company had fallen into a downward spiral that they could not recover from.

Lily’s grampa was notorious for “forgetting” his Connector.  When this happened, Susan would receive an alert message on hers instructing her to bring it to him at the Co-Op.  She knew that he was doing it on purpose – his personal protest against what he considered “them Techies just wantin’ to have their noses up my ass twenty-four/seven.”  Susan and John had explained to Jack that his actions would bring unwanted attention to their family, but he was a stubborn man.  “Whatever irks them Government types just tickles me plumb to death!” he defiantly declared.  Conversation over.

“Hey, Lily?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Before you begin your classes, I just wanted to remind you that we have to go to the Commissary today.  It’s time to get this month’s ration packages.  Might even have a surprise waitin’ for you there, too!”  Susan waited for her daughter to give her the third degree, but she heard the New American anthem coming from Lily’s Connector and knew that Vid-Ed had begun.


John, Lyle and Jack joined their fellow workers in the line to pass through Co-Op security.  Each presented their Connector to the Techie at the gate and John was relieved that his father had not “forgotten” his today.  Lyle was nervous enough about his test and he didn’t need the added stress of his grandfather’s private war hanging over his head.

“Hello, Lyle Burke!” the Techie said.  “I see this is a pretty important day for you, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am.  It sure is.”  Lyle was a little surprised that the woman acknowledged him.  Normally, she just scanned his Connector and he went on through the gate.

“If you would join the other two men standing by the test kiosk a Test Tech will be with you shortly.  Good luck to you, Mr. Burke.”  With that she handed him his Connector and went on to check in his father and grandfather.

Lyle walked over to the others who were waiting to take the test.  They both appeared to be about the same age as Lyle and it was obvious they were as nervous as he was.  Passing the driver’s exam meant a higher ranking within the Co-Op, and more privileges at the Commissary for his family.  Most drivers were men in their mid-thirties with families of their own.  It was unusual that all three of the candidates were so young.  Lyle did not recognize either of the people standing next to him and wondered if they were transferees from another Co-Op.

Before he could ask them, the Test Tech arrived and led them into the testing center.  The room was as big as a high school gymnasium.  It contained several simulators, configured to represent each different type of machinery a driver would be expected to operate.  The Tech explained that every piece of equipment had its own simulator and Connector tests and that the candidates must get a grade of at least eight-five percent on the Connector portion and ninety percent or higher in the simulator.

Lyle looked around at the other teens. One – a slightly built, pasty-complected boy – appeared as though he was about to faint.  “God, I hope I can do this” he said quietly, almost to himself.  The Tech immediately turned his attention to the boy, typed something into his Tech Pad and instructed the candidates to begin.


John and Jack headed to their respective areas to begin their work day.  John boarded an ethanol-powered bus that would take him to the outer fields of the Co-Op.  Jack checked out an electric cart at the Security Center and drove off toward the pole barn.

As Jack was driving, he heard an alert sound on his Connector.  He paid no attention to it, thinking it could wait until he had parked at the barn.  Just then, two security carts came up alongside him and requested that he follow them back to the Security Center.  “What the fuck?” he mumbled as he drove back with one guard in front and the other following.  “I ain’t no danged criminal.”

When he arrived at the Center, a woman dressed in standard Government attire – white blouse, grey suit and “sensible” shoes – carrying a black leather folder greeted him with a slightly reptilian smile.

“Hello.  Are you Mr. John ‘Jack’ Burke, Sr.?”

“Yes, ma’am.  And you are…?” asked Jack as he extended his hand, expecting her to shake it.  The woman looked at him as though he had spit on her shoes and Jack lowered his hand back to his side.

“My name is Elizabeth Murray, Director of the Section 1233 Evaluation Division of the New American Health Care Department.  Would you follow me to my office, please.”  It was clear that she was not asking.  Having been in the military, Jack knew an order when he heard one.

When they got to her office, Director Murray took her place behind a large metal desk and pointed to an empty chair.

“Sit, please, Mr. Burke.”

“You can call me Jack, ma’am. Everyone…”

“Mr. Burke, please sit.” the woman interrupted.  After Jack complied with her request, she continued on.  “I am certain you are aware, sir, of the work Section 1233 does for the citizens of our nation?”

“Actually, no.  Never heard of you.”  He was beginning to think that he was going to like this conversation less and less by the minute and he could feel his blood pressure rising.

