Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Memories of Geoffrey Hughes

I've just completed a short story, which you should be able to read here.

I suppose you could call it a cross genre Science Fiction / ghost story. It's not a horror story, not into things like seances or occult, just includes a wee ghost. I think you'll like it.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Websites and Domain Names

I've got two new websites. One isn't so new, but I just never got around to posting about hit here.

The not so new one is, www.Robbys-eBook-Formatting.co.uk, which is my business website, selling my services as an eBook formatter.

The newest one, just published with my new domain name today, is www.RobbyCharters.co.uk, which is technically also a business website, but selling my books. That also will have the list of where to find all my stuff online.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Do Christians Love Guns?

...that's the title of a recent blogpost and newsletter by Andrew Strom. Find it here.


My first comment on it was, "I agree with you 100%, but I’m afraid you’re in for an avalanche of email every bit as big as the one you got for “Tea Party”"

When I went to hit the "Post" button, the site hung. I thought that was my prediction suddenly coming true, with the sudden avalanche of comments coming in. I finally got mine in later, and proceeded to view some of the comments. It's quite clear to all that just because one receives Andrew Strom's newsletters and frequents his website, isn't an indication that one agrees with him 100%. In fact, predictably, even though "Pasivism" wasn't mentioned in Andrew's article, nor even alluded to, that quickly became a hot topic on the comment stream. Here's one:

A question for all you pacifist Christians. If you were in that grade school, there was a gun on the table next to you and you heard the screams of people and gunshots. Would you leave that gun on the table and say, “violence is not Christian!” and continue to let dozens be killed?
The way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun
 The one just before that was a very long one, probably worth reading to get the jist of the anti-pacifist view. However, all that wasn't the point of Andrew's post.

Here was my longer post:

I posted my comment above, and THEN looked at some of the earlier responses…

I don’t think Andrew is saying that it’s wrong to stand against injustice with use of force. It’s just not the Christian mandate. The police and the military, after all, use force to do many of the same things mentioned above. They’re not in violation of God’s laws. Even a revolution might be in order at times, but don’t mistake it for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.

As for the example of David and Goliath, above: The Jewish people had (or still have — depending on your theology) the mandate of maintaining a nation in the land God had given them as a part of God’s covenant with Israel. Christians, under the New Covenant, didn’t receive such a mandate. We’re called to support those in power, especially those who enforce justice.

Now, as to the question, what should we have done during the early Nazi period in Germany, or whether to use a gun to prevent a greater disaster etc etc. …

Is having an easy answer a mark of Truth? Is any one approach automatically the right one for every situation?

I see, in the reigns of King David and King Solomon, a scriptural basis for both passivism and non-passivism. David fought many wars to establish the Kingdom of Israel all the way to the borders God had promised to Moses. He was 100% in God’s will in doing so. However, in doing this, he was a “man of blood”, and therefore wasn’t granted the privilage of building God’s Temple. King Solomon, a “man of peace”, was called to do that, and Solomon’s reign, in stark contrast to David’s, was an era of peace.
Picking up a gun to shoot someone, even to stop a school shooting spree, is a position I hope I’m never thrust into. We could, for the purpose of argument, say it’s a sin. However, the rabbis have an argument based on the degrees of sin — the breaking of a lesser commandment instead of a greater one. A destitute woman has a child who is starving to death. To allow the child to die when it’s possible to save his life, would be a sin equal to murder. The commandment prohibiting murder is one of the greater commandments, whereas the commandment against stealing is one of the lesser. Therefore, the woman would be justified in stealing food, thus committing the lesser commandment, in order to keep from committing the greater one — allowing the child to die.

We’re called to be perfect, even as He is perfect, in a world that is anything but perfect. There are, therefore, no easy answers.

So, to sum up, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong for Christians to own guns, and engage in politics, but not as a part of the Christian mandate. Neither do I believe pacifist are out of order.

In fact, I’d say I’m a pacifist.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New Release: The Eurasian

A few days ago, I released my novel, The Eurasian, which I have been working on for over two years. It's my fifth full length one, and I suppose it's too early to judge if it's my best. It took the longest to write, because some parts were difficult. Some of the settings were rather daunting, so I had to take long breaks from it to let it settle, and come up with more inspiration and do research. I hope I've done a good job.

Right now, it's a free download at Smashwords.com, and $0.99 at Amazon Kindle (they don't allow me to make it free there).

What follows is the longer description:

The world of the late 21st century is divided between Greater China, the Western Block, the Islamic Block and the Southern Free States of Africa and South America. The Western Block is dominated by the multinational corporations, who have created a paradise for its citizens -- so everyone thinks.

Mickey O'Brien is the Eurasian, half Asian and half Irish. He has a problem with that, because all his friends are fully Asian. However, no one has actually met each other -- only their virtual projected images they show on their on-line classroom environment. He and his classmates meet each other for the first time as they go on a class trip to America. It turns out they all had things to hide.

In America, they accidentally discover what the Multinationals have been trying to hide. Their hover van is hijacked, and they are left trapped in the great American outback, a vast area of what was once U.S.A., now divided between countless republics. Some are Nazi, some are militant Christian and other redneck cowboy states, some Native American Nations, Mafia kingdoms, etc etc. The wild west is again wild. Once having stumbled in, can they ever find their way out again?

It's a story of finding out what's real, and discovering true faith as they become involved in an espionage war trying to prevent a Nazis takeover.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Review of J. A. Konrath's novel, "Origin"

One author who has become famous for being self-published, and yet best-selling (thus, giving hope to humble(?) authors like me), is J.A.Konrath. I found one of his books available as a freebee the other day, read it, and then reviewed it. Here is my review:

a technothriller cum horror, January 25, 2012

By robby charters

This review is from: Origin (Kindle Edition)

I found it a good read. The prologue was intriguing -- a bit of history that brought to mind the beginning of the film "My Science Project", also involving a president. This wasn't a copy of that, though. The first chapter -- the one where you're wrenched into the present -- was well done, with the presidents men knocking at the door at 3 a.m. Then, the setting opens up to us bit by bit through the eyes of Andy the linguist, before moving on to other narrative points of view.

He and eight others are the only ones, outside of the President, and possibly a few others who were sworn to secrecy (like ex-presidents, presumably), who know about the creature, allegedly the devil himself. At least he looks like the classical depiction of the devil. Through Andy's expertise, they get the creature talking. He's ancient. He knows Latin, Hebrew and Mayan, but he quickly learns English. His actual history is illusive, as we never know whether to believe the creature or not.

The other characters are a mixture. Sun, the vet, has recently been called in to check the creature's health. There's a priest and a rabbi. As one who has had exposure to both religions, I can say they're believably portrayed. Joe Konrath has also done enough reading up on things like ancient languages and DNA to at least sound believable. The narrative is spiced up by the banter between the rabbi and priest, chemistry between Andy and Sun, the secret desires of the doctor, and the hidden histories of each one (enabling the President to blackmail them into staying put), in an underground world equipped with everything only the army would think sufficient for the good life. He takes us from what seems like a science fiction techno-thriller, to what could pass as a horror story.

The story kept me glued til the "uh-oh" ending.

Robby Charters

author of Pepe

Author, in a shameless act of self promotion, review his own book


Here's a review I did of my own book, Pepe, which I just had to take down from its Amazon page because an author isn't supposed to review his/her own book:

Author, in a shameless act of self promotion, review his own book,

June 10, 2011

By

robby charters

This review is from: Pepe (Kindle Edition)

Okay, I'm the author. I understand it's probably not fair for the author to review his own book, but the Amazon environment appears to be letting me do so -- so I'll just ramble on a bit...

So, as the author, am I really an authority on whether YOU'll like it? I'll only say this. I have about about eight novels, novellas, shorts -- whatever -- available on Amazon, and in my opinion, PEPE is my best one. It's certainly better than THE WRONG TIME, which appears to be getting the most downloads right now.

It's a cyberpunk novel -- perhaps a bit of crossover to fantasy -- set in 2020. Pepe is a homeless street boy who doesn't know his true identity. In the course of the story, he lives in places you'd typically find them: before the fire, in a vast slum community named the Dockyards (which is one of the central locations); later, an abandoned multi-story construction site with other homeless kids; and then, a shelter for homeless children, Mercy House, which I've based on Mercy Centre, Bangkok, where I worked for a year. Everywhere he lives, he has his sister, Po, with him. She's two years younger, she's not his biological sister, but he knows he's gotta take care of her. I've described the life of street kids as closely as I can without making the story dreary and dismal. There's every type: Pepe's and Po's "grandma" died when their home was burnt in a slum fire; there's Jose, the drug addict, who ran away from an abusive dad; and Raquel and her six-year-old twin brothers, Pierre and Michele (don't worry -- no tiresome comedies-of-errors). Their mother abandoned them after their dad went to prison. They are French/African. Raquel is a colourful character. I loved doing her.

The story is set in the fictional Southern European nation of Cardovia, with a history that goes back thousands of years. Cardo, the founder and first king of the dynasty, once paid a visit to King Solomon and received a special gift from him. This, and the character of Atsuko, the aged Japanese mystic, give the story its fantasy edge.

...And it's Cyberpunk: The blurb above said that the General's brain had been wired to a network of computers and robots. You'll see that that can definitely have its disadvantages. Unbeknownst to his dad, Raul is a hacker. His dad is an army colonel, one of the General's top commanders. Their family is typical upper-crust -- the opposite end of the spectrum from Pepe and Po. Things get precarious when Raul hacks into the Generals computer system and realises what kind of person he really is.

Rich kid meets poor kid: We see the typical attitude of rich kids towards "low-lifers", but things happen. A relationship slowly develops until Raul, Pepe and Po are the closest of friends. He enters their world as one of them. At the same time, in front of his computer terminal and VR set, sometimes accompanied by Pepe, he makes discovery after amazing discovery. Puzzle pieces begin to fit together, until suddenly he realises the danger Pepe is in. In fact, it might be too late...I'll stop here. I'm giving too much away.

There are no superheroes. Everyone's thoroughly human. Perhaps the closest thing to a superhero is Atsuko, but even he has his limitations. But, everyone does what it takes to give the story an ending that should be thoroughly satisfying.

