The Dawn of Tears

Chapter One - Beware of Laughing Blondes


Note to Readers: If you aren't familiar with early twenty-first century (old calendar) terminology, technology, political geography or phraseology, go read Age of Confusion by Barbara Stanstil. I won't bother helping you translate (being curmudgeonly is the benefit of the extremely old).

It all began on a dark and stormy night. Okay, not really. Actually the sun was shining; it was a nice, warm, and very pleasant day in central California. It was recess time at El Vista Elementary School, and I was standing on the playground trying to keep the sun from blinding me while finding something to do.

My father had gone to this school when he was my age, and he had remarked in shock that the playground area use to be bigger. Now, though, it was filled with Portables. Those 'temporary' buildings used to expand classroom size that never seemed to be temporary at all. Dad was the new Principal here, and before school started he'd showed me how 'temporary' these things were by pointing at a sagging temporary building and telling me that it had been first installed at the school when his older cousin, Aunt Shantill was in the sixth grade.

That was five years before dad was in the sixth grade, and thirty years before I attended the school in my own sixth grade.

"Dylan," Dad had said in his lecture tone, "that 'portable, temporary' building was first established on this campus thirty years ago and is still there today. Whenever someone promises you that a measure, or action will only be temporary, remember that building."

I had no idea how prophetic my Dad was, or how his words would later come to haunt the world in which we lived.

My attention was grabbed back to the present, and the playground that still existed, by this blond kid that was swinging on the swingset. He was going way too high, and I winced at the way the thing was shaking each time he arced up high, but he was shouting at the top of his lungs in obvious happiness, and for a moment I envied him. His voice seemed so free at that moment, free from life, free from worries, free from everything that seemed to keep my feet planted on the ground.

Yes, I was always a heavy thinker.

I couldn't help it, but a desire to feel that freedom he was screaming about filled me and I walked over to the swingset. Two other swings were broken, hanging limply like failed dreams, but the last one still worked. I sat in it, pumping my legs to make the motion that would swing me back and forth, going higher and higher . The screaming blond noticed me and yelled encouragement, and soon I was swinging almost as high as he was, and screaming just as loud. I could feel the swingset vibrating dangerously, and instead of immediately stopping like I normally would have, I kept trying to go higher than the blond kid on the side of the swing set from me.

"YOU BOYS GET DOWN!" A woman's voice screeching higher than my own interrupted our fun. I looked over at the blond to see what he was going to do, and laughed as he waited for the swing he was on to reach hits highest point, and he leapt out of the seat, somersaulted in mid-air and landed gracefully. I knew there was no way I could match that, so I just leapt out at the highest point and landed in a heap at the feet of the female teacher.

"Dylan Thomas!" The woman said in surprise as I stood up. "You know better than to play on that! It's for the younger kids."

"Sorry Mrs. Thornston." I told her with a wry grin.

"Just don't do it again!" She said before stomping off, blowing her whistle at the kids trying to hit each other with the tetherballs. I looked over at the blond kid that had inspired by mad swinging and found him grinning at me goofishly.

"I'm Henry Jacobs." He said, and I noted that he was about the same height as me, and had the same slender build.

"Dylan Thomas." I said, taking his outstretched hand and shaking it once before letting go.

"Duh." Henry said very sarcastically. "You're the new Principal's kid. Everyone knows that. Besides I'm in your class."

"You are?" I asked in surprise. "Sorry, I never noticed."

"I sit right next to you." Henry said with a grin.

"Uh, sorry." I replied. I never paid much attention to the kids around me in class. Very few of them wanted to be seen with the Principal's son after all. I was just more interested in my books anyway. Who needed friends, really?

"I'm glad you came along." Henry said with a broad smile. "Last time I got on that swing set she gave me a detention. I know she'd have done it again, but you were there. We're going to have to hang out more."

"Why, so you can use me to get out of detention?" I asked acidly. I knew that routine all too well from previous years and previous schools. "Sorry, not interested."

"Actually I was thinking it'd be nice to hear you scream like that again." Henry said with a chuckle. "You had this big ole smile on your face like you'd just won the Lottery and you was screaming your head off. I know what it's like, not being able to do it that often."

"How's that?" I asked him cautiously.