“Mr. Burke, the creator of this department was kind enough to understand that people of your age and medical status might experience some confusion in their later years concerning their long-term prospects.  Section 1233’s mission is to remove that confusion and assist you in making wise decisions that will benefit your family and fellow citizens alike.  We understand that those concerns can weigh heavily upon your conscience, so we take that burden off your shoulders and become your conscience for you.  Have I been clear so far?”

“As a mud puddle!” Jack replied.  From the look on her face, Jack realized that any attempt at humor might work to his disadvantage.  He silently resolved to shut his trap and listen.  He hoped that he could get through this quickly and return to work.

“Mr. Burke, it states in your file that you were a firefighter in Denver, Colorado in September of ‘ought-one.  It also states that you joined a battalion of volunteers and traveled to Ground Zero on the twelfth of September of that year.  You and your battalion remained in New York City for one month to help with the rescue and recovery efforts there.  Am I correct so far, sir?”

“Yes, ma’am. Uhm…oh never mind.”

“Exactly.  Back to your file.”  The woman removed her reading glasses and wiped the lenses with a cloth, returning them to their perch on the end of her small ski-jump nose.  She appeared to be quite young, perhaps twenty-five or so.  Yet, her mannerisms were that of a woman three times her age.  “Okay, in ‘ought-two you enlisted in the Marine Corps and were deployed to Iraq upon completion of your basic training.  Once you were honorably discharged, you returned to your family’s cattle/dairy farm in Colorado and worked there until you graciously gifted your land to the Corn Co-Op.”

“Gifted?  Is that what you call it?”  Jack’s hands gripped the arms of his chair until his knuckles whitened.  It was all he could do to stop himself from storming out of the office.

The Director slowly removed her glasses and laid them upon the desk.  She clasped her hands as if in prayer, staring intently at Jack.  He could feel himself fidgeting in his seat.  When she spoke, her voice was soft and slow. “Sir.  Let me see if I can express my thoughts in a way that you will understand.  Zip it and we will be done quicker’n poop comes out of a goose.”

Jack looked down at his feet and managed to utter “Yes’m.”

“Now, where were we?” the Director searched for the place where she had left off.  “Oh, yes.  The Corn Co-Op.  In ‘twenty you were diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer that was once thought to be limited to those who worked at Ground Zero, but our Government has since determined that it is most likely a hereditary condition.  After several treatments, you went into remission for 10 years.  The disease returned in ‘thirty, followed by a remission of twenty years.  As is common with this form of cancer, the chances of recurrence are approximately ninety percent.  Do you agree with the facts as I have presented them to you so far?”

Now Jack was concerned. His instincts told him that this was not going to end well.  “Yes, ma’am.  So far, so good.”

“Mr. Burke, the Section 1233 team has reviewed your case and we have determined that, based upon your age and nature of your disease, we would be derelict in our duty to this great nation and her citizens if we were to continue the treatments should the cancer return.  There are other, younger citizens who have a greater chance of survival and can become productive members of our society once their treatments are done.  We are also recommending that your position at the Co-Op be terminated so that you may enjoy your time with your grandchildren.”  The woman began to collect her papers and place them back into their leather folder.  She removed her glasses, slipping them into her jacket pocket.

As she began to rise, Jack exploded.  “Now just you wait a fucking minute!!  What are you trying to say?  I can’t work?!?!  Just sit ‘round countin’ the days and pickin’ fuckin’ daisies?!?!  If the cancer comes back I just have to hold my head high and drop dead?!?!  Fuck YOU!

The Director was startled for a moment and reclaimed her seat behind the desk.  She took a long, deep breath and released it through her mouth.  She reminded him of a teapot with a broken whistle.  “I wouldn’t put it quite like that, sir.  We will provide you with an attorney so that you can prepare a Will.  We will also pay for any and all pain medications you may require.  Besides, this is all hypothetical.  You have been cancer free for many years.  Yes, there is a high likelihood it will return.  We in the Government hope this does not happen.  However, we need to prepare you for any and all possible medical emergencies.  The Government wishes to make your final days comfortable and pain free.  If picking ‘fucking’ daisies makes you happy, we wish you well in your endeavors.  We are only looking out for the future of your family, you know.”

Jack didn’t know what to do.   As was his nature, his first defense was sarcasm.  He leaned on the desk, mimicking her pose from earlier in their conversation and said “I’m guessing the next thing you’re gonna tell me, Madam Director, is that Soylent Green ain’t people.”  He smiled like a Cheshire cat and sat back in his chair.