I think you'll like it.

Well -- (as Mr. Bean says about his videos) -- I like it anyway...

Robby Charters, author of The Zondon

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The Eurasian, 7th installment: Chapters 13 & 14

This is the last installment I'll be posting for a while. It's as far as I've got so far.

For those of you who haven't looked at it yet, it's a "dystopia" (the opposite of utopia). It probably should come with a warning label: those with nationalistic feelings about the future of certain North American and Asian countries might might be offended. Or, it could be taken as a warning. Other than that, there is a lot of action and adventure.

If you haven't begun reading from the beginning, you still can. All the chapters are posted in this blog.


Chapter 13

Annie ol' Iron


'So long, Pipsqueak, I'll really miss you!' said Albert as he gave him a hug.

'I miss you too, you Hulk!'

'Just don't give away all your clothes.'

'Don't worry la!'

The rest shook hands and hugged, as the old bus revved it's diesel engine and Philip, Mickey, Yorba Linda, Yakov and the rabbi finally boarded. They took seats near the back.

Most of the windows didn't have any glass. The door that once worked on a hydraulic pump, now just sat in open position so the ticket collector could run and jump on as the bus started moving. The seats had one time been luxurious recliners, but the buttons no longer worked. They were covered with so many patches it was hard to tell their original colour.

Soon, they were travelling through mountainous wilderness. Every time they went uphill, the diesel engine's transmission made a very loud noise, as though complaining of the hard work.

* * *

The bus stopped at every small town. In some places, it made several stops. The people's baggage consisted of baskets of produce, or chickens as often as it did backpacks or suitcases.

About one hour into their journey, they came to a bigger road, and turned left.

More up and downhill grades -- more complaints by the transmission.

* * *

After repeated warnings that it had had quite enough of this up and downhill nonsense, the engine finally made good on its threat, and stopped.

The passengers got off, stretched their legs, or stood, or sat beneath the shade of a large tree that conveniently grew by that stretch of highway while the driver, with the help of the ticket collector, tinkered with the engine.

'It happens,' said Rabbi Solomon.

About an hour later, they were back on the road again.

* * *

They made a lunch stop at a village along the highway. Most of the passengers got something from a small shop that sold fry bread and things to go with it. However, Mrs. Kanter had packed something kosher for their lunch, so they had that.

* * *

The bus broke down a second time about an hour's walk from Globe. However, it took one hour to realise that it was going to take longer to fix this time, and to realise that had they walked, they'd be there by now. So, the second hour was spent in walking.

It was mid afternoon, but too late to think of travelling onward that day, so they found lodging at a bed and breakfast.

The rabbi bought a large bag of eggs, and the landlady was kind enough to hard-boil them. They would be a good source of protein during the journey when kosher food would be hard to find.

Over a supper of boiled eggs and toast, the rabbi said, 'There are two ways to go from here. The way South leads near Tuscan, which is in the Multinational Zone. Because of the garbage recycling industry, there are two or three Mafia families vying for control, so there are risks. I suggest taking the way through Safford.'

'There are Mafia controlled areas there as well,' said Yakov.

'They are easier to avoid.'

* * *

There wasn't even standing room on the bus, not so much as to get a toe hold while clinging to the door.

That didn't matter, as there were other forms of transport, mostly consisting of converted pick-up trucks. They each had two wooden benches running down both sides of the covered bed, so that the passengers sat facing one another, with the baggage stacked in between. The drivers ranged from old men to grannies to people who would have been considered too young to drive in any civilised part of the world. Some of them sported outlandish paint jobs, often a spray painted mural, or fancy graffiti, such as used to adorn the back sides of public buildings and underpasses of the cities of yesteryear.

The first few to pass were quickly filled by those who had failed to gain a toe-hold on the bus. Finally, there was a car with room for five more. The rabbi had a few words with the driver, a girl who couldn't have been a day older than twelve. Two younger boys sat with her in the front. The spray painted lettering on the side read, 'annie ol' iron'. Underneath were the subtitles: 'scattered shower', and 'light breeze'.

Mickey thought he remembered his Grandpa Abe singing a song with a title like that. He couldn't imagine what the weather conditions had to do with it.

There was, indeed, room for five, but not by standards back at home. Philip had to sit on top of Yorba Linda, Yakov, on the tail gate, while Mickey sat on some of the luggage in the middle. The rest of the passengers found hardly enough room to put their feet on the floor.

Besides the three children up front, there was one grown up passenger occupying the window seat.

Once everyone was securely on, the truck took off.

'Damn kid driver,' muttered a man with a few days growth on his chin.

As soon as Mickey took notice of him, he went on, 'What do ya think of this place? Weird huh? Let kids like that drive for a living! And who in hell would name their kid Annie ol' Iron?'

Before Mickey could ask for clarification, he had broken out into the song:


Any ol' iron, any ol' iron

Any, any any ol' iron

You look neat, talk about a treat

You look so dapper from your napper to your feet

Dressed in style, brand new tile

And your dad's old green tie on

But I wouldn't give you tuppence for your ol' watch and chain

Ol' iron, ol' iron

Nya ny-ny-nya nya nya, nya ny-ny-nya nya nya,

Nya ny-ny-nya nya nya, ol' iron!


'Where are you from?' asked the rabbi.

'Albuquerque,' said the man.

'New Mexico Albuquerque?'

'Only one there is!'

'Okay, maybe you're from there. Where do you live now?'

'I live in Albuquerque! I'm on my way home right now!'

'How do you propose to get in?'

'Same way I came out! A little known secret. I could tell ya, but then, I'd have to kill you! Ha ha!'

The rabbi responded with uplifted eyebrows and a slight nod, but had no more questions. The other passengers kept to themselves. Some acted like they didn't understand English.

They were speeding through dry wilderness, not slowing down for the bumps.

The strange young man kept muttering, 'Damn kid driver!'

At one point, the man grabbed a bar that ran along the ceiling. His sleeve slipped down, and Mickey noticed, pushed as far up his arm as it would go, an ID bracelet.

About an hour into the journey, they passed a small town. Two people got off, including the one sitting in the front. Annie ol' Iron came around to collect the fare from the one who got out from the back and invited the rabbi to sit in the front. Mickey sat down next to Yorba Linda and Philip, where the rabbi had sat, and Yakov took the seat vacated by the other passenger.

Yorba Linda said, 'Philip, could you move over onto Mickey? My legs are getting numb.'

He moved over.

After they got going again, the strange man grabbed the ceiling bar again.

Mickey whispered just loud enough for Yorba Linda and Philip to hear, 'Take a look at the man's wrist.'

Yorba Linda whispered, 'Oh my god! He was right!'

* * *

Now that Mickey wasn't blocking his view of the passengers across from him, the man seemed to take in interest in Philip.

'Where you from, kid?'

'Huh?'

'Where are you from?'

'Er -- Dinetah.'

Good answer, though Mickey.

'Dinetah? Where's that?'

'Across the desert.'

'Oh. Where you going?'

'A visit.' Mickey could tell Philip was trying to put him off with clipped answers.

'A visit? To who?'

'Er -- uncle.'

Philip looked outside at the passing scenery, at an angle that was as far off from the strangers face as he could.

'Can we be friends?'

Philip turned to Mickey and said in Thai, 'Kit yang ngai khon ni?' ('What do you think of this man?')

'Plaek.' ('Strange,') answered Mickey.

They kept up a conversation, alternating between Thai and Chinese until the man lost interest.

* * *

About noon, the car pulled off the road by a stream. There was enough flat ground to drive just a little bit upstream. There they parked the car, and everyone got out and sat down with whatever food they had brought.

The five chose a spot just slightly upstream from the car, away from the road, overlooking the stream. The car blocked the view from the highway. Not far from them, but closer to the bank of the stream, the driver and her two young brothers also settled down. Not far from them, again, was the man from Albuquerque.

Rabbi Solomon had the bag of eggs, another of fruit and a loaf of bread. He passed everyone an egg and let them help themselves to the bread. They ate them as sandwiches.

'Normally they go only to Silver City, but I've persuaded our young driver to take us all the way to Las Cruces.'

'She's willing to go there?' said Yakov.

'She knows how to get around. Look at that fire-arm the boy has.'

They looked. The older boy, probably about nine, had a revolver sitting next to him.

'He sits next to his sister in the cab, and holds that thing between his legs the whole way, with both hands, like he knows how to use it.'

'How did you persuade them?' asked Yakov.

'I offered them my old radio phone. Also, she'd rather be plying the road between Las Cruces and Albuquerque anyway. More lucrative. She just needed the excuse to make the break.'

'What about their home?'

'That car is their home. Their father, a man named Joe Iron, was bumped off by the Mafia. Their mother was forced to work in a whore house. These three got away in their dad's car and learned about life the hard way.'

'So her name really is, Annie ol' Iron?'

'That's right. Her two brothers are and Scattered Shower and Light Breeze.'

'Certainly had an imagination,' said Yakov.

The man from Albuquerque looked like he was taking an interest in the three siblings.

'Nice place, hun?' they could hear him say.

The three ignored him.

'And our friend here,' said Yakov. 'Do you think he's really from Albuquerque?'

'Of course he is,' said the rabbi. 'He's not from the Free Zone. He makes himself stick out like a sore thumb.'

'And, he's got an ID bracelet,' said Mickey.

'How does he get in or out?' asked Yakov.

'That's what I'd like to know,' said the rabbi.

The older boy had handed the gun to his sister, and was now getting undressed, keeping his sister and younger brother between him and the man -- who couldn't seem to keep his eyes off him. He got into the water and swam about for a while. And then got out.

He dressed himself, and then took the gun back from his sister.

She began undressing the younger boy. Then she undressed herself, and they went in. She began bathing her brother.

The Albuquerque man couldn't contain himself. He got up, and immediately the boy did as well, holding the gun in both hands, pointing it down with his legs spread apart -- not at all like a kid playing at cowboys.

'Is it okay if I join you?' asked the man.

'Don't you go near my sister!' ordered the boy.

Mickey started to get up.

'Relax,' said the rabbi. 'The boy has a gun.'

