Hello, and welcome back to my novel! A rather belated addition to my book online and I thought for continuity sake I’d add a few chapters at at time to help move the story along. Thank you for your readership and patience.
A big shoutout to Jane Stansfeld, a regular reader of my blog and a fellow writer who gives me great insights and commentary on my story. Please do check out her latest work here.
Without further ado, here are the next three chapters. To access chapter one and two, please go to the Dark Veil page. Enjoy! And as always any and all comments are always welcome.
Keane met Major Erik Von Osburg on the tarmac. He was well acquainted with him. He trained with him in Texas, when officers of Unicon were chosen. Keane knew he had to handle him with care.
Osburg, like him, also went through extensive training, with a mercenary outfit called The Outpost. Before that, Osburg trained with the elite Texas Rangers, as well as a brief stint with the Marines.
Keane had spent months—years—honing his survival and combat skills with a group called The Barrens, a well-disciplined, highly competent platoon of men from New England, men who sought justice from the horrors inflicted on the populace. Teddy Bowles was part of that platoon.
Osburg’s men in contrast relished the most hellish missions and were in deep within Unicon. Keane heard of their ruthlessness when dealing with any uprisings. But since the construction of DM West, the rebellions were sporadic. Not only did citizens have to deal with the eye in the sky, but they had to be careful not to engage the SPS. Or the bounty hunters.
The drones made sure of that. And the members of The Outpost, who nicknamed themselves The Dreaded Drifters, reveled in their notoriety. Major Osburg was the commander of this ruffian clan of marauders. One had to keep their wits about them.
“Major Beckett, welcome to Phoenix. Or what’s left of it,” Osburg chortled. He was still a handsome man, tall and slim and self-assured—cocky, more like it—with that shock of black hair that always fell over his forehead, now tinged with gray. He still had that boyish charm, but Keane knew those deep cobalt-blue eyes possessed a hellish soul. He wore a khaki short-sleeved shirt and matching pants, and a Glock 17 strapped to his waist. Despite the passage of years, Osburg hadn’t aged at all.
He led Keane to a waiting vehicle, a recently upgraded M1151 Humvee, retrofitted with the latest hardware. “As you know, we’ve had a few setbacks of late, but nothing to be worried about. I’ll fill you in on the details at The Barracks.”
Barreling along Interstate 10 out of Sky Harbor, Keane made out a few distant dots, campfires from the few citizens who bravely ventured out after nightfall. Sometimes, they never came back. Life here, like the rest of the country, was bleak. In these desolate reaches of the desert, scraps of food were hard to find. People were forced to scavenge, scour the wastelands, for even the simplest meal.
When the firestorms began, when terror descended from above, people who still had vehicles and guns holed themselves up as best they could. The Truzio administration, completely under the control of the Corporate Elite, implemented draconian measures across the country. Situations became dire. Thousands simply chose to end their lives. Bodies lay strewn across the country, their stinking remains festering, for others to see and fear. Early mornings brought buzzards and coyotes to the scene, both vying for bloodied scraps. This had become the norm.
All in less than a year.
Once the onslaught of Unicon was in full swing, the elite had devised ways for citizens to take their own lives, ridding themselves of the endless horror that was now the mainstay.
Unicon provided plenty of drugs to the masses. Those willing to work on The Farms, or turn in their fellow citizens, were welcome at the Happy Shacks, reinforced depots dotting the country, bunkers stocked with booze and drugs. The elite wanted people to remain in a stupor, heavily sedated against the misery that pervaded society. Intoxicated, they posed no threat to the State.
Most jobs were found in the fields, hard labor to sustain the elite. Other, less desirable jobs were left to the clean-up crews, mopping up the disgusting sites of human destruction, citizens crushed by the Deep State.
All of this, the misery, the sorrow, the fear perpetrated by a government gone insane. Keane Beckett thought this as he was jostled about in the Humvee, wondering how in hell he would kick-start the rebellion. It seemed impossible.
He thought more of what had transpired since Unicon took over North America. Everything seemed hopeless. Futile.
Nuclear meltdowns across the globe. California a wasteland, a dead zone, after the fallout from Fukushima, the once pristine coastline, uninhabitable. The effects of radiation took its toll on the west coast.
Food sources scarce. Attempts to infiltrate the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the island of Spitsbergen were ruthlessly thwarted. All who tried were eliminated.
The weaponization of weather had gone completely awry. Scientists from AFAP had no idea of the long term effects of their experiment; massive hurricanes and immense tidal waves around the planet, severe droughts and raging firestorms, entire communities devastated, decreasing the crush of seven billion people on the globe, ice caps melting at an alarming rate. The elite smirked at the demise of such petty minions. Eugenics was in full swing.
Escape remained an illusion. Any collusion with others was fraught with fear. No one knew who to trust, who to talk to. It seemed the end of the earth was imminent. But people were resilient. There had to be a way. There must be a way.