The Director looked confused and a bit annoyed.  After a moment she replied, “Well, no sir.  Of course it isn’t…”


Lily got up from her desk and joined her mother at the picnic table.  “Done with Vid-Ed?” her mom asked as she handed Lily a slice of apple.

“Yup.  Done for the day!  Are we gonna leave soon?”

“Soon as you eat some lunch.  We’re gonna be gone a while and supper will be late tonight.  Can’t shop on an empty stomach, now can we?”  Susan prepared a soup and sandwich lunch for her daughter.  While Lily ate, she changed her clothes and neatened up the outdoor kitchen area making sure not to leave anything for the raccoons or squirrels.

Once Lily was done, she and Susan headed to the Commissary.  The closest one was an hour’s drive from their home.  “You know, Mom, Grampa says that it would’ve taken half the time to drive to the store if we still had fuel cars like the Government people do.  He also said they used to be able to buy beef and stuff in the stores.  Why can’t we?”

“Well, Lily.  This has to do with what we were talkin’ about this morning, remember?  The Government discovered that cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and such created a gas called ‘methane’ that was makin’ the Earth sick.  They also realized that the citizens could make just as much money raising corn as they could raising animals.  So, it seemed like a good idea all around, I guess.”

“What did?”

“Oh, selling the cows and other critters to Canada and Mexico.  Don’t they teach you this stuff in Vid-Ed?”  Susan oft times wondered what they did teach her children in school.  Lyle finished his time and never much spoke about it.  It didn’t seem to do him a lot of good anyway because they told him he was needed in the Co-Op and wouldn’t approve him for University.  Lily was a very bright girl.  She asked many questions of Jack and her parents about the world in the before times.  Susan hoped Lily might get a position somewhere away from the corn fields when she grew up – most likely in the Intelligence Technologies history research division.

“They teach us that meat is bad for you and that our Government works hard to make sure we have clean air, water and good things to eat.  How the religions weren’t good ‘cuz they made people hate and stopped ‘em from learning.  That being fair is important –like it’s wrong for me to have two apples if my friend only has one.  Stuff like that, you know?”

They drove for a while in silence.  Lily stared out the window, quietly counting red cars as they went buy.  Susan had turned the radio on.  The Government had set up three stations – news, sports and music.  Right now was oldies hour and the radio blared Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.


“Yes, Lily?”  Susan reached to turn the radio volume down again.

“Is what Grampa said about the fifty states true?”  Susan silently cursed her father-in-law for bringing it up this morning.  This was a subject that the Government strongly felt was best forgotten.

“If I answer you, will you promise that we do not discuss it outside of our home from now on?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die, Mom.”

“Yes, it’s true.  In ‘twenty when we were busy with the big war in Europe and the Middle East,  China came to us and said they would not make us pay them back some of the money we owed if we gave Hawaii to them.  I guess it was easier to do that than try to fight everyone.  Does that make sense?”

“Yeah, I think so.  But what happened to the other five states we used to have?”

“Well, Alaska wanted to be their own country because they have a lot of fossil fuels and could live on their own.  Michigan, Maine and Washington were sold to Canada for gold.  I don’t know much about money stuff, so you’d have to ask your Dad ‘bout that one.  The last one was California.  Not sure why we did it, but we gave them to Mexico.  I think lots of people were glad to see ‘em go, anyway.”

They had arrived at the Commissary and Susan had no trouble getting a parking spot.  Usually the place was packed, but Susan was able to stretch some of their rations so they were shopping on an “off” day.  Mother and daughter presented their Connectors to the Tech at the door.  “Welcome, Mrs. Burke, Miss Burke!” he said as he pressed the buzzer to open the door.

Lily ran to get a cart while her mother searched her pockets for the shopping list she had prepared.  Each citizen was allowed one ration package per family member.  These were packed in difference sizes – adult, child, infant, etc. – and contained the basic necessities to last one month.  Much of the food in the store was dehydrated and most used tofu as a substitute for meat.  Animal proteins were sold in the form of simulated lunch “meat”.  Although the Government had outlawed the sale of meat products to Commons, the researchers had discovered a way to extract the necessary nutrients and inject them into other food items.  This ensured that each citizen received a balanced diet.  Fresh fruits and vegetables were plentiful, but all produce was imported from Mexico or Canada because New American farmland was needed for corn.  Fish was a luxury item at the Commissary, so most families saved their tickets and purchased it only on special occasions.