The girl in the water was standing up, and had grabbed hold of a switch-blade that hung around her neck. She had the look of a big sister facing up to a school yard bully.

'Hey! That's a big toy you have there!'

The boy was pointing the gun at him with both hands, arms stiff, one leg behind the other to brace himself.

'Wa-a-a,' whimpered Philip.

'Just sit still,' whispered the rabbi.

'C'mon, kid,' the man began moving towards the boy, 'you're not really going to ...'

Blam!

The smoke cleared. The boy brought the gun back down to eye level. The man lay sprawled on the ground with a hole in his chest.

The girl quickly dressed herself and her youngest brother. The older one maintained his poise, feet spread apart, gun in both hands pointed down.

The other passengers, after a brief glance, went back to their lunch.

Philip sprinted a few yards away behind some bushes, and vomited. The rabbi put the food away, including the half eaten sandwiches, for later. No one had the stomach for it now.

The older boy picked up the Albuquerque man's backpack and lay it among their own things, while Annie and the youngest went through the man's pockets.

Mickey took note that Annie found the bracelet, and worked it until it came off the man's wrist.

* * *

On the way back to the car, Philip lingered by the body. He just stood, gazing at the frozen facial expression. That moment seemed like an eternity.

He felt a hand on his shoulder, and the rabbi's gentle voice.

'It is tragic when it happens like this. Indeed, a world has come to an end. But, this is the path he chose. Come.'

He walked back to the car in the embrace of the rabbi.

* * *

Now, there was room on the bench for Philip, though the thought of what it cost took away the joy.

As they drew near to Silver City, more seats became available at far less cost. Yakov took his turn sitting in the cab with the three children, while the rabbi sat in the back.

Besides the last of the passengers getting off, and Mickey taking a turn in the front, nothing memorable happened in Silver City.

From Silver City, the rabbi had said, they'd be taking mountain roads for safety, even if the straight roads through the valleys would be quicker. The latter went through more check points.

* * *

Mickey found the three not very communicative, not even among themselves. What little talk that went on revealed that the older one -- nine years old by Mickey's judgement -- was name Scattered Shower, though they called him 'Scat', and the five year old, 'Breeze'.

They were in a mountainous area, with a few curves in the road. Annie seemed to be taking extra care, not driving as fast as before, slowing down, Mickey thought, more than was necessary at each curve. Scat continued to sit very stiffly, next to Mickey, with both hands holding the gun hidden between his knees. Breeze was softly singing some local popular tune.

Being that they were moving along slowly, instead of taking the curves at a dangerous speed, Mickey took the time to admire the view.

'Scat! Hand grenade!' Annie shouted suddenly.

Before Mickey could comprehend what was happening, the car had come to a screeching halt. Scat had thrown Annie a hand grenade from the glove compartment, and had clamoured onto Mickey's lap, thrust his upper trunk out the window, and was firing the revolver, crushing Mickey's chest with his behind with every shot. Meanwhile, Annie had thrown the gear-stick into reverse, and was likewise thrusting her upper body out her window as she virtually stood on the accelerator, propelling the car backwards.

Mickey barely caught a glimpse of a large tree branch blocking the road ahead with some men standing around it. Then, that scene was obscured by the explosion of Annie's hand grenade, which cleared out both the branch and the men. Annie and Scat pulled themselves back in again, the gear was thrust into first and Annie roared on full speed ahead. All the while the five year old was bouncing up and down on the seat, shouting something unintelligible.

When Mickey finally gathered his wits, they were racing full speed down the road beyond the danger.

'Scat! Why you only fire four shots?' Annie said.

'No more bullets.'

'How many times I tell you - load it again each time you use it! Load it right now, dammit!' She was almost screaming the words out.

Scat sullenly opened the carriage, removed the empty cartridges, threw them abruptly past Mickey's face out the open window, and took six more cartridges out of the glove compartment.

'Huh! Scattered Shower -- should'a called you Scatter Brain!' Annie muttered.

Mickey began to realise that some of the bumps were not from the road but from a very flat tire on the left front side.

'Curse it! Shrapnel in the tire!' said Annie.

But she didn't so much as slow down. Probably still too dangerous to stop, Mickey presumed.

They slowed down near a wrecked pick-up similar to theirs, that had rolled off the highway. On a second look, Mickey could see the unconscious driver still in it.

'Scat, quick, help me,' said Annie.

Scat was still pouting.

Annie looked at Mickey and said, 'You and your friends help. Come Breeze. Scat, you stand guard.' She took a tire iron and some tools from under the seat.

Mickey met the others getting out the back.

'Wow!' said Yorba Linda.

'Good moves!' said Yakov.

'I told you, they know their way around,' said the rabbi.

Philip was just wide eyed and speechless.

Both the rim and the shrapnel ridden tire looked beyond repair. But Annie was already at work cranking away at the lug nuts of one that was sticking up in the air. Breeze was going through the pockets of the unconscious driver.

As each tire was removed from the axle Mickey and Yakov took them back to the car. The rabbi checked the driver for vital signs.

While Yakov helped change the tire, and Annie and Breeze, with Philip began removing other usable parts, the rabbi, Yorba Linda and Mickey moved the unconscious driver carefully out of the cab, and to a place where he could lie more comfortably.

'He won't live long, but at least he can die with dignity,' said the rabbi. He placed a bottle of drinking water in his hand.

Before leaving, he checked for vital signs once more, but there weren't any. However, he left the water where it was.

With everything that wasn't too heavy to carry now loaded in the back with the passengers, they were off again. This time, it was Yorba Linda's turn in the front.

* * *

Philip was finally encouraged to take a turn in the front. At least he was confident of not being shot himself, having observed their survival instincts at work.

He sat in the middle, with Scat sitting by the window on his right, and Breeze on his left. Scat was still in a bad mood, ever since being scolded for not fully loading the gun, and from subsequent browbeatings by his sister.

However, Philip being more their size, Annie was surprisingly conversant. They knew nothing of the world beyond a few of the neighbouring republics, and just a little bit about the MCZ. It was like a different planet.

Philip thought it was probably okay to think of the MCZ as a different planet, as he was almost of that opinion himself. However, Annie and Breeze seemed eager to hear about China and other parts of the world, so Philip had been giving them a geography lesson. It was hard to tell whether Scat was taking any of it in or not, as he just sat sullenly at his post.

It was evening. The traffic had been becoming heaver the closer they came to Caballo Lake. Now they were almost at a stand still.

Annie had seemed to lose interest in the geography lesson, as her attention appeared to be on whatever was ahead. They were approaching a bend.

'Oh my god! Mafia check point!'

Not many cars ahead, just around the bend, were steel oil drums set up. Men with automatic weapons were standing guard, and were stopping cars, one by one, as they passed.

'Scat, look in the man's bag and see if there's anything they might take.'

Scat didn't move. Neither did the traffic.

Suddenly, Scat said, 'That's Ito! He killed Papa!'

Philip had never heard a kid's voice exude so much hate.

'He'll kill us too if you don't hide the gun!'

'I kill him first,' shouted Scat.

'No!' Screamed Annie. 'You can only shoot six times! His friends got Kalashnikovs -- they'll kill us all!'

The screaming attracted the attention of an important looking man with a pistol in his holster. He began walking slowly towards them.

'Give me the gun Scat!' Annie made a lung for Scat.

'You're not tell'n me what to do! I've got the gun now! I'll kill Ito!'

At that he lunged his body out the window and held the gun up.

'Die Ito!'

Bang!

Now everything happened at once. Ito fell against a car with a hole in his chest. People with machine guns took positions behind other cars and oil drums. Annie dragged Breeze out the driver's door. Philip followed.

He saw his backpack and thought he'd better take it.

Annie and Breeze went straight across several rows of traffic to the other side. Philip went around to the back to meet the others.

His back pack was heavier than he expected.

He met the others, and they ran up the road in the direction they had come.

Mickey said, 'Don't worry, I got your back pack right here, Philip.'

'Huh?'

They could hear Scat's revolver fire and that of the bigger guns.

Up ahead, more men with guns got off a covered lorry.

'This way!' shouted Yakov, signalling them towards the ditch at the side of the road.

The men with guns ran past them and began shooting at those at the checkpoint.

The five got down into the ditch, and began moving back towards the checkpoint.

Philip took a peep above the top.

'For goodness sake, get down!' said Yakov.

It was too late. Philip had seen it -- the limp body of Scat draped through the open window of the cab, riddled with bullets holes, a big man dragging Annie and Breeze, both kicking and screaming, and throwing them into a van.

The moment he brought his head down, the sky above filled with a bright yellow cloud, and the ground below hit him in the face. The bang was so loud he couldn't hear much else for a while.

* * *

Yakov judged it safe to emerge. They did, and sure enough, the battle seemed to be over. The blast had eliminated most of the resistance.

'Annie's in that van,' shouted Philip. There were two vans parked together.

The van seemed in tac but the big man that Philip had seen lay sprawled near the driver door.

Annie and breeze were inside, safe and sound.

The men from the lorry seemed to have taken control of the checkpoint, but were ignoring them.

Philip approached Annie. 'Really sorry about Scat,' he said.

Annie was close to tears, but she kept a stoic face. 'Yeah -- he was so stupid!' Then she broke down as Philip embraced her.

'So, what to do now?' said Yorba Linda.

'These vans seem to be vacant,' said Yakov.

'Good idea,' said the rabbi.

After some consultation, the five took one van, while Annie and Breeze took the other.

* * *

Yakov drove, the rabbi sat beside him, and the others sat in seats near the front, as the rear had no windows.

'Here's your backpack,' Mickey said to Philip.

'But I have my backpack -- wait -- this isn't mine.'

'Where did you get it?'

'From the front of Annie's pickup.'

They looked inside.

'This is that man's backpack. Here's his ID bracelet!' said Mickey.

'Oh my God!' exclaimed Philip.

'And a My Own World headset, and look, an e-tablet!'

'Oh good,' said Yorba Linda. 'We could use an extra e-tablet.'

* * *

The van was petrol powered. Before they left town, Yakov drove into a filling station and got a full tank, but only after enquiring where the local oil was refined, and sniffing a sample of it that the attendant had on hand. Likewise, the attendant weighed the coins Yakov gave him to make sure that they had the proper amount of gold embedded in the centre.