"Man, you really are blind to the world around you." Henry laughed, nodding with his head towards the classroom we shared. Recess was almost over. I followed him back there, waiting for him to explain. "My dad is the Pastor at First Baptist downtown. You know, the biggest church in town. Everyone's always watching me, telling dad whenever I step out of line about anything. The only time I can get away with anything is little stuff like the swing, but I don't do it much. It's the closest thing I can ever feel to being free."

"I get it." I said slowly, and I truly did. As we went up the ramp to the 'portable' classroom (this one was only ten years old and the air conditioner still worked fairly well), we had the opportunity to run into our classroom bully, Eric Turner.

"Oh, look, brain junior and holy roller junior are friends." Eric sneered at us.

"Drop it, Turner." Henry said very quietly.

"Why?" Eric retorted loudly. "What are you gonna do? Tell your daddy?"

"Yes." Henry replied with a wicked grin. "I'll tell him I saw you kissing Bobby Reynolds between the classrooms."

"Shut up you FAGGOT!" Eric roared, his face going purple and looming towards us. I almost panicked at that moment, but the teacher, Mr. Horner appeared out of nowhere.

"Eric Turner!" Mr. Horner's voice was full of moral outrage. "You know language like that is against the Student Code of Conduct. Go to the Principal's Office. NOW!"

Eric stormed off, and Mr. Horner asked Henry if he was okay or needed to see the school counselor. I almost snorted at the concerned way he was talking to Henry. Really, did people think kids were so fragile that a name would break us? Henry just shrugged it off and we took our seats as the bell rang. The rest of the day passed in a rather boring manner. Eric Turner returned after lunch, his eyes shouting danger as he glared at Henry, but Henry seemed to ignore him.

After school was over, I was sitting in the Teacher's Lounge, doing homework while waiting for Dad to finish up his work when I noticed movement out the window. The Lounge looked out over the small parking lot (really, the school was ancient. Whoever imagined eight parking spots for teachers? They'd converted a large part of the kindergarten playground into a parking lot for faculty twenty years ago and surrounded it with temporary fencing that was now falling apart). On the edge of the parking lot stood Henry, obviously waiting for someone to pick him up. What got my attention though was Eric Turner marching towards him. I immediately got up and ran out the door, intending to get there before Eric did.

However, I had only covered half the distance by the time Eric reached Henry. Eric reached out and grabbed Henry by one shoulder, turning him around roughly. The bigger boy was saying something to Henry, and Henry said something in return. Whatever it was, Eric didn't like it, but he stepped backwards. Henry said something else, and Eric turned, running as if the devil himself was chasing him. I stopped and stared in surprise, then walked the remaining distance to talk to Henry.

"I not only saw him kissing Bobby, I took a picture." Henry said when I got close enough to hear him speaking in a normal tone. He had a wicked grin on his face and I stared at him in shock.

"You took a picture?" I asked in surprise. I knew who he was referring to, if somewhat vaguely. Bobby was guy who always looked like he was stoned out of his mind, and always dirty.

"Of course I took a picture." Henry said. "If you know other people's secrets, you can always use those secrets against them. Eric Turner, the biggest bully in the school is going to be scared of me for the rest of his life. No matter what he does, where he goes in life, he'll know I always have something on him."

"You're cruel." I said softly, and shivered when he smiled at me. A black Mercedes pulled up then, and he opened the door, throwing his backpack inside. He looked back at me and waved.

"See ya later, Dylan." He said cheerfully, and then disappeared behind the tinted windows. As the car pulled off, I turned back towards the school building, shaking my head in shocked disbelief and noticed my father standing at the entrance. He was staring at me oddly, and I felt a sense of dread as I approached him.

"So, you've made a new friend." It was a statement, not a question from my Dad. I looked up at him wondering exactly how he figured that from the scene in the parking lot.

"Henry Jacobs." I said slowly and he just nodded at me.

"Be careful, son." Dad said slowly. "The Jacobs are a powerful family here in town."

"Then why isn't Henry in that private Christian school?" I asked. It was actually a good question. Even I, as oblivious to the kids around me as I could be, knew the church Henry's dad was a pastor of had its own school through the eighth grade.