“Lily, remember I told you I might have a surprise for you today?”

“Oh, I almost forgot, Mom.  Wow, I never forget surprises.  I must be getting’ old! Ooh, ahh…”  They laughed at Lily’s impersonation of her grampa.

“Yes, you must be!  Anyway, your dad and I saved up our tickets to get something special.  I want you to go to the cooler box section and pick out one you think is ‘ant-proof’.  A good one that’s bigger than the one we got now.”

“Really?  How do I know how much to spend?”  Lily was so happy she wouldn’t have to fight the ants anymore.  Maybe, if she got a really, really ant-proof one, her mom would let her keep it in the house!

“Just go look at ‘em and when you find one you think is best, come get me and I’ll see if we can afford it.  Sound like a deal?”  Susan heard Lily call back “Okay, Mom!” as she ran off to the cooler boxes in the back of the store.

Once Susan was certain Lily was out of ear-shot, she approached a woman who appeared to be deciding between vegetable stew or vegetable lasagna in the dehydrated food section.  Susan whispered “What’s your name?”  The woman replied “Janice.  You must be Susan.”  As they spoke the women continued to look through the food packets.

“Pull your sleeve down, Janice.  The scar is showing”  Janice tugged at her cuff, making certain none of the bright red scar was visible.  “How many guests can I expect this evening?” Susan asked.

“Three.  We won’t stay long.  Just enough time to eat and rest for a moment.”  Janice turned her head quickly and stared over Susan’s shoulder, eyes wide with a hint of fear.  Susan turned around to see who was there.  “Lily!  Did you find us a real fine cooler box?”

Lily did not answer for a moment, just stood there sizing up the woman standing next to her mom.  “Uh, yeah.  I think so.  Maybe you should come check it out with me.”  She managed a half-smile before she turned and headed once again to the back of the Commissary.

Susan spoke quickly.  “Don’t worry, she’s a good girl.  Directions are on the paper I put in the Veggie Lasagna section.  Good luck.”  Janice nodded and Susan left to join her daughter.

On the way home, neither Susan nor Lily spoke.  Susan tuned the radio to the news station just as a story about several people escaping from a re-education community filled the air.  The reporter stated that “ these misguided citizens can be recognized by either a fresh scar on or bandage around their right wrist.  Our ever-vigilant Border Patrol is keeping a keen eye out for any who attempt to cross into Mexico without the proper work visas.  If you see anyone you might consid…”  Susan turned the radio off and they continued their journey in silence.

Once they arrived home, Susan and Lily were surprised to find Jack sitting at the table waiting for them.  Susan noticed that he looked defeated.  The last time she remembered her father-in-law looking like that was the day they buried his wife.

“Jack, what’s wrong?  Where are John and Lyle?”  Jack sat in silence for a moment, fidgeting with a thread that had escaped the seam in his jeans.  Susan sat beside him, her hands folded between her knees.  It was clear to her that Jack had been crying.  His eyes were rimmed in red and the dried river beds of tears streaked his face.

“Grampa, you okay?” asked Lily as she took a seat opposite him at the table.  “Are Lyle and Daddy okay?  What happened?!?!”  She was thinking of a million different reasons why her grampa might be sad, and all of them were seen through the eyes of a child’s imagination.

Jack finally looked up at Lily and said “No, Lily-girl, yer dad and Lyle are just fine.  No worries.”  He reached across the table and took her hand. “I need to ask you a favor, though.  Would ya give your mom and me a minute ta talk?”

“Sure, Grampa.  You want a glass of water?  I’ll get you one.”  Before he could respond, Lily jumped up from the table and retrieved three glasses of cool, filtered water from the barrel, bringing two of them to the table for her mom and Jack.  “I’m gonna go do some extra work for Vid-Ed.”

“You’re a good girl, Lily.”  her mom said.  Once she felt her daughter was out of hearing range, she turned to Jack and asked “So what the heck happened to you?”

Jack took a deep breath and began to relate the details of his meeting with Director Murray.  “That Government maggot sat there and told me, looked me dead in the eye when she done it, that I ain’t useful to them no more.  Susan, I been workin’ hard all my life.  I still work hard for that damned corn field.  My daddy died of a broken heart when they took our cows and land, but I still kept goin’.  Now they tell me I won’t get no more medicine if the cancer comes back and I ain’t needed at the Co-Op anymore.  Damn that bitch!”  Jack slammed his fist on the table as he rose and began to pace around the outdoor kitchen.