It was getting late. The rabbi knew of a park where people could safely park their motor homes for a small fee. They decided to make for that.

Even though he had checked all the fluid levels, after driving a while, Yakov began having doubts about the state of the motor.

* * *

Mickey had copied the Bible from one e-tablet to the other, so both he and Yorba Linda were reading.

Philip slipped into the seat behind the rabbi.

'Rabbi, did you see what happened to Scat?'

'Indeed, I did. Another tragedy -- two the same day.'

After a pause, Philip asked, 'Was that the path he chose?'

The rabbi thought a while.

'Some have more liberty to choose their path than others. I'd say the man this morning had more paths to choose from. Scattered Shower had only a few, if any. Each one will be rewarded in the world to come by what choices they had, and which path they chose. The Holy One, blessed be He, shines the light of His Shechinah down the path that leads to Himself. The one who glimpses that light however faintly it filters down to him, if he follows, has taken the right path -- however far that path will take him. He or she will be rewarded in the world to come. If it leads him all the way to the Shechinah in the person of His Messiah, then blessed is that person both in this life and in the world to come.'

* * *

They reached the caravan park, paid the fee for one night, and parked. The rabbi and Yorba Linda occupied the two front seats, which reclined all the way for sleeping. The others laid out their bedding on the carpeted back end of the van. They were off again at morning light.


Chapter 14

Uncle Rodrigo


A few hours into the journey, Yakov's doubts concerning the state of the motor were confirmed. It had stopped for the second time, and this time, it wouldn't start, no matter what they did.

'Even if I manage to fix it, it won't go far,' said Yakov. 'There's a fundamental problem inside the engine.'

They gathered their backpacks and were off. Mickey carried the two, one in front and one in back.

Fortunately, they weren't far from sources of water. A river ran not far from the highway.

They walked on for three hours.

* * *

On the other side of the wire fence running along the highway, was an old air strip. A small two engine transport plane sat next to a hanger.

'See if that plane is available,' suggested the rabbi. 'If he could take us all the way, it would save us untold hassle with border crossings and Mafia checkpoints.'

'Hmmm,' responded Yakov. 'Not to mention, time.'

They looked for a way in.

The gate was further down, but it was locked. The place looked deserted. Further on, they found a gully that left a gap under the fence. There were bits of barbed wire hanging down, intended for discouraging intruders, but they were easily pulled out of the way. They all crawled under and made for the hanger and control tower.

They found a man sleeping in a hammock strung between a landing gear and a hatch under the fuselage.

'Sir,' shouted Yakov. 'Are you the owner of this plane?'

'Yeah,' said the man, sleepily. 'What of it?'

'Can you take us to Texas?'

'No fuel,' he said. 'No delivery until next week.'

'Nothing at all?'

'I could get you up in the air, and maybe a ten minute joyride, if that's all you want.'

Yakov threw his hands in the air.

They turned around to leave.

'Hang on,' said Yakov. 'Could you land this on a straight stretch of road like that out there?'

'Yeah, but then we'd be stuck. It's no place to leave a plane.'

'Where you'd be stuck would be next to a van, filled to the brim with gasoline.'

'Hmmm!'

'Then, we take off again and head for Republic of Mexas.'

'Okay...'

They settled on a price and filed on to the aeroplane. The rabbi joined them, although he had originally planned to go only as far as Las Cruces.

It was a transport plane, with just enough seats near the front for the group The rest was cargo space. They taxied, took off and banked around to follow the highway in the direction they came from.

They saw the van by the side of the road far ahead, and landed. Yakov and the pilot made several trips back and forth, siphoning fuel into a tank and returning to pour it into the aeroplane's fuel reserve. Then, they took a cue from Annie ol' Iron and removed everything else from the van that could possibly be useful, including the tires and seats.

Then, they took off again. Later, they made one more refuelling stop.

* * *

They were flying at a very low altitude.

'Are we approaching Milfred already?' asked Mickey.

'No,' said the pilot. 'That fence you see over there is the boundary line between the Free Zone and the MCZ. It's not that we're in danger, or anything, but we pilots feel that it's a good idea not to show up too brilliantly on their radar screens -- in case they get any ideas. Also, it's to avoid accidentally flying over.'

'Why?' asked Yorba Linda.

'For us, they're a no-fly zone. When we navigate near places like this, we have to know when to change course, so we don't even look like we're about to fly over. Otherwise they shoot us down before we get to their border. The rule we follow is, never go in a straight line towards MCZ territory when within fifty miles.'

"Wa!' cried Philip.

Mickey looked. Philip had on the stranger's head set, and he had managed to slip his hand into the ID bracelet.

'What is it?'

'I see lots of lines, and writing over there!' he pointed towards where the fence was visible.

'That's the MCZ, isn't it?' said Yorba Linda.

'Hondo, Texas,' said Philip.

'How did you know?' asked the pilot.

'The letters on the ground. This head set turns it into a map! Over there, Surveillance Headquarters, sector five, level three, and over there -- wait! The more I look at something, more info -- people in that house, named Smith, Alan and Hellen, children's names are ...'

'You see all that in the VR head set?' asked Yakov.

'That's more than mine ever showed me,' said Yorba Linda.

'Let me see,' said Yakov.

'Fading out now,' said Philip.

They had gone on, past the fenced in area.

'But the man this ID bracelet belong to, his name, Morton Carson.'

'Carson did you say?' said Yorba Linda.

* * *

They could see the town of Milfred before them. At Yakov's request, the pilot flew around until they spotted the communications tower. Then he made preparations to land at the small airport.

'How long will you stay around?' the rabbi asked the pilot.

'Until I can get another payload.'

'I just might have something for you, so don't go anywhere in a hurry.'

'Right.'

They landed. The five disembarked, and went off in search of the communications tower. They could see the top of it over the roofs.

* * *

The town seemed a lot like those they had been seeing -- simple tarmac road, no footpath other than hard dirt packed down by constant foot traffic, shop fronts of family run business, but here, a lot more more green in the landscape, and the houses of wood rather than adobe.

Like Cactus Head and Whiteriver, most of the people they saw were brown skinned. But the general chatter had a more familiar sound to Yorba Linda's ears. It was Spanish.

She'd never been here in her life, but the sounds, the smells, even the way people carried themselves, were somehow a part of her. It all reminded her of home -- of the way her relatives were when they were among themselves, the way she was rebuked for being when she let her guard down in public -- but here no one was ashamed of it.

She had never really been ashamed of it. She had even helped to mentor Monterey Jack into that mould, and it thrilled her when he fit in. She had appended 'Monterey' to his name as a reward. But she had been away from it too long. The sights and sounds of Milfred told her so.

They took a wrong turn somewhere. They realised it when they again glimpsed the top of the communications too far to their left, but the road was veering right.

Yorba Linda asked for directions in Spanish. She wasn't sure how they referred to the communications tower, but when she dropped the name, Rodrigo Sanchez, that brought an immediate response.

'Go back that way, and turn right, and then left.'

They followed as far as they could with that, and asked someone for the rest. Everyone knew Rodrigo Sanchez.

Yorba Linda had arrived home.

* * *

From the outside, the compound looked no different than Hambone's tower in Cactus Head. The gate was locked, there was no bell, but a helpful neighbour yelled Rodrigo's name a few times, and hurled a small pebble at a glass pane.

The door opened, and out came Uncle Rodrigo -- much older looking than Yorba Linda remembered.

'Tio Rodrigo!' called Yorba Linda.

He stopped short, a glow of recognition transformed his face, and he ran to the gate. Suddenly irritated at the wire fencing for preventing an immediate embrace, he fumbled with the key and they were in. Then, they embraced.

'How did you come here?' he asked when they got inside.

'It's a long story, Tio,' she began.

The inside was similar to Hambone's tower, but it was in a much better state of upkeep, not unlike his earlier home in San Jose.

'And who are your friends?'

Yorba Linda introduced all of them. Explaining who each one was, of course, meant telling the long story beginning with her involvement as tour guide to a group of Chinese students, the hijacking, the stay at Francis Baguette's ranch, finding out about Monterey Jack's involvement...

'Ai! That Monterey Jack! Such a handfull isn't he! He even hacks calls into my communication system. But I knew this time he was into something away out of his depth -- not his usual cocky self -- but he wouldn't tell me what. Though he told me you might be coming.'

...then explaining Yakov's presence. It was Yakov's turn:

'Your nephew, Monterey Jack, has more than made up for his mischief. Our organisation has been tracking the same group that hijacked the hovercar. Through him, we've been able to get on an inside track in monitoring their activities inside the MCZ, just in time to uncover a major plot in the making.'

'What organisation are you with?'

'Jewish Defence Association, headquarters in Springdale, New Michigan. The group we've been watching is the American Nazi Republic, which is group consisting of all the Nazi nations. Their plan is to gain access to a MCZ missile base which would give them control over the whole Free Zone -- if not the MCZ.'

'Wow!'

'Now, here's where we feel you might be able to help us...'

After a long discussion and some deep thought, Uncle Rodrigo was willing.

* * *

Yakov had put in a call to David and Joe. The rabbi wanted to be a part of the conversation.

'Has the community been able to purchase grain for Stanley Town?' he asked.

'Yes,' said Joe. 'They're still not sure how to get it there. Because it's expensive to store, they've had it shipped here to Whiteriver.'

'Very good. We have an aeroplane. We can airlift it to them,' said the rabbi.

'And after the airlift,' Yakov continued, 'we'll fly all of you here to Mexas.'

* * *

Joe, David, along with Albert and U Ta boarded the plane along with the sacks of grain. Albert and U Ta were joyfully reunited with Philip, Mickey and the rabbi.

On their first pass over Stanley Town, they dropped leaflets instructing them to clear the main highway. Some of the leaflets fell in the church compound, some in Mr. Stanley's and the rest, along the highway that needed clearing.

On the second and third passes, they flew low and dropped the sacks out the back, just close enough to the ground that most of them didn't burst open.