"I was told that Pastor Jacobs made a bargain with the Mayor after the Mayor's son was arrested for shoplifting." Dad explained patiently as I followed him back inside. "The Mayor was blaming public schools for the problems with his kid, and the Pastor was saying it was the home life. Pastor Jacobs said that a good Christian home, or a good Christian school could save a troubled child, but that a bad home, and a bad public school could not. To prove his point, he told the Mayor he'd enroll Henry in a public school if the Mayor enrolled his son in the Christian school. That was two years ago."

"Let me guess." I said sarcastically. "The Mayor's son hasn't gotten into trouble since then, and neither has Henry."

"Exactly." Dad said. "Now the Mayor goes to Pastor Jacob's church and is one of his biggest supporters."

"I bet Pastor Jacobs got some blackmail on the kid and is using that to keep him in-line." I said, shaking my head in wonder.

"I shouldn't tell you this, son." Dad said slowly, looking around to make sure we really were alone. "But, I've heard from someone I trust that it was indeed blackmail that has kept the kid out of trouble, more than anything else."

"I wouldn't be surprised after what I just saw." I said slowly, disgusted at myself for almost becoming friends with Henry Jacobs.

"Son, it's too late." Dad said, reading me like a book as always. "If Henry Jacobs wants you as a friend, you best play along."

"Why?" I nearly snarled, feeling angry and used.

"Well, we can always move again, to another school in another city, or another state." Dad said testily. That was his trump card now, after we'd moved from the last school and I'd lost all the friends I'd made. That was the difference for me. Here, the kids only knew me as 'the Principal's son'. At the last school, a few of them had taken the time to get to know the real me. That was why I no longer paid attention to the kids in my classes, although I was too stubborn to admit that it no longer gave me a reason to prevent my parents from having me advanced a few grades. Still, the thought of moving again was a painful one. I liked stability, normality, and no matter that I didn't have any friends here, I was comfortable now.

"You won't lose your job because I refuse to be friends with that jerk." I said angrily.

"Not officially." Dad said, and I knew he was right, which only made me angrier.

"This isn't fair!" I shouted.

"When is it ever fair, son?" Dad asked me. I looked up at him, and saw his dark hair going gray at the temples, his weathered face crinkled into a frown, and I remembered past incidents, past schools, and I knew he was right.

"How'd they pick you for this dump anyway?" I asked in my 'sulking' tone.

"First of all, I use to be a student here." Dad said with a wry chuckle. "Having the Principal be a former student makes people think I'll really care more for the failing school and their kids. After that mess at Davidson Elementary I also appear to be a moderate on the religion question, something that offers a bone to the two members of the board who aren't members of Pastor Jacobs' church. They also know that I'm pretty desperate for work to support you, your mother, and your two sisters. The fact that you're enrolled in this school, and your twin sisters just started Kindergarten here only makes the image better, and the likelihood of me opposing their religious agenda almost nonexistent."

Is there anything in this world that isn't based on political maneuvering?" I asked in disgust. "I'm only twelve! I'm not supposed to be this jaundiced!"

"You're not really supposed to know words like jaundice either." Dad said with a small chuckle. I laughed with him as well. The only reason I was in the sixth grade was that I refused to be moved up in school. Sure, the work was boringly easy since I'd already finished most of my dad's college text books, but I had always resisted being pushed towards the 'adult' world, even though I spent my time as a kid thinking about the adult world more than I did living as a kid.

"Sorry." I said lamely, and he gave a full laugh at that.

"You really should just let us move you up a few grades." Dad said after he had laughed, beginning that old argument again. "You keep saying you want to be a kid, but you spend more time thinking than you do being a kid. You should put that brain of yours to use instead of getting lost in your own thoughts. Today was the first time I actually saw you playing during recess instead of watching the other kids, analyzing them."

"You saw that?" I asked him in surprise. I hadn't seen him near the playground.

"I was observing Mrs. Carmel's class." He told me. "I could see you out the window and almost got up to leave when I saw who you were with."

"He uses blackmail like his father." I said, referring to Henry with a sad tone. "I thought I'd made a friend for real."

"You never know, you may have." Dad said sadly. "Just be careful."

