The two younger men at the barricade had slowly lowered their weapons while JTM spoke to the older man, whose name was Harlan Robinson. It was obvious that JTM was near death and meant no harm. The only risk on their mind was that he should come no closer; he would certainly be radioactive, and if they allowed him to touch them, they might be too. But, they didn’t worry for very long. JTM staggered half a step and fell to his hands and knees.
“I truly wish I could help you, son.” Harlan had seen death before and wasn’t eager to see it again. “But I need to know why you’re here. Why this road?”
“It was random,” JTM said, just barely loud enough for the men to hear. Harlan walked to the tree line and dug in a bag he had left there. He pulled out a pint bottle of what looked like whiskey, then a small plastic container, which he filled from the pint bottle. He tossed the container to one of the younger men, who happened to be his nephew James.
“You were always the best passer, James, see if you can put this right in front of him.” James took two steps around the barricade and tossed the container at JTM. It bounced, hit him, and stopped a few feet to the side. “Close enough”, he said.
Harlan tried to get JTM’s attention. “Can you look up at me, son?”
He lifted his head and said, “Yes, I’m just in some pain.”
“I know it son. You see that container we threw?” JTM nodded. “You need to drink that; it will stop the pain.”
JTM didn’t ask, he just crawled to the container, lay on his side, opened it, and drank it, slowly.
“Just lay there for a minute, son; give it a chance to work. It’s a tincture of opium; we grow it just over this ridge.”
Soon enough, and feeling better, JTM sat up. He decided that seated was as far as he wanted to go, then focused his eyes on Harlan and nodded just enough to communicate that he was ready to talk more.
“Now,” asked Harlan, “why are you looking for White Rose?”
“I’ve never done anything that mattered and now I’m going to die. I can’t let that happen.”
Harlan hung his head for a few seconds, then said, “All right, son, I respect that. Stay where you are and we’ll fix you a spot at the side of the road. Then you’ll have to crawl over to it. In the meanwhile, I’ll see if I can contact the White Rose.”
Instantly, James and John, the nephews, laid out some plastic and a blanket for JTM, along with some food and water. He got up and walked to it, but was glad to sit down again. A few minutes later, a woman in a radiation suit showed up and drove the van around the barricade and into the woods.
* * * * *
“You still with us, son?”
Harlan Robinson, now wearing a radiation suit, stood over J. Taylor Mohammed at his spot on the side of the road. The sun was setting, which meant that JTM had slept through most of the day. The opium had done its job.
“Yessir, I’m still with you.” Just then, he realized that he was in a lot of pain again. He grabbed his head which hurt horribly.
There’s more opium for you in that brown bottle.” Harlan pointed to the supplies he had just brought. “Just go slowly.”
Harlan went down to one knee next to him. “I’m Harlan Robinson,” he said, “what’s your name?” And he extended his hand.
JTM finished his sip of opium tincture, shook Harlan’s hand and introduced himself. “My name is J. Taylor Mohammed, but my friends always call me JTM.”
“A pleasure to meet you, JTM. We have something worked out for you, but before we get going on it, I’d like to pray with you, if that’s okay.”
JTM had only been to a church a few times in his life and really didn’t have an opinion on the God thing. It was something that he had never had to think about, so he hadn’t. But he knew that his grandmother prayed and this felt like a good idea to him.
Harlan dropped to both knees, took JTM’s hands, and lowered his head. “Thank you Father, for giving us the opportunity to help this young man bring meaning to his life while he still can. You are the author of all life and you wish for your children to illuminate this world. Please help me, and especially your child JTM, to open a path for our life to function and spread. JTM’s time is especially short, so we ask for special grace in carrying out this sacred duty. Amen.”
“Amen,” said JTM.
Harlan locked eyes with JTM for a fraction of a second, smiled behind his mask, then stood up, took a few steps away, pulled out some sort of telephone and said, “We’re Go. Now.”
Almost instantly, the florist’s van reappeared. The same woman drove it out, left it running and headed back into the woods. Harlan helped JTM to his feet. “Here we go son. Let’s do this thing.”
Harlan drove, as JTM sipped his opium and threw up out the window once. After he stabilized a bit, JTM told Harlan that he was getting tired.
“Yes, I expected that, son. See the green bottle in your bag?” (Harlan had placed a bag in front of JTM on the dashboard.)
“Those are coca leaves. When you’re feeling very tired, chew a couple of them. But take it easy, as close as you are to death, and with opium in your system too, you could push yourself over the edge.”
JTM said, “Thank you, I understand,” but he was actually thinking two other thoughts. The first was, Even if I die now, I’ve at least committed and acted. That’s something. The second was that while this first thought was true, he really wanted to see this through to completion. He wanted to finish, not just to start.
JTM turned toward Harlan and asked, “What are we doing?”
Harlan spoke calmly and with no delay. “We’re going to pick up some cesium from Fort Knox and take out a forward Enforcement Center near Paducah.”
JTM was silent, and Harlan thought he knew why. “Are you clear on why this is important, son?”
“No sir, I’m not. I’ve been told that the Enforcement Centers are necessary for keeping everyone fed.”
“Yes, I’m sure you were,” said Harlan, “and I presume you’ve been on corvée plantings and harvests?”
“Yes, many times.”
“And how did the enforcers treat the farmers?”
JTM paused as the pieces assembled themselves in his mind. How was it that he had never put them together before?
“They treated them badly. I once saw an enforcer shoot a farmer’s dog. The man was complaining that it was his corn, and the enforcer just shot the dog dead. Then he pointed his rifle at the farmer’s wife and said, ‘she’s next.’”
Harlan took a breath to control his anger, then spoke. “That’s what they’re doing to all the flatland farmers. The New Order is forcing them to plant non-replicating seed, taking the harvest away once it’s ready, and paying them with credits that can only be used in their system. The farmers are being robbed. Shooting the dog is part of their program. Their experts told them that they’d get the best compliance by shooting the dog first, then shooting the wife in the foot. That way she could still work, but her limp would forever remind them of the consequences.”
Somehow, JTM knew that he was in no condition to feel or express anger, so he didn’t. “That’s sick,” he said. He paused for a moment in thought and turned directly to Harlan. “We’re right to stop them from doing that.”
Harlan smiled as JTM turned back toward the window and dozed off.