Then, one more pass to observe the happy residents

Then, they flew straight back to Mexas.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Eurasian -- sixth installment: chapters 11 & 12

Chapter 11

Stanley Town


Someone had taken a lorry chassis with the driver's seat and steering wheel still attached to the front, fitted it with steel tractor wheels and built a platform around the rest of it for holding goods. The design was neither for speed nor comfort -- only for plodding along steadily with a heavy load until it reached its destination -- the hotter the sun, the better.

The passengers made themselves as comfortable as they could atop sacks of corn and dried beans under a canopy of solar panels. Because those were made to absorb as much heat as they could, that left it relatively cool underneath.

The group consisted of eight, plus Paco the driver, and his helper, Little Tree. Both Riu and Seymour had opted to stay on at the ranch, deciding that the prospect of a fulfilling life there outweighed the risk of never getting home. They were both well on their way to acquiring the Dineh language. That left the four remaining students, their tour guide and their three protectors.

Yakov had managed to find a place to mount the satellite dish on top of the canopy of solar panels, and was monitoring transmissions from Monterey Jack's IP address. The dish was programmed to fix on the signal, and automatically adjust to compensate for any tilts or changes in direction of the wagon.

* * *

They continued to follow the dirt road over the desert. They had been passing through some striking landscape earlier, including parts of what used to be the Petrified Forest National Park, and the Painted Desert. Here, it had ceased to look interesting, or even "painted". It was all flat, dry yellow ground, with just enough variation to make the riding uncomfortable -- not that iron wheels made for a smooth ride anyway.

In some places, the road was so un-discernible, Paco had to use a compass to navigate.

The passengers napped as they could, chatted when they could think of something to chat about, read from Mickey's e-tablet, napped some more. Sometimes one or another would hop off and walk briskly alongside the wagon, but they could never keep it up for very long because the sun was so hot, and climbed back in.

Little Tree distributed the ingredients for a meal, and they ate.

They travelled on.

* * *

The two sat, facing the rear.

'Hot, ah?' commented Albert.

'Yeah, very hot,' said Philip. 'And nothing to see, all same-same.'

'Yeah la, like the ocean, only brown.'

'I like blue better.'

'Yeah,' said Albert. 'Ocean also cooler.'

'Also, see the ocean means going home.'

'Yeah la! Home! China!'

'But I'm still glad we come here,' said Philip.

'Really?'

'Yeah. So much change. Not happy before, now very happy.'

'Yeah, you're right. Me too.'

'And I don't mind you call me "Pipsqueak"! Before...'

'Really? Ha ha! You pipsqueak!' said Albert, jostling Philip.

He jostled him back. 'You Hulk!'

The two broke into laughter.

* * *

They stopped for the night.

Little Tree started a fire and prepared supper.

They ate, and then spread out their sleeping bags under one of the starriest skies they'd ever seen.

This far out in the desert, even the scorpions found life intolerable, but there was enough sustenance for the human sojourners in the wagon.

They slept.

* * *

They had breakfast before sun up.

As soon as there was enough sun for the solar panels, they were off again.

* * *

They took their lunch astride the sacks of dried goods.

They made small talk. They napped.

* * *

Again, they stopped for the night.

* * *

They had breakfast and were off again.

* * *

etc.

* * *

The changes in the landscape was so subtle that they hadn't noticed. Suddenly, they came to some cultivated land. At first, they were plots where someone had started to prepare the soil, but had given up. Further on, there were a few rows of corn that had managed to break through the soil.

Further, again, they came on someone watering a plot from a mule cart with a water tank. It was hard to tell if he were an Indian, or a white man whose skin was darkened by the sun. He wore only a very worn out pair of cut-off jeans.

Paco asked directions to the nearest path, which he had lost, and the man answered in a Mid-West accent. He couldn't seem to keep his eyes off the sacks of grain.

They followed until they came to the road, and followed that past more fields and gardens. There were others out irrigating and weeding. As they went, the fields became more thick and lush. More people working, along with some children. All the clothes looked tattered. Some of the children wore nothing. Most of the people's faces lit up when they saw them coming.

One woman had a small radio, and said she'd phone ahead to tell Mr. Stanley and Father Ryan they were coming.

Further still, there were houses between some of the fields with families about. They were built of adobe, stone, stubble and just about anything else people could get their hands on, including a few old rusted caravans, motor homes and freight containers. Mickey noticed very few clothes lines, and even then, very few clothes hanging out. He suspected that people were wearing all the clothes they had, often with holes worn through in awkward places. Some children wore next to nothing, if anything at all. At least one girl wore woven grass. Others wore old sacks.

All of their skin was brown from the sun, leaving only the hair and the shape of the nose to show if they were, in fact, black, white, Indian or Hispanic. Another thing their skin showed in common was very little meat between that and the bones -- not an overweight person among them.

Soon, the houses began to outnumber the garden plots, further on, they found themselves in what could only be described as a vast shanty town, a jungle of people and houses of every description. Some were two and three stories, depending on the building material.

Here, people were breaking out in cheers as they saw them coming. Children were dancing in the street, some clamouring to get on, others running along ahead, beside and behind the wagon. The passengers responded in like spirit and began to give a few of the younger ones a hand getting up, until the extra weight began to slow them down.

From further ahead came a more official looking procession. The centre of it was a better dress man that could have passed for a rancher in cowboy times, surrounded by bodyguards. Though better dressed, his clothes were far from new.

As soon as they were within earshot, the man in the middle raised his hands and called out, 'Welcome, Amigos Paco and Little Tree! Welcome, your friends as well!'

Paco stopped the wagon, got down and went to the man and they embraced. The others also dismounted and went forward to be introduced. He introduced the man as Mr. Stanley.

Yorba Linda was carrying a small child. Joe, and Yakov each had two. Even Albert picked up one with long hair, wearing threadbare shorts. He wasn't sure of the gender.

'Hi, what's your name?' he asked.

'Johnny.'

'You very light! How old are you?'

'Ten.'

'Ten! But you so...'

'Where you from?'

'China.'

'Is that far from here?'

Now the group of them was walking further towards the centre of the town. Little Tree got into the wagon and drove slowly after -- with a fresh crew of kids.

Not far up the street was a walled compound. They went in, but the crowd apparently all knew they weren't allowed.

'Wait a minute,' said Albert, just as he had sat his new friend down.

He opened his back pack and pulled out a shirt. 'Take this,' he said.

'Wow! You mean it?'

'Yes la. Take it.'

'I never had one of these before, Thanks!'

'Now why didn't I think of that?' said Yorba Linda. The little girl she had been carrying was completely naked. She found a tee shirt that fitted her like a dress.

Philip found that because of his size, several of his trousers fit some of the children.

They all went into the compound with lighter backpacks. It was fortunate that they were right at the gate, so they were able to escape being mobbed.

* * *

In the compound was an assortment of vehicles. A couple looked like armoured troop carriers, the armour consisting of steel plates welded on to a chassis with gun slots. There were also a couple of lorries with a bit of steel plates added on as well, one army tank, and one 16 wheel lorry with a flat-bed rig holding some large object covered in tarpaulin.

Around the periphery were a number of storage sheds and garages, and in the middle of the compound, the nicest two story house they had seen since arriving.

Inside the house was a rather nice living room suite, and a coffee table laden with tea and cookies.

The lack of seating space on the settees was made up by a few wooden chairs. Even then, Philip and Albert sat on the floor.

'This all used to be national park land,' Mr. Stanley was continuing the conversation he began with David and Joe, 'all except the resort town along the highway, San Pablo Mission. When the system collapsed, people who had lost everything because of the great recession, all flocked in and began grabbing land and turning it into farms. My dad got this piece, between the town and the desert, that we're sitting on right here. Now, a lot of people weren't quick enough, and had no place to go. My dad was kind hearted, and let them set up camp. Maybe he was stupid, like the other farmers say he was, but a lot of people would have had no place to go. Now, my dad already had a business in the town, a gun shop. He did pretty well, in spite of the recession, and even bought a few of the business as other people went bankrupt. Because he was already doing well, it didn't matter that much to him that so many people were settling on his land that he couldn't run a farm the normal way. Instead, he took over the town, merged it with the squatter community, and called it Stanley Town.

'At first, things went okay. The farmers in the other places came to Stanley Town to buy their supplies, which Dad had sources for, such as the army base. We'd buy their produce. When the currency collapsed, they traded their produce for supplies. Then, Dad's sources began to run dry, and the population of Stanley Town got too big. When the Multinationals started to take over, and a lot of the towns and counties declared independence. The farmers that had settled in this area formed the Republic of Arizona, but they decided that Stanley Town was too much of a burden for them. In fact, they tried a couple of times to wipe out our whole population. But we're just too many for that. My dad had the gun selling business, and he'd seen that coming. We fought back.

'Now, since being excluded from the republic, getting food has been a problem.'

'Clothes too, I notice,' said Joe.

'Yeah. That's one of the sources that dried up. We're just too far away from any sources of textiles. In the old days, there were charities that distributed used clothes. Your folks across the desert send us cotton and wool sometimes, but it's just not enough to clothe everyone. Especially when they have to make up space for food.'

'How long will this food last, that we brought?' asked David.

'If we take small bites and chew it every carefully, it might last a month.'

'I notice you grow some, as well.'

'With what we grow, plus what you folks from over the desert send us, and some of our other methods, we might make it through the year, although sometimes, we'll be down to one meal every two days.'

There was a pause. Mickey wondered where the biscuits and tea came from.

'Can you tell us the best way to get to White River?' asked Yakov.

Mr. Stanley though a while. 'I tell you what. In about three days, we'll be making an expedition to a place not far from there. We'll drop you off within walking distance. You'll also get a chance to see how we feed ourselves.'

* * *

They went out through the gate on the way to the San Pablo Mission compound, where they would spend the next few nights and where the food would be stored.

Albert saw Johnny running up, again shirtless, but with another small boy wearing his old shirt.

'Hi! This is my brother, Geoffrey! I let him wear the shirt today, and tomorrow I'll wear the shirt, he wears the pants.'

As Geoffrey leaped extra high with his hands extended, Albert noticed that the shirt was all he had on. Albert picked him up, whereupon he hugged his neck and kissed him.

The two boys were so light, he found it no trouble at all carrying both at the same time.