"I guess I'll have to be." I said, moving back into the lounge. The sour odor hit me once again as I entered the room to get my books. There was a rumor that Dad's old sixth grade teacher, Mr. Lietz, had refused to leave the school and died in the room. The same rumor had it that a group of vengeful students had buried the old teacher under the lounge. I just sighed and put my books into my bag and waited in the main office. Dad was closing up his office and getting ready to leave. At least today wouldn't be a very long day. His secretary had already left for the day and we drove him in silence.

When we got home, the twins were in full swing. Cindy and April were both bundles of little dark-haired energy. They dragged dad to the living room to tell him all about their day at school while I headed up to my room. I put my books down on the desk/dresser and lay down on my queen size bed and contemplated just how stupid I was in making friends. I knew there were many secrets in me that could cause trouble if my new 'friend' ever found out about them. Before my thoughts spiraled out of control, though, my dad's voice stopped them.

"Dylan, your friend's here to see you." Dad said, his eyes warning me moments before Henry came inside my room. He looked around appraisingly at the books on the bookshelf before plopping down into the chair at my desk. Dad had shut the door behind him as he left.

"How's it going?" Henry said in a friendly voice, that damn smile on his face still.

"How'd you know where I live?" I asked sharply, and was pleased to see him wince slightly.

"I live down the street." Henry answered quickly. "Besides, dad knows where all the Principals live."

"Of course he would." I answered sarcastically, kicking myself for being so blatant.

"You're worried I'm going to try to blackmail you." Henry said with an appraising look at me. "Your dad is worried that I'll get my dad to get him fired if you don't be friends with me."

"I bet no one has ever accused you of being stupid." I said softly. He just stood up and moved to the bookshelf. He looked at them for a few moments before pulling out a specific book.

"In despotic states, no one is secure." He quoted from the book without even looking inside. I gasped in surprise, that another sixth grader would even be able to recognize, much less quote Alexis de Tocqueville was not something I had ever expected to run into.

"No, you definitely are not stupid." I repeated.

"Neither are you." Henry said quietly, replacing the book and looking at me again. There was something to his gaze, something I couldn't quite place. "Father let me see your family's file. You're a genius. You could be in college if you really wanted, but for some reason you're not. I'm willing to bet that is because you don't want to be, the same as me."

"Are we supposed to compare I.Q. like some kids compare penis size?" I asked sarcastically, and was surprised when he laughed.

"Is there a need to do that?" He retorted.

"Not really." I said, still on my guard, still untrusting of him.

"I'm not going to blackmail you." He said softly as the silence stretched between us. "I do that to protect myself, to protect those I care about. I do that to my enemies, not my friends."

"How many friends do you have?" I asked him, and he looked down at his feet.

"I'm hoping to have one soon." He mumbled, but I refused to be fooled.

"I'll do whatever you want, but don't expect me to ever really be your friend." I said stonily, and he flinched. He took a deep breath then, and looked me right in the eyes before speaking in a voice full of confidence, hope, and yearning.

"You know the story about why I'm at a public school?" He asked me in that strange tone. I could only nod. "My dad's got blackmail on the mayor, that's how he's getting what he wants pretty much all the time now. Terry, the mayor's son, my dad told me to be friends with him. He's a year older, and my dad coached me on what he wanted. I did it, and that gave my dad the blackmail he needed. I told him I wanted to stay at the Public School, and he was so happy with me he let me stay."

"What was the blackmail?" I asked, even though I knew I didn't want know.

"Terry fucking me up the arse." Henry said in a voice that was full of shame, and I winced inwardly. My stomach roiled in disgust, and sympathy for him, and shock that he'd just told me flat out what had happened. It suddenly hit me that he must have been watching me ever since school started. I had a habit of bringing dad's textbooks with me to school. The teacher knew about me, and never complained when I read the books in class instead of paying attention to lessons on something I already knew (believe it or not I never read during the English lessons. The stuff he was teaching wasn't stuff I found in Dad's textbooks so I learned it from him. There were a few topics like that, and I knew when to pay attention and when it was safe to read my other books. He knew that as well and didn't protest after I'd scored perfect scores on every test he ever gave). If Henry had watched what books I read, he'd know a lot about me, and how I thought.

"You really want me to be your friend?" I asked in a stunned voice, and I saw the hope bloom in his face.