Lily jumped in her seat at the sound of her grampa’s fist striking the table, but did not turn around.  She had heard every word he said.  Sound carried quite easily from the kitchen to her little desk on the rickety porch.  This was a secret she kept to herself.  It had come in handy a time or two.  The young girl pretended to be absorbed in her homework as she continued to listen to the conversation between her mother and Jack.

“Well, Jack, you knew this day would come.  Once you turned sixty-five, Section 1233 was duty bound to advise you of your options for the future.  We may not agree with them, but it is the law.” Susan said, keeping one eye on Lily as she spoke.  Susan did not like Lily’s silence during the ride home.  She could see the wheels turning in her daughter’s young mind and wondered how much of the conversation with Janice, and now with Jack, Lily really understood.

Before Jack could get fired up again, Susan motioned for him to sit back down beside her.  This time she spoke in a near whisper.  “Jack, we are having visitors tonight after the kids are asleep.  Maybe we ought to consider goin’ with them – just take the kids and head down through Mexico.  You know we’ve discussed this before.  If things got dangerous we knew that there would always be a place for us in the South America colony.  I surely think tonight might be our time to go.”

Jack stood up again and walked toward the remnants of a barn on the far end of his land.  The building was hanging on by a thread, just as Jack was.  Susan grabbed her glass of water, turned again to check on Lily who seemed absorbed in her work, and followed Jack to the barn.

The smell of horses and old leather still occupied the space.  Jack loved to come here and think of the before times when he and his wife raised fine horses and cattle to sell at auction.  His mouth watered as he remembered the taste of fresh, grass fed beef.  Now, only the Government “maggots” could afford such things.  It was not long after he lost his wife to cancer that the Government was “gifted” fifteen-hundred acres of his family’s land for the Co-Op.

Susan spoke first.  “Jack, I really think we need to go tonight.  Lily might have overheard me talking to one of our ‘guests’ at the Commissary today.  She’s been awful quite since we left there.  Now with the Section 1233 people screwin’ with you, I say it’s time to fly.  I’m sure John will be on board.  You know, they have good hospitals and doctors down in South America that’ll really care about you.  None of this ‘making yer life comfortable ‘til you croak’ crap, ya know?”

Jack sipped at his water and thought for a moment before he spoke.  “You know if this doesn’t work, you, John and Lyle will be sent to a re-education community.  Lily will be adopted out.  They’ll put me in an Evaluation Center.  You have to think real hard about what yer proposin’, Susan.”

“I have, Jack” she replied.  “I haven’t thought about much else for the past few months.  Every time one of our guests passes through, I want to grab our things and go.  We have a few hours.  Let’s talk to John ‘n’ see what he says, ‘kay?  Just a shame it might have to happen on the day Lyle finally becomes a driver’s apprentice.”

The hum of John’s approaching electric car muffled the sound of small footsteps on the dirt path leading from the barn to the house.  Jack and Susan made their way back to the picnic table, anxiously awaiting the results of Lyle’s day of testing.

After Lyle plugged in the car, he turned to his mom and grampa with a huge grin on his face.  Susan jumped up and ran to her son, gave him a big bear hug and a kiss on the cheek.  “See, I knew you would pass!  Congratulations, son!”

John could not hide the pride he felt inside.  “Lyle aced everything!  The other two candidates didn’t even come close.”

“Well, dad, one of ‘em never got to finish the test.”

Susan looked confused.  “What happened?  Did he get sick or somethin’?”

“No, mom, one minute he was there, and next he was walkin’ away with some of the Security Techs.  Me ‘n’ the other guy overheard him say the “G” word and I think the Test Tech did, too.  I didn’t say nothin’ to nobody ‘bout what I heard.  But, I saw the other guy talking to Security after they took the one kid away.  I guess he ratted him out.  Geesh, everyone makes mistakes – ‘specially when they’re nervous…”  Lyle looked truly disturbed by this.  Her son’s experience just solidified her resolve that her family was going tonight whether John liked it or not.

“Hey, Lyle?  Would ya mind getting’ Lily and emptying the supplies outta my car?  That new cooler box needs to be set up, too.”

Lyle walked to the far end of the house and almost bumped into Lily.  “Where ya been, Squirt?”

“Nunya!” Lily replied with a cat that ate the canary look.  “A woman is allowed to have her secrets, ya know.”

“Oh.  Now yer a woman, huh?”  Lyle laughed all the way to his mom’s car.  Lily shot him the meanest look she could muster, which only made him laugh harder.