Not far down the street they came to what was probably once the highway. There were traces of tarmac here and there, as well as parts of a cement foot path running down both sides. Ahead of them was a two story concrete building that had a part of an old sign that said 'Savings and Loan', but it looked like several families were living in it. Joined to that were more buildings that looked like were once a row of shops, with big windows that used to have plate glass. People simply stepped through them without bothering to use the door. One of them still had a very old sign, Men's Clothes, with no trace, whatsoever, of the said clothes. In fact, a young man could be seen inside wearing no clothes.

The group, followed by the electric wagon, turned and went down what was once obviously a prosperous commercial centre, until they came to a walled compound. The sign over the gate said, 'San Pablo Mission'.

Inside, was what looked like an old chapel from the cowboy movies, an adobe structure with a bell set into the top of the front fa├žade. Around the courtyard were other buildings, one of which looked like a school. Here, the crowd obviously felt more welcome, and followed them inside.

There were already a number of people there, including children. Standing in middle was a man wearing a long robe down to his ankles. He reminded Mickey of pictures he'd seen of St. Francis of Assissi.

As a group of people inside immediately set to unloading the wagon, the robed man welcomed them.

'Welcome to the San Pablo Mission!'

'You must be Father Ryan?' said Joe.

'Indeed I am. Come on into the rectory and make yourselves at home.'

* * *

Mickey felt a lot better about drinking cool water than tea and biscuits in the presence of so many thin people.

The only furniture in the room was the long table, with a bench on either side. The rest of the space in the room would be their sleeping quarters, using their own bed rolls that Francis Baguette had given them on the hard floor. They were happy enough with that.

After a cool drink, they chose their spots to put down their bed rolls and their back packs.

Father Ryan was still outside directing some activity. Mickey went out to see what was going on.

He, with a couple of nuns, seemed to be organising a number of children while Paco looked on.

'What's happening?' Mickey asked Little Tree.

'Tomorrow we will take some children from Father Ryan's orphanage to live in Dinetah. There are families who can take an extra child each.'

Soon, he had a row of about twenty children of various ages and degrees of dress or undress. Some looked like brothers and sisters. Fr. Ryan was writing down their names.

'They'll look nice dressed in regular clothes,' said Mickey.

'And a little bit fatter,' replied Little Tree. 'Just don't tell them that yet, or all the children will be crying to go.'

* * *

Supper consisted of pinto beans that were boiled and then fried, rolled up in corn tortillas -- exactly the ingredients they had brought from Dinetah.

'Yes,' continued Fr. Ryan, answering a query by David, 'some children think of a meal as something that happens every other day.'

'Mr. Stanley mentioned some other ways of getting food,' said Joe.

Fr. Ryan laughed, 'He has his ways. You've heard of Robin Hood, haven't you?'

'I get the picture.'

'It sounds like you don't agree with his techniques,' said David.

'I believe if we trusted the Lord more often, rather than resorting to force, we'd see more miracles, such as we have seen.'

'Tell us.'

'One year, a few years ago, we were on the brink of mass starvation, but we cried out to the Lord, and one tortilla, about this size, fed a thousand.'

'Wa!' said Albert, U Ta at once.'

'No!' said Yakov.

'In this very neighbourhood. Ask anyone here, they'll tell you. Another time, about 1000 or so egg laying hens flew over the fence and landed in the poorest area of our town. I never knew hens could fly, but these ones did. Without these and other miracles, our population would be much less than you see it today. And I sincerely believe that if we trusted God, instead of bullets and ammunition, we would see more miracles. I've said so to Mr. Stanley many times.'

U Ta spoke up. 'I see all the people's teeth are very nice and white, but no one has toothpaste, ha?'

'That, my friend, is not a miracle, but just one of the benefits of extreme poverty,' answered Fr. Ryan. 'No one here has ever eaten anything containing sugar.'

'Can't buy sweets?' said Albert.

'No money to buy anything with, and nothing to buy if they did have any money.'

'So,where does Mr. Stanley get his supply of ammunition, then?' asked Joe, 'Even if he did once run a gun shop, I understand his suppliers are no longer in business.'

'Yes,' added David, 'and I think he did have a bit of sugar on hand for our tea this afternoon.'

'Apart from the foundry, he does seem to have a source. I'm afraid I can't tell you much about it, nor how he pays for it.'

* * *

The wagon was loaded, and all the others were in the courtyard to see them off. Paco switched on the electric motor, and the contraption began to move slowly forward.

The remaining children and the two nuns cheered, waved and wept. As the wagon moved down the main street, one of the older children in the wagon led off in a song, and the travellers joined in.

As it disappeared down the other road towards Dinetah, Mickey felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Fr. Ryan.

'I understand you're the one who brought the Bible in electronic format'

'Er -- I guess I did.'

'Thank you very much. It's a most prized commodity.'

'You didn't have a Bible before?'

'Only a very tattered portion of the New Testament that was becoming hard to read.'

* * *

Mickey, Yorba Linda and Yakov were walking down the the main street.

Every now and then, someone greeted them, or a group of children came running.

Yakov asked one man, 'Do you know of an incident where one tortilla feed the whole neighbourhood?'

'Yes sir. I remember that quite well.'

Later, he asked another one.

'Yep. I never ate so much as I did that day.'

Another response farther on: 'I sure do. That was one feast I'll never forget!'

Yakov asked about the hens.

'That's her, right over there. Lays two a day!'

Yakov sighed and shook his head.

When they got past where the original town ended, there were more adobe and other makeshift dwellings, with garden plots along side. Further off, again, there were more fields and vegetable gardens then houses.

Then, in the distance, they saw it: a fence, stretching as far as they could see in both directions.

The closer they came, the more they saw; the barbed wire on both sides, the electric wire running along the top, and, as they got even closer, the men with guns on both sides.

The fence went right over the road without even a hint of a gate. There was a road on the other side that joined the highway and ran alongside the fence. An armoured vehicle sat near the intersection, and another could be seen much further up the ring road.

'Is this a prison camp, or what?' said Yorba Linda.

* * *

Every meal except breakfast was the same; one tortilla with beans rolled up inside, sometimes with a bit of salsa, or a few garden vegetables to spice it up. Breakfast was a small bowl of cornmeal porridge.

It never filled them up, but after a few days, their stomachs stopped complaining. When one was inclined to complain, one only had to look at the people walking about the town.

To Johnny and Geoffrey, who came every day to visit Albert, and usually stayed for lunch, it was a feast.

Just as Johnny said they would, they alternated between the shirt and their original pair of ragged jeans. Then, on laundry day, they showed up wearing nothing. Albert found one more polo shirt, and Philip parted with another pair of shorts.

Now, Philip was down to one pair of trousers, and Albert, one shirt.

* * *

The only light that shone anywhere was what flooded Mr. Stanley's compound, as a rag-tag army was preparing for action. The eight fellow travellers arrived, as appointed, and Mr. Stanley himself directed them to a van near the rear of the convoy. Behind it was something that looked like a home made tank, with guns pointing out on every side.

As they walked towards their conveyance, they could see a flank of armed but un-uniformed men do a right-face at their sergeant's command, and begin marching towards a troop carrier.

Their van was behind the flatbed rig that had the thing covered with a tarpaulin.

Mr. Stanley got into the driver's seat of the van. He got on his radio. 'Are we ready?'

'Car one, ready, Sir!' came an immediate reply.

'Car two, ready, Sir!' came another, on its tail.

'Car three, ready, Sir!'

etc. etc.

'Onward!' said Mr. Stanley, finally.

The convoy began to move slowly forward. It continued slowly down the dirt road through the shanty town, on past some fields and garden plots, and turned right at a four way intersection.

As soon as they went beyond the last garden, Mr. Stanley spoke into the radio. 'Infra-red on, lights off, full speed ahead. Maintain radio silence.'

Everything went black, except for a panel in front of the driver that showed an image of the vehicle ahead of them via the infra-red sensors. They began moving at breakneck speed.

'Where are we going?' asked Yorba Linda.

'On a harvesting expedition,' said Mr. Stanley. 'We plan these very carefully, pick a different place every time, and hit where and when they least expect it.'

After a while, Joe asked, 'How do you managed to keep up your supply of ammunition?'

'I have friends in the right places. That's all I'll say.'

'Can you tell us anything about an incident where Fr. Ryan fed a whole neighbourhood with one tortilla?' asked Yakov.

'Whoah! All I can say is, that's not my department. I wasn't there when it happened. I don't know what happened, or how. The same with Mildred Harper's pot of stew, the flying hens, Juan Verdugo's sack of beans -- all I know is that something happens now and then in this neighbourhood or that to make people there stop complaining, and the babies stop dying for a while. Fr. Ryan thinks they're a sign from God that I should stop doing my job.'

After a pause, he added, 'And tonight, you'll see the sort of miracle I do, the kind that keeps us all alive year in and year out.'

Just a bit further, he said, 'Here we are.'

They could see by the infra-red panel that a car up ahead had turned right.

They all turned, but came to a stop. The screen now showed an elevated view from a high mounted camera. Zooming in, they could see a couple of gun cars advancing towards a fence, shooting some sort of lightning bolts at the ground ahead. Occasionally, an explosion would erupt from the ground.

'Land mines?' said Joe.

'Yep,' said Stanley.

After a while, the whole convoy began to advance slowly.

Up ahead, the gunners were blasting a hole in the fence.

Soon, they were all through to the other side, and they began speeding down a paved road, past grain fields.

'We managed to surprise them again,' said Mr. Stanley. 'No resistance.'

The convoy turned down this way and that, travelling for about an hour down one stretch. It was pitch dark, but they could tell by the curves and slopes that the terrain was hilly. Finally, they came to a stop beside a large wheat field.

Gun cars and troops took up positions along the highway beside the field, and the smaller roads around it.

One group of men went to the lorry with the tarpaulin, and began removing it. Underneath was a harvester, with a trailer. They set up a ramp, someone got into the harvester and drove it down, dragging the trailer. It went straight into the wheat field and began moving up the length of the field at a high speed. In a surprisingly short time, it was all the way to the other end, and making its way back.