"Yes, I do." Henry said in a breathless voice. "I'm not going to blackmail you, turn on you or any of those things. I've been watching you, and I could tell you were really smart even without seeing your file. You've never done anything mean to other students. It's weird really, you move in your own world. At El Vista, since it's public, I don't have the other church kids hanging all over me like I did before. I like the freedom and hoped I'd eventually meet someone who could be a friend. When you joined me on the swing today I knew that you were the one."

"Gee, thanks." I said deprecatingly, then wished I hadn't when he flinched. "I know you're being sincere here. You wouldn't have told me about Terry. If the Mayor or your dad ever heard a detailed rumor like that going around, they'd know it was either you or Terry who talked about that stuff."

"Aren't you disgusted by my having done it with another guy?" Henry asked.

"Don't ask a question you already know the answer to and actually expect an answer." I said, and almost winced when I realized it was the exact same thing my father had said to me a few years ago.

"Right, so friends?" Henry asked, holding his hand out. I stared at it for a long time until I noticed it was starting to shake. That more than anything convinced me. I stood up, took his hand and shook it, then hugged him. He stiffened at first, but soon was hugging me back fiercely.

"Friends." I said simply as we separated. He just grinned and jumped on my bed, lay on his side and looked at me very seriously.

"So, what do you think? WMD's or no WMD's?" He asked, and I joined him on the bed, lying on my side, head propped on my arm and laughed.

"No WMD's." I said, taking a side. He nodded and we began arguing. Dad knocked on the door an hour later to announce dinner and found us in a heated debate about the usefulness, or lack thereof, of the United Nations in curbing the actions of nuclear powers. Dad had a surprised look on his face and gave me a warning glance that Henry couldn't see. He looked surprised at my warm smile in answer and raised an eyebrow. I nodded my head slightly, and he shrugged as if saying "If you think so." Henry caught my looks, though, and would later quiz me about the silent conversation.

That night though, Henry had his first of many meals with my family. He was grilled by the twins about whom he was and why he was there, something he accepted with a grace that spoke of his living in the public eye as his father's son. Mom, not having been a part of the silent conversation with Dad eyed him warily, and shot me several warning looks. Later that night I'd have a conversation with both parents.

I never did tell them exactly what Henry had told me. They wouldn't have reacted well, and Dad was too weak-hearted to let something like that lie. He would have done something that ruined our life there. As bad as things were, at least most of his family was here, and they offered some support. I was just getting to know Grandma, and I didn't want to move again either.

From that night, Henry and I became good friends, but it wasn't your typical childhood friendship. We didn't go to the movies together, in fact we hardly went anywhere together. We'd talk at school, occasionally playing pranks on students or teachers, or breaking minor school rules (like swinging on the swing set), but nothing too serious.

He'd come over to the house several times a week and we'd talk about school, about politics, about philosophy, or world events. His father would come by occasionally to pick him up, chatting politely with whichever of my parents were home. I never went to his home, and he was so adamant about me never going to his house that I rarely even called him there.

His father often invited us to his church, but dad hid behind his catholic heritage. Grandma had raised him catholic and although we'd never gone on a regular basis before, he dragged us to the small Catholic Church he'd attended as a child. We'd go once a week, just enough to mollify any seeming impropriety in this day and age. The California Central Valley was in the grip of a religious revival and no one in a public position dared not attend some church on a regular basis.

Weeks turned into months, and the months into a year. Through Henry I got a close hand look at the inner workings of organized religion and I finally understood the dangers such things posed. It was far different reading the words of Alexis de Tocqueville and hearing the stories Henry told me on the rare nights his father let him sleep over at my house. I learned far more, and grew even more jaundiced than I had been before.

My father tried to get me to talk about these things as he noticed me becoming more and more withdrawn after Henry left, but I kept my friend's secrets. I had long since figured out that Henry needed a confidante as much as he needed a friend. He needed someone who he could tell his secrets to, and who would never spill the secrets that he shared.

When we entered La Loma Junior High School, it was no surprise that we had the same schedule and the same teachers. His father, and my father had both pulled strings to make sure their son's best friend was in the same classes. It helped as we both faced something we'd never had to face before: Gym class and the associated locker rooms.

Still, the events that happened the second week of school overshadowed the trauma of changing in front of other boys.