“Wow!  An ant-proof one?”  Lyle asked his mom when he opened the trunk.

“Yup, as ant-proof as we could afford.  Might even put it inside the house this time.”  Susan winked at her daughter who seemed proud that she was the one who picked in out.  “I got somethin’ I need to show your dad and grampa.  We’ll be back in a sec.”

“’Kay, mom.  Me ‘n’ the Squirt can handle it.”  Lyle and Lily began bringing boxes from the car to the kitchen area as the three adults walked back toward the old barn.

“What’s goin’ on, Susan.  We don’t have no secrets from the kids.”  He looked first at Susan, and then his father, who both had serious expressions on their faces.  “Is somethin’ wrong with you, Dad?”

“Don’t get him started, John.  Let’s just say Section 1233 visited him today and it didn’t go well.  Worse, though, is I think Lily overheard me talkin’ to one of our guests at the Commissary.  I think she might a even seen the scar from where the tracking device was.  You know they teach them kids in Vid-Ed to look out for that stuff.  Lily’s been actin’ weird ever since we left the store.”  Susan was wringing her hands, her eyes filled with worry.  Jack was drawing circles in the dirt with the tip of his boot, his face turning redder than a beet the longer Susan spoke.

“So, what are you trying to say, Susan?  Dad?”  John really didn’t need to ask.  He knew this day would come, just not so soon.  He hated that he had to make such a life-changing decision in the blink of an eye, but did he really have a choice?  John sighed and said “Are the go-bags all set?”

“Yeah, I check them every week when the kids are sleepin’.  Soon as the guests arrive, we leave.  I know they were countin’ on havin’ a bit of rest before they continued on, but we can’t afford to waste the time.” Susan said.  Jack and John nodded in agreement.

“Okay, let’s get back to the kids.  We’ll eat some supper and wait for the others.  If we don’t see ‘em by midnight, we’re gone.”  John looked at his father and said, “Are you gonna be okay with this?  I mean, leavin’ ma and your parents behind?”

Jack thought a moment.  He had so many memories invested in his land, his home.  “Son, my pop would jump up outta his grave and kick my ass if I didn’t do all I could to protect his grandkids.  I have to be alright with this.  Ain’t got no choice.  Besides, this ain’t the country we loved – I don’t know what it is anymore.”

Supper time came and went.  Lyle and Lily played “500 Rummy” on their Connectors while Susan and John cleaned up the kitchen area.  Once dark began to fall, John and Lyle built a fire and the family sat around listening to Jack tell stories about working the ranch alongside his dad and grampa.  Before long, it was time for the kids to go to bed.  Lyle protested for a minute, but John reminded him that he was to begin his apprenticeship the next morning and assured him he would need all the rest he could get.

When Susan and John were certain the kids were asleep, they began to set out the go-bags which contained clothing, first-aid kits and other necessary items for their long trip south.   An extra bag was prepared containing dehydrated food and a water-purification kit, as well as four old-style metal Boy Scout camping kits.

Before long, Jack saw the silhouettes of three adults approaching over the ridge, their path illuminated by the three-quarter moon.  The sky was clear, which could work for or against them in their travels.  As the three reached the old farm house, Susan spoke to them in quiet tones.  “I am sorry, Janice.  We have no time to rest.  Things have changed and we all need to leave shortly.”

Janice had not felt at ease since she discovered Lily in the aisle at the Commissary.  Something in her heart told her they would not be getting any rest tonight.  She had been accompanied by her brother, Alfred, and his wife, Jennifer.  It was a warm night and their long sleeves were pushed up past their elbows, the scars of re-education shone red in the firelight.

“John, come help me get the kids ready.  I want to go.  Maybe I’m bein’ overly cautious, but I just want to go now.”  John followed Susan into the house.  Lyle was already awake.  He walked out to the fire and greeted the guests who had just arrived.  Lily was in a deep sleep, clutching her Connector to her as if it were a teddy bear.  Susan gently pulled the device out of Lily’s grip, intending to toss it into the fire with the others.

The light from the screen glowed blue on Susan’s face.  “Lily must’ve left it on when she fell asleep,” Susan thought.  Before she could push the “power off” button, a message flashed bright white against midnight blue.  Susan looked in horror at the words that seemed to scream DANGER.  Four words, just four words…

Thank you, Citizen Lily

In the distance, Susan heard the loud rumble of fossil fuel engines and began to cry.