'We've been spotted,' came a voice over the radio.

'How many?' asked Mr. Stanley.

'Not a big group. Our men are standing ready. I think they don't dare come closer.'

'Good. Maybe we'll get this field finished and be off before anyone else arrives.'

The harvester finished its job very quickly, and was soon being packed into the back of the lorry, this time, with a trailer full of grain behind it.

Everyone got back into their vehicles, and they were off.

'We always come out a different way from where we went in. We might make one more stop, maybe for some cattle, or sheep. That depends on what our scout came up with. But there's a place just ahead that would be ideal to begin your walk to Whiteriver.'

'We certainly appreciate the lift,' said David.

'And the education,' said Yakov.

'Nothing's too big a favour for my friend, Francis Baguette.

The whole convoy turned to the right, onto another road. Then, at Mr. Stanley's order, they came to a stop.

'This is your stop,' said Mr. Stanley.

They made their good byes, and set off in the direction Mr. Stanley had pointed them to, while the convoy sped off in darkness the other way.


Chapter 12

Whiteriver


Because they had taken a long nap the afternoon before, they were better prepared for the walk. It was mountainous, but fortunately it was more down hill than up. They could hear a stream somewhere to their left.

When it began to get light, they could see they were in a mountain pass. They stopped, had a bit of breakfast of beans and tortillas that one of the nuns had packed for them, enjoyed the view of brown and yellow hills dotted with shrubs, and trudged on.

A sixteen wheel lorry overtook them -- the second one they had seen.

'What would that be carrying?' asked Yorba Linda.

'Wheat, oats, corn,' said Joe.

'They grow enough to ship out?'

'Oh yes. Those fields in Republic of Arizona grow cash crops. They're not subsistence farmers.'

Yakov added, 'All the Stanley Town army did tonight was to bite into their profit margin a little bit. Nobody will go hungry.'

'In fact, they way Mr. Stanley plans the raids, no one gets hit twice,' said Joe.

'For that, they should be thankful,' added David.

'Where do they ship to?' said Yorba Linda.

'Globe, Pleasant Valley, places beyond,' said Joe.

'Anywhere but Stanley Town,' said David.

'Pah! Bunch of greedy pigs la,' said Albert. 'Got lots of food to sell, don't give to starving neighbours!'

'And they try to wipe them out,' added U Ta.

By the time it was full daylight, they had reached the outskirts of Whiteriver. There was a checkpoint along the highway, and an official looking Native American asked them for any ID, and asked them to explain their presence. The students showed their Chinese passports, and explained that Yorba Linda was their tour guide from the MCZ, and their dilemma. The three operatives also showed some identification, and said they knew someone named Thomas Glasser.

The official knew Thomas Glasser and was moved by the story, so allowed them to pass. However, he explained that Whiteriver, while it was a part of San Carlos Apache Republic, was the only part that outsiders were allowed to visit. They could take the road leading Westward into Globe. Joe asked the directions to Thomas Glasser's place, and he explained it to them.

They were off again, into the town. It looked as Native American as Cactus Head. The main road was nicer. There was a lot of space, so even the shops didn't seem to feel constrained to stick close together. Each house had either a garden plot or a shade tree, or both. Some people were out, working in the gardens. Some were minding their shops. Kids were on their way to school. All of them were brown skinned.

'You say there's a Jewish community in this town?' said Yorba Linda.

'In any town that isn't close to a Nazi or a militant Christian republic, look for a Jewish community,' said David.

They turned down the street that the man had told them, and turned again down another. More people, more brown skin.

Another turn. Now, there were a few with whiter faces. There was one old man walking slowly towards them who had a long white beard and wore a black hat and a long coat. He turned in to an adobe building with a Star of David painted on the front.

'This is it,' said Joe.

They caught up with the old man before he reached the door.

'Shalom, Rabbi,' said Yakov. 'Could we come in and rest?'

'From out of town, are you?' said the man.

'Yes, we've come rather a long way. Do you know of anyone named Thomas Glasser?'

'Yes, our president. I expect Tom should be joining us for prayers. I'm Sam Solomon. Will you join us? Perhaps we'll complete a minyan,' he eyed the group, 'though perhaps...'

'Three of us could help make up the minyan,' said Yakov.

'What's a minyan?' asked Albert.

'A minyan is when there are ten Jewish men present, making up a full congregation. Only then, can we begin a religious service,' explained David.

'Well, come in anyway and rest yourselves. So you've come a long way, have you? On foot?'

'Yes. We walked from Republic of Arizona,' said Yakov.

'You need to sit down, then. Do you have a place to spend the night?'

'Not yet.'

'We'll make sure you do before the morning's finished. Come in.'

It was relatively dark and cool inside. The coolness, they realised by now, was a characteristic of adobe brick buildings, as the porous clay retains moisture and releases it just fast enough to cool the air around about. There were seats set up in a semicircle around a raised podium. Four men were already seated. On the walls were numerous plaques in Hebrew. Some looked like diagrams, one with the Hebrew letters shaped so that they resembled a seven tiered candlestick. Directly behind the podium was a tall wooden cupboard with the outline of the two tablets of the Ten Commandments carved, one on each upper door.

Rabbi Solomon turned to the Asians. 'This is, perhaps, your first time in a synagogue? We want you to feel welcome. Take a seat right over here, where you can observe the service.' He indicated a row of chairs along the back. Then, he handed each of them a skull cap. 'Please wear this on your head while you're in here. Afterwards, you can join us for some refreshment.'

Joe followed them to their seats, and said to them, 'Just a couple of things. Remember to always wear a kippa, that's the skull cap he gave you to wear, when you're in a synagogue. Also, when you see someone wearing one of these,' he showed them a tangle of thin leather straps with a small box attached, 'don't try to speak to them. They're praying. Oh -- and one more thing,' he looked at Philip, 'even though he was Jewish, and all that, it's better not to mention Jesus to Jewish people. Some could be a bit sensitive about that.'

'Okay la,' said Philip.

They watched from where they sat. Four more people, including Thomas Glasser arrived -- they heard their three guides greet him as such. Now that they had the minyan they needed, the men tied the thin straps to their heads and their arm, and put a white and blue shawl around their shoulders and head.

'Right -- no talking then, ah?' whispered Albert.

Everything was in Hebrew. A leader said and sometimes sang some prayers, and the others responded, often with a song or a chant. Sometimes they stood silently, mumbling a prayer from a book, bowing every now and then, and often punctuating their prayers with 'Omain'.

Finally, they were finished. The men took off their straps, folded their shawls and began making small talk. They could see the rabbi going around to various ones, introducing them to David or Yakov, or Joe, whichever was closest at hand.

Then, he signalled for the five to come closer. 'We're having breakfast at the home of Mr. Rosenberg, and then you'll be divided up between three families for the night. I'm sure you'll want to take a rest if you've been walking all night.'

He led them outside, and the eight of them, with the rabbi and a couple of others, walked down the road.

* * *

Breakfast consisted of bagels and scrambled eggs.

The three operatives were relating to their hosts the horrific condition in which they found the residents of Stanley Town, while the four Asians and their tour guide revelled in the abundance of food on their plates.

The rabbi sighed, 'Such are the times we live in, in these Divided States of America.'

'These bagels, very nice,' said Albert. 'Had in Singapore, with cream cheese and fish.'

'Smoked salmon?' asked the rabbi.

'I think. Almost like sushi, but -- yeah, smoked.'

'Ah -- lox on bagels with cream cheese,' reminisced Mr. Solomon. 'Used to have them all the time before the Union broke up.'

'Mr. Slessinger sometimes makes cream cheese,' said Mr. Glasser.

'Don't have salmon now?' queried U Ta.

'Too far from the ocean!' said the rabbi.

Mr. Rosenberg added, 'Even if we could ship seafood over such a distance, we're hemmed in by the Multinationals. Won't let us anywhere near the sea.'

'Like a giant prison?' said Mickey.

'A prison big enough for turfs,' said Joe.

'Stanley Town was really a prison within a prison then,' commented Yorba Linda.

'So we understand,' said Mr. Rosenberg. 'I wonder if there's anything we can do for them?'

'We'll have to see,' said Mr. Glasser.

'We did hear some pretty unusual stories there,' said Yakov. 'They claim that with one tortilla, they were able to feed a whole neighbourhood that would have otherwise starved.'

'Indeed?' said Mr. Rosenberg.

'You mean, like in the Christian story of the feeding of the 5000?' asked Mr. Glasser.

'They also claim that a very large flock of egg laying hens flew into town and landed in the poorest homes.'

'A bit of a tall one, that,' commented Mr. Rosenberg.

'The thing is, I went into the neighbourhood myself and asked various of the residents, and they all give the same story,' said Yakov. 'Even Mr. Stanley won't deny it outright.'

'He even alluded to other unexplainable events,' said Joe.

'I've heard of such things happening,' said the rabbi. 'The whole truth, if it were known, would catch us all off our guard.'

'I know where this is leading,' sighed Mr. Rosenberg, 'so let's quit while we're ahead, shall we, Reb Solomon?'

'Very well,' agreed the rabbi. 'But I do agree with you gentlemen that Stanley Town's next miracle should be one of our making.'

* * *

Mickey, Philip and Yorba Linda were taken to stay with the Kanter family, where Reb Solomon also lodged. Albert and U Ta, along with Joe, stayed at Mr. Rosenberg's, while Yakov and David went to stay with Mr. Glasser.

Most of the houses were single storey, but sprawling. The Kanter house had a courtyard in the middle. It was cool under the eves of the courtyard patio, and the three lounged in deck chairs and fell asleep before they had a chance to be shown to their rooms.

They woke up in time for a lunch of cheese sandwiches and salad. Then, Mrs. Kanter showed them to their rooms, one for Yorba Linda, and the other for Philip and Mickey. Mickey and Philip's room actually belong to the two sons of the household, who would be sleeping on the sofas for the night. Yorba Linda would be sharing a room with their teen age daughter.

* * *

The rabbi had arrived at the house in the company of the two boys and the girl. They all gathered for coffee and snacks in the patio, Philip in his sarong, as his trousers were hanging to dry.

'Do you fetch the kids from school?' Mickey asked the rabbi.