We both avidly followed world events, and had spent most of the summer debating the importance of the multiple coups in over a dozen countries. At the beginning of summer, a bomb had killed almost the entire royal family of Saudi Arabia in an obvious fundamentalist coup. The effects of that on oil production were immediately transparent and neither of us was surprised to hear my dad complain about paying nearly four dollars a gallon, a one dollar increase in just a single day.

The Department of Homeland Security announced an elevated security level, (Red, their highest level) and we debated with each other on whether it was just a ruse or there was really any danger. Henry was proved right when on the second Wednesday of school, the Principal of the Junior High School came over the ancient speaker system and announced that school would be closing.

It was Henry's dad that picked us up since Dad was busy organizing the closing of his own school. We'd been trying to get information on what was happening, but the teachers wouldn't tell us, the computers in the library were shut off, and neither of us had anyone who possessed a radio we were willing to ask. Instead, when Pastor Jacobs' car pulled up, I was surprised to see his lean form get out and address me.

"Dylan, you better get in too." Pastor Jacobs said, surprising me. "I talked to your dad a few minutes ago and he's going to be very busy for the next few hours. He'll stop by the church to pick you up when he's done."

"What's going on, Dad?" Henry asked as he opened the front door of his dad's car. He motioned for me to take the front seat and moved to get in the back. I started to protest, but Henry was already inside. I got inside as well, buckled up the seat belt and noticed just how nice this car was on the inside.

Obviously being a preacher could pay well.

"The Muslim heathens have struck a mighty blow against the righteous." Pastor Jacobs said, and I knew from the past year of being Henry's friend that the man really did think that way.

"What did they do?" Henry asked as I stared silently at the mass of students waiting for parents or boarding hastily assembled buses. Pastor Jacobs was driving carefully past the crowded streets until we were well past the school.

"This morning right after I dropped you off at school they announced that a religious group was taking over Saudi Arabia, closing their oil ports. Iran followed suit immediately, and then an hour ago they exploded the Iraqi and Kuwaiti ports and pipelines. They even blew up the Alaskan pipeline! A bomb also damaged the Venezuelan and Mexican pipelines. The President has announced an immediate rationing of gas. I'm just glad I fill up the tank every day."

"That's over half of the oil production in the world." I couldn't help but gasp aloud.

"That cuts available oil sources by over eighty percent until the damaged sites are repaired." Henry added. "Even then, it's a reduction in available oil by over fifty percent."

"It depends on how bad the Alaskan pipeline is damaged." I said, falling easily into the give and take that were part of our discussions. I had totally forgotten that Henry's father was in the car as we talked. I didn't even notice that we drove right by El Vista Elementary and I definitely didn't notice my dad, surrounded by worried students and teachers give the car I was in a mystified look when it drove right past him.

"Yeah, if it takes longer than a month to get fixed, the oil reserves, even the Strategic Oil Reserve, will be depleted even if civilian use is curtailed." Henry said. We'd both looked up this information on the internet over the summer after one of our 'what if' debates.

"If the damage is that severe, they'll have to declare martial law to keep order." I said, the importance of what had happened sinking in. Truth be told, I was scared as hell at that moment, and it was only the chuckling coming from the driver's seat that reminded me we weren't alone.

"I knew Henry was smart, and I saw in your file you had a brain, Dylan, but I never expected how your two minds work when they're together." Pastor Jacobs said in a voice that sent chills of a different type of fear up and down my spine. I had a sudden feeling that this was a large part of why Henry had been so insistent I never visit his house.

"Uh, what do you mean, sir?" I asked in the most respectful voice I could muster.

"Oh, I am just amazed at how quickly your two young minds worked out what the newscasters on television are going to take hours to figure out." He said, chuckling again in that way that made me want to laugh, or cry. "Has Henry mentioned that I'm a Colonel in the National Guard?"

"Yes sir, he has." I answered honestly. It wasn't good to lie to this man unless you absolutely had to, and you could be absolutely certain he'd never find out.

"I got a phone call as I was heading out to pick you two up." He said. "In two hours the National Guard of all fifty states will be mobilized. The warning he gave me included a code word that refers to plans for martial law."

"Shouldn't we take Dylan home first, then?" Henry asked, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Was I being kidnapped?

"No, he'll be safer at the church." Pastor Jacobs said in what was almost a reasonable tone.