As the Humvee sped along the uneven trails, in the gloom outside his window Keane occasionally glimpsed the shadowed remains of rotting corpses along the road. Feral dogs scavenged the dead, plucking at putrid flanks. The stench of decay crept inside and Keane thought he would hurl. He knew outside his window the possibility of fetid, air-borne plagues were real, carried along by flies buzzing over maggot-infested corpses.
Keane glanced over at Osburg, who seemed to be smiling; a smug, stupid, and ignorant smirk of misguided superiority. The horrors outside didn’t appear to affect Osburg in the least. Once the rebellion was in motion, Keane relished the thought of feeding this sadistic bastard to the snapping jaws of mongrels.
Osburg looked over at him. He would never know Keane’s grin was not because of the suffering outside in the odorous night air, but in anticipation of killing Osburg himself.
Keane could not wait for that moment.
Jake’s little pep talk provided some comfort to the shaken people in the room. Now that their numbers were few, everyone had to watch each other’s back. No time for petty quarrels or differences. They had to work together.
Since their location was compromised, Jake said it was paramount to leave and find new accommodations, somewhere more remote, outside the proximity of Phoenix and Sky Harbor. Since DM West had been completed, more and more citizens who resisted the State were tossed into its hellish interior. The only hope was to travel north, to escape the detection of the SPS, whose numbers in Phoenix seemed to be multiplying at an alarming rate.
“Before coming here, I lived near Cottonwood,” Tia Pascal said. “I know a few places in the mountains where we could hide out. I’ll give you the details later on.”
Julie liked her. Tia was an athletic, pretty Hispanic who grew up in Arizona, who knew a lot of the territory. Julie also liked her spunk. She didn’t take any shit from anyone. It’s a good thing the patrols didn’t get a hold of her in the raid, or she would have ended up like the others: dead on the trails and carrion for buzzards.
“Ok, great. Thanks, Tia,” said Durand. “That sounds like an excellent idea. I’ll talk to you about it right after the meeting.” He turned his attention to the remaining few. “We cannot afford to stay here any longer so let’s see what we can pack up tonight. We’ll move out tomorrow morning at 0500 hours. Okay, that’s a wrap,” he said and stepped away from the podium. He paused and added, “Oh, one more thing. If Julie, Tia, and Zach can stick around for a few, I’d like to speak to you. The rest, pack up and get some shuteye. Our journey begins tomorrow.”
There was that military time again, thought Julie. She wondered if Durand had been in the service. During their flight from the Superstitions, she would ask him. That simple idea made her feel safe. The way she had felt with Keane.
After the brief meeting with Jake, Julie made her way to her quarters. As she turned the corner to her room, Shields stood in the shadows.
“What the fuck are you doing in my place?” she snapped at him.
“I…I just wanted to make sure you were ok. I was just making the rounds, checking up on everyone. Jake gave me that job duty, that’s all,” Shields said.
Julie eyed him suspiciously. She did not believe a goddamn word. “I’m fine, thanks. Now please leave. I have to pack for tomorrow.”
Shields paused before exiting, his licentious gaze even more pronounced. “Of course. I…I for one, am glad that you’re safe and sound, Jules. We would all be saddened if you were caught up in the raid.” He turned and left, appearing as though he had slithered out of the room.
She recoiled whenever he uttered her knick-name. ‘What a fucking creep’, she thought, entering her quarters, wondering what items Shield had touched. She would make damn sure she kept her distance from him when they left in the morning. She would stick close to Durand and Wilburn, two men she could trust to beat the living shit out of Shields if he tried anything on her.
It was well past midnight before she retired. Lying in bed, she surveyed the room. She had packed a small satchel with a few change of clothes, and a food supply of nuts, dried berries, and beef jerky. She also packed two camelbacks filled with water from the natural underground stream that ran through the mountain. She had also written two notes and tucked them into a small crevice, near the perch where she watched her friends get dragged away.
Poor Naomi. One note was for her, in case she managed to escape her captors. If she did, and ventured back to the cave, she would know where they were heading. And maybe she could somehow meet them in the rugged high terrain of Jerome. Jake mentioned that that was their planned destination. She felt special being one of the few with such privileged information.
The other note was for Keane in case, you know, some incredible fucking miracle happened, that he would somehow materialize here from the east coast. It would have to be one hell of a miracle.
Julie shifted on her makeshift cot and realized how incredibly exhausted she was, from the day’s events, and of getting ready for tomorrow’s long trek. Before nodding off, she sent a huge batch of white light to Naomi, a pure light for good luck and good health.
‘Good night, my friend,’ she whispered in the dark. ‘Be safe. I will see you again. I promise.’
Keane arrived at The Barracks in the town of Buckeye, 40 miles west of Phoenix. Just seven miles south stood the newly constructed Disposition Matrix West, a sprawling, hideous blight of concrete that spoiled the magnificence of the Buckeye Hills Recreation Area.
What was once a pristine environment in the Sonoran Desert, now a network of buildings and fortified walls ringed with razor wire replaced the tranquil scene. Here, the worst offenders to Unicon were held in hellish conditions. Interrogations and torture were commonplace. In the vast landscape, human skeletons could be found, bleached white from the searing Arizona sun. Bones and desiccated corpses lay strewn, along with scattered skulls of animals that died during the famine that plagued the country.