'No, they come to the shul every afternoon for Hebrew School, then we come home together,' he answered.

Yosef was Philip's age, Yehuda a few years younger, and Naomi was the oldest of the lot -- better company for Yorba Linda.

'Why you wear'n a skirt?' Yehuda asked Philip.

'Yehuda! Don't be so rude!' chided Mrs. Kanter.

'It's okay la. This, a sarong, we wear around the house in Asia, like pyjamas. I washed my only trousers, so I wear for today.'

'He gave away all his clothes in Stanley Town,' added Yorba Linda.

'Yeah!' Mickey began, 'He would have walked into this town naked himself if we hadn't...'

'Hoi!' exclaimed Philip, as he broke out laughing.

'Oh! Bless your heart!' said Mrs. Kanter. 'Yosef, you have some clothes that don't fit you any more, why don't you fetch them?'

'Sure.' Yosef was just slightly larger than Philip.

'But, for goodness sake, not those tattered jeans. Oh! Get that pair that Aunt Silvia gave you that was too small...'

'Yeah, and you didn't have the guts to tell her. I'll get them.' He got up and went out.

'So, you see?' commented the rabbi. 'Give and it shall be given to you, said the great sage.'

'Do kids in Stanley Town really run around in the nude?' asked Yehuda.

'Some of them,' said Philip. 'Others just with big holes in the back where you see their bum.'

'Ai! Philip!' grimaced Yorba Linda.

'We're starting to talk about what we, as a community can do for the people of Stanley Town,' said Reb Solomon. 'Perhaps we should add clothes to the list of things to take.'

'Oh! We certainly should!' said Mrs. Kanter.

Yosef came back with a small pile of clothes which he plopped onto a chair beside Philip.

* * *

Evening meal for the whole group was served at Thomas Glasser's home. It consisted of roast chicken and potatoes.

'The community council met today, and we came up with a plan,' said Mr. Glasser.

'Tell us,' said Joe.

'We'll do as the middlemen do. We'll approach a farmer in Republic of Arizona, agree on a price for his entire crop, and then have it shipped to Stanley Town. Everyone has pledged enough to offer a good price.'

'How will you get it in?' said Yakov. 'There's not so much as a gate, locked or otherwise. Only a straight fence over the highway in either direction.'

'There must be some way,' said Mr. Rosenberg. 'If we cant get it in directly, perhaps ask them to meet us somewhere up along the border to the desert. Did you say they blew a hole in the fence?'

'They could certainly do it again, if it came to that,' said Joe.

'Anyway, will discuss a few ideas for that when we come to it,' said Mr. Glasser. 'Tomorrow, I and a few of the committee members will go to visit a farm or two.'

'And the next day, our group should move on, perhaps by way of Globe,' said Yakov.

'The bus leaves from the town centre every morning, does it not?' said Joe.

'I'll join you, at least part way,' said the rabbi. 'I can show you where to go.'

'Leaving us so soon?' asked Mr. Rosenberg.

'Ah, yes,' said the rabbi. 'With young Naomi Kanter, I'm leaving your young people in good hands. Her Hebrew and her knowledge of Torah are second to none. Most importantly, she sets a good example for them.'

'You're leaving a woman in charge?'

'As good a Torah teacher as any man!'

'If you know the way, it would be good to have you along,' said Joe.

'Travel between here to Globe, and on past the old New Mexico state line should be quite straight forward,' said the rabbi. 'Beyond that, we must be carefull.'

* * *

The more of Naomi's questions Yorba Linda answered, the stranger the MCZ began to appear, even to herself. It was as though she were explaining it to herself. The picture of the world that the MCZ media painted was, in fact, a fairy tale. Now that she thought about it, such a world was impossible.

'But you sort of knew that, right?' Naomi was already in her night gown, leaning back against her headboard.

'I can't say I really knew it. I had a lot of questions.' Yorba Linda was rubbing on her night cream. 'My Uncle Rodrigo might have known it, and he planted a lot of questions in my mind. And I was a part of a group that refused to keep our VR head sets on all the time, except when we needed information from the Virtual Environment, like how to get to a certain place, and important announcements. Sometimes we just had them on, but programmed to tune out the artificial world. But I still had no idea of the Outer Zone. And Stanley Town! They said that places like that existed only in the Free States.'

'Wow! And everyone just lives in a world they paint for themselves? No one even wonders what it's really like?'

'No one is taught to wonder.' She pulled back the cover of the bed and got in. 'Some of us did ask questions, but there was always an easy answer. And anything that gives rise to questions that can't be answered so easily, the environment just blocks it out -- or they try to, or they make it seem unimportant. Like, the Christian Bible. I didn't know Christianity was Jewish. The Bible we had in MCZ was so -- what shall I say -- sterilised! After landing in Dinetah, I think I read the whole Bible through on Mickey's e-tablet, and it left me in shock! It just didn't fit in with my perception. I couldn't accept it, but I kept reading anyway, telling myself, "It's real. You'd better accept it, or stop calling yourself a Christian." God and the world were all out of shape!

'Then, we had the sweat lodge, and suddenly I saw things differently. God was simply big -- not something that would fit neatly into a package, but bigger than the universe, and bigger than my mind can find easy answers for. I suddenly had the faith to accept that. Since then, I read the Bible through again, and it makes much more sense, like the words of an infinitely big God telling me about things that are really much bigger than my understanding, but only showing me the parts that mean something to me.'

'Wow! That's neat!' responded Naomi. 'Rabbi Solomon talks about that a lot too. Like -- you guys aren't the only ones that live in a sort-of Matrix. I think we all do. We all look for easy answers. But the rabbi teaches that the more we get into the Torah and the Prophets, and do meditation, the bigger the universe gets for us. I mean, there are things there that point in directions -- like -- what you say about Christianity being Jewish and all -- like the rabbi also says, it's more Jewish than Christians think, but it's also more Jewish than we Jews think as well. But -- well -- we have to watch what we say, because not everyone here agrees with the rabbi...'

Mrs. Kanter stuck her head in the door. 'Naiomi, I'm sure Yorba Linda is very tired. Perhaps you should let her get her rest.'

They switched off the light and left themselves alone with their thoughts.

Christianity is also more Native American than I thought, Yorba Linda mused, as she drifted off to sleep.

* * *

Because they were already in over their eyeballs, the three operatives chose to include Mickey, Yorba Linda and Philip in their consultation with their local contact agent, Thomas Glasser -- Yorba Linda and Philip, in particular, because of their relationship to Monterey Jack. Mr. Glasser recommended that the rabbi also join them.

They told Thomas and Reb Solomon the whole story of the hijacking, and their communication with Monterey Jack.

'I think I can safely say now,' continued Yakov, 'that the Central West Aryan people are systematically hacking their way into the MCZ defence network, particularly targeting a group of precision missile silos located somewhere outside Albuquerque. My understanding is that this particular system is capable of hitting just about any target in North America.'

'Oi!' exclaimed Mr. Glasser. 'That will give them ultimate power!'

'What sort of missiles?' asked Mickey.

'Neutron "clean" bombs,' said Yakov. 'They just consume anything soft and biological within a quarter kilometre radius, leaving everything else in tac.

'They leave no fallout,' said David. 'That's why they're called "clean".'

'So, if they nuke a place, they can simply move in and take over?'

'That's the size of it.'

Mr. Glasser, Mickey, Yorba Linda and Philip all looked like they were staring at death. Only the rabbi looked unperturbed.

'But,' continued Yakov, 'this should cheer you up a bit: thanks to Monterey Jack, we've been following their every transmission as they've been hacking. Every access code they have, we now have, including their main headquarters.'

'You mean, American Nazi Republic?' asked Thomas.

'That's right.'

'That gives us an advantage then. Let's use it!'

'We've only got the one transmitter, but two or three different satellites to access. We have to keep glued to what they're doing from Monterey Jack's bedroom. What we really need is to pass all this information to JDL headquarters in Springdale, but right now, that's too risky. We have reason to believe the encryption code we were given has been compromised. The other option is to high tale it to Mexas, where Yorba Linda's uncle runs a communications tower for the MCZ, and talk him into letting us borrow it for a spell.'

'I have a satellite transmitter here,' said Thomas. 'If one or two of you want to stay here and keep the ear open on one area of interest while the other transmitter listens to the other, you could create your own encryption code just to use among yourselves.'

They thought a while.

'Yakov,' began Joe, 'you're the one who would know how to hack the comms tower, if you went on to Mexas while David and I stay here, one of us keeping an ear on Monterey Jack, and the other on the American Nazi Republic, you get it set up and listening, then we follow.'

That sounded like a great suggestion.

'Okay,' said Yakov, 'I go, I'll need Yorba Linda to go along, because it's her uncle we're looking for, and Philip, as I'll need an extra hand with the comms, Rabbi Solomon because you know the way, and Mickey. Albert and U Ta can come with you two.'

So it was settled.

* * *

At dinner, again at Thomas Glasser's home, they informed Albert and U Ta of the arrangement. The two were okay with staying, especially as the food was good and plentiful.

As for the prospects for where food wasn't so abundant, Mr. Rosenberg gave his report:

'We almost clinched a deal. We began to ask about how to ship it to Stanley Town, and they flatly said "The deal is off". They just won't have it. We went on to another farm, and this time, we decided we'd have it shipped here, to Whiteriver -- you know, find some other way to get it there. Apparently the first man had started calling around. We almost had the deal clinched with the second farmer, and he got a phone call. He came back and said, "No way". The third place, the same story.'

'It's not like they don't have enough food themselves,' said Mr. Kanter. 'Their grain trucks run through here every day on their way to Pleasant Valley.'

'I had a talk with Mr. Mojo, up at the check point on our way back. He's with us all the way. He says he's going to talk to the chief's council about stopping their shipments from passing through Whiteriver.'

The rabbi spoke up. 'Do we not have friends and contacts in Pleasant Valley? Could we not try to order a shipment to be sent there? I understand their airport still has a few functioning aeroplanes. Perhaps we could airlift it from there to Stanley Town.'

'That's an idea,' responded Mr. Kanter. 'Let's certainly keep this issue on the table until we find some way through.'