"Why would it be safer there?" I asked before I could stop myself.

"Let's just say that questionable elements in the general population will not react well to this news. We know we can expect riots, burnings, and general lawless behavior in the first few hours of an emergency like this." Pastor Jacobs said in that same tone, and I felt a shiver of dread swarm through me again. This time it didn't disappear quickly. "I wouldn't want my son's best friend to get caught up in the chaos that can happen."

"Thanks dad." Henry said, and I didn't need to see his face to know that he was warning me.

"Thanks, Pastor Jacobs." I said weakly. "I hope that if there's anything I can do to help, that I'll be able."

"I'm sure both of you will be very busy." Pastor Jacobs said in a pleased sounding tone. I shivered again, and somehow he noticed that.

"Don't worry, son." He said in a voice that was almost gently. "Everything will work out in accordance with God's plan. You'll see."

"I'm sure it will, sir." Was the only reply that came to my super-smart brain. Soon enough, the sprawling complex of his church appeared in sight. It covered over five downtown blocks and was truly an impressive mixture of original building converted to church use, new buildings for just the church, and a mixture of the two. The car pulled into a reserved spot in front of the church offices, and Pastor Jacobs' lean frame led us inside.

"Paul!" The Pastor called out to an older, dignified looking man. I knew from Henry's stories that this man was Paul Thurell, the associate Pastor of the church.

"Dean, I see you got the boys." Paul Thurell said with a small smile.

"Yes, why don't you take them down to the private kitchen and get them something to snack on?" Pastor Jacobs said in a cheery tone. "I need to head to the armory and get things in motion."

"Sure thing, Dean." Thurell said before looking at us. "C'mon boys, let's find you some good snacks."

I was lost within moments of following the older man through the warren of hallways that made up the church. Henry seemed right at home though and once in the kitchen, it was Henry who headed to the fridge and started pulling out some ham and salad fixings. Thurell said something to Henry before leaving through the door and I heard the distinct clicking of the lock.

"What's going on here?" I hissed as soon as the door was closed. Henry just smiled at me, eyes pointing off to the wall where there was some type of intercom unit.

"You heard dad in the car." Henry said. "I wouldn't worry, Dylan. You're here, safe with me. Dad will take care of us."

"I'm just worried about my sisters." I said quietly.

"Don't." Henry said aloud, but his eyes screamed something else.

"I just wish I could call home." I said.

"I'm sure dad'll talk to your dad soon." Henry said. We made some ham sandwiches then, and ate them in near silence. The only sound was our eating, and our fingers running over the counter-top as we spelled out invisible questions and answers between us. A quick glance of Henry's eyes had pointed to a camera glowing red in the corner, and as we wrote the invisible words, our bodies shielded our movement from the camera.

"Feel better with a full stomach?" Thurell's voice made us jump in surprise since we hadn't heard him enter.

"Sure thing." Henry said with that easy smile of his. He'd never pointed it at me, but I knew it was the expression he used with the people who worked for his dad.

"Good, good." Thurell said as we put our plates in the large sink and he motioned us into the hallway. He walked between us, a hand on each of our shoulders as we went down the hallway. "Pastor Jacobs thought you might like to watch the President's speech on television. All the National Guard units have already been called up and will be rolling out soon. We're expecting for the church workers to start arriving soon after the speeches since we're a designated coordinating center. The kitchen'll be firing up full time from here on out and I'm sure there's going to be plenty for both of you to do."

"Is this Operation Rebuilder?" Henry asked in a small voice, and I tried to look as if I was totally in the dark about all of this.

"Yep, and I hope your friend here is clueless." Thurell's voice was both light and deadly.

"He is." Henry said, and I thought it was a good thing Henry was such a good liar. Our silent conversation in the kitchen told me all I needed to know, and it was all I could to keep from running screaming at that point.

He led us into a conference room that was filled with several men and women, almost all middle-aged or older, and all dressed in suits or nice dresses. They all smiled at Henry when he came in, and looked at me in open curiosity that turned into knowing smiles when Thurell introduced me as Henry's friend. There was a muted television at one end of the room, showing what looked like raging fire on the edge of some ocean, and I realized it must have been one of the bombed out ports. The image changed to that of the seal of the President, and someone picked up a remote, turning the sound up.

