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.'


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