Osburg led Keane into his spacious office, rooms laden with riches pillaged from the surrounding vacant ranches that dotted the Maricopa township. Priceless Native American pottery adorned luxuriant mahogany cabinets. A fortune in precious stones lay glittering upon crystal shelves. Plush wool Karastan carpeting covered the expanse of Osburg’s den of ill-gotten gains.
“Ah, the spoils of war, and all that,” Osburg chuckled. “Please, have a seat. Care for a glass of Bowmore Islay, ‘57?”
Yet another example of the rampant looting Osburg and his henchmen undertook, ravaging the state for riches. The bottle Osburg held was one of only twelve produced that year, a fine Scottish single malt whiskey. It was a collector’s dream, something to be coveted and displayed. But Osburg had no qualms opening this $240,000 bottle. The idea disgusted Beckett.
“No thanks. I’ll just have a beer. Make that two,” Beckett replied.
“Suit yourself, Major. But you have absolutely no idea what you’re missing.”
Osburg returned from his lavish bar with his extravagant drink and handed Keane two bottles of Hop Knot IPA’s, a beer brewed locally by Four Peaks.
The beer would calm Beckett’s nerves. He could not say the same thing for the conversation to follow.
They settled in oversized leather club chairs, more luxuries harvested from the frightened populace. It was evident that Osburg wallowed in his position, flaunting his opulent lifestyle.
Everything about the man Keane found repulsive. Beckett knew, from reading his dossier, that Osburg was a sycophant to the firm, eager to kiss ass to his despicable superiors. Sycophant and solipsist, through and through. Osburg’s ultimate goal was to become Supreme Commander of Quadrant West. Keane, though, had different ideas for him.
“We located a pocket of resistance today, a ragtag scrabble of people hiding in the Superstitions,” Osburg began. “There were a few unfortunate slobs that stupidly engaged the SPS. They were eliminated on the spot. The others were brought to the detention camps. We shall see if any of them end up here at DM.”
Keane listened intently to this idiot’s speech and was alarmed by the casualties. He wondered if Julie was among them. He instantly dismissed such a ghastly thought. After all, he had no clue where the hell she was.
“Any idea what they were up to?” he said. “Do you think they had plans to liberate the camps?” Keane wanted to appear disinterested, as though he couldn’t care less about a scrappy bunch of citizens who still dared to rebel against the Corporation.
Keane felt Osburg quietly looking at him and wondered if Osburg was somehow privy to his plans of rebellion. He yawned, feigning apathy to the plight of the captives.
“There was a most fetching brunette among the resisters, Beckett. She was quite feisty at first, but after a few well-placed slaps she settled down. Her name was Jardin. Naomi Jardin. What a lovely, musical name. Don’t you agree?” Osburg watched him carefully. Perhaps he was looking for a chink in his lackadaisical mood.
“Well, sooner or later they give up,” Keane offered. “They finally realize there’s no hope and no possibility of escape.” He drained his beer and reached for the other. Keane scanned the room, indifferent to the penetrating stare from Osburg. He thought his response would suffice, that it would deflect Osburg’s sudden keen interest in him.
“I’m sure there were others that managed to escape our raid. We’ll set out first thing in the morning, to make sure the region is secure,” Osburg said. “If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll find a smoking blonde.”
Beckett shot him a quick look. At that point he would have thoroughly enjoyed leaping over the coffee table, smashing his empty bottle across Osburg’s temple. Instead, he casually looked him in the eye and said, “Well, if we do happen to find one, she’s all mine.”
Osburg laughed. “If we do, I’ll make sure to send her to your quarters. As long as I get the brunette.”
Keane managed to emit a chuckle. “Of course. But right now I need some shut-eye. It was a long goddamn flight and I want to be ready. Thanks for the beer, Erik.”
“Suit yourself,” Osburg replied. “I’ll show you to your room. There’s plenty of food and drinks stocked in your private kitchen. Right this way.”
Keane followed him down the hallway and kept track of his bearings. He didn’t know if he would have to make a quick escape during the night. Osburg seemed a little too interested in his mannerisms tonight, and he needed to be ready for anything. He thought he had presented himself as the perfect loyal acolyte to the Firm. But with Osburg, one could never be too sure.
In the morning he would assess the variables and maybe, just maybe ascertain if Julie was free, one innocent soul who escaped the dragnet. That, and try to make a plausible excuse for the release of her friend Naomi. Anything to get her away from the deranged and debauched dreams of Osburg.
But right now sleep beckoned. Keane sprawled on the opulent, king-sized bed. He was exhausted. Pleasing thoughts of Ms. Damore coursed through his tired mind. It had been 16 months since he saw her last. Sixteen long and lonely months. He had to find her. If she was one of the holdouts still free in the mountains, he was certain she would have fled and left a clue. There were a lot of ifs.
With the pleasant vision of her beautiful visage in mind, Keane promptly tucked a pillow between his knees and fell into a fitful sleep.
Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2021 -All Rights Reserved.