"My fellow Americans," The voice of the President said as he appeared on screen, sitting at his desk in the oval office. I shuddered again. For some reason this man always filled me with a sense of foreboding. "In the last twenty-four hours the forces of Democracy and Freedom have suffered severe set backs. As you may have heard from the newscasts, several of the world's oil production facilities were severely crippled in a coordinated attack.

"The good news in all this is that timely intervention by our forces at home and abroad prevented further attacks that would have damaged the interests of our country even further. The bad news is that did manage to severely cripple the flow of oil for the next few months. While the loss of American life has been almost non-existent in these attacks, their impact will be felt for many, many months.

"My advisors have informed me that unless immediate action is taken, the United States will face a severe oil shortage that could cause irreparable damage to our infrastructure. However, if strict temporary measures are taken immediately, we will weather this crisis within a few months, and our lives will return to normal afterwards. Therefore, in order to facilitate the rapid return of normal life for the great people of this great country, I am calling up and federalizing the National Guard units of all fifty states to enforce temporary measures that will be in place until the nation's oil supplies are returned to normal.

"During this period, the National Guard and military units will be charged with enforcing the new, temporary regulations and with ensuring civil order. I know this will cause alarm among some people, but I remind you that our National Guard is made up of civilians who have sworn to serve this country in times of crisis like this. They are your brothers, your sisters, your parents, and your neighbors, not strangers from far away. They are not there to harm you, but to ensure you safety during these troubled times.

"Effective immediately, all gasoline, oil and natural gas supplies are considered the property of the federal government. Citizens with fuel in their vehicles will be allowed to use their vehicles for as long as their supply lasts, but are encouraged to conserve their supply for as long as possible. By Executive Order, all gasoline and fuel supply stations are hereby ordered close. All sales of fuel will be halted immediately and shall not be resumed until such time as this temporary measure is rescinded. People who sell fuel in violation of this order shall face at least one year in jail, as will those who purchase such fuel. Ration cards will be issued as soon as possible to allow civilian use of fuels, however this will be based on a very limited basis for the most necessary of functions.

"To assist in reducing the need for fuel use immediately, all schools, banks, and public facilities are hereby ordered closed for two weeks. All air traffic currently in the air will continue to their destination, and operate for the next twelve hours. All trains and public transportation systems will operate for the next twenty-four hours in order to allow people traveling to return home. If you are currently on the nation's highways, you are encouraged to return home to your families. If you cannot with the fuel you currently have, you are encouraged to book travel on the public transportation systems. If you are still unable to return home, register immediately with the local authorities of wherever you are and the government will seek to do its best to get you home.

"Now I want to encourage everyone to remain calm. If you need food supplies, go to your local grocery store and purchase food for a few days. Your government, and its military will be working hard in the next few days to make sure that the basic supplies are available to all who need them. I encourage local churches, and relief agencies to open their doors to those in need. I'm sure your local broadcasters will announce which facilities are able to provide food and shelter for those that need such things. Above all, remain calm and obey your local authorities. In the past few years, we as a country have weathered many difficulties and problems, and this one is no different. This is a time for us to pull together, and help each other and I have faith in you. May God bless us all."

The television switched back to a news anchor that was temporarily speechless. Before she could regain her voice and talk, someone turned the television off and all the people in the room became very serious. I watched from where I sat next to Henry and my mind was suddenly filled with the image of that dilapidated, thirty year old 'temporary' building at the elementary school. My father's warning about temporary things thundered in my head, and I almost leaped up to shout in protest, but the adults were already talking.

"We'll start up the main kitchen slowly." One of the women was saying, and I forced myself to pay attention. "We'll start preparing meals for a few hundred the first day or so, but we expect that number to grow exponentially the longer things go."

"We will start organizing church members into volunteer squads immediately." Another man said next. "We already have the core groups ready and they can act as squad leaders."

"That's good." Thurell said, leaning forward with an intense look on his face. A look that I would later come to associate with passionate fervor. "By the end of the second week the Pastor will start inducting them into the National Guard and grant them the authority needed to perform their duties. By the time these temporary measures are over, we will be in place to reclaim this country as God intended!"

That was my first hint that the country I'd grown up in no longer existed, and that the world had inalterably changed forever.


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