First Citizen McCrory stood in the rough clearing. Behind him was a raging bonfire and behind that the dark, forbidding forest. In front of him lay a dozen bodies, all wearing uniforms of the United States Army. All but one of them was still.
His assistant, Second Citizen Stephenson, his son-in-law, walked out of the darkness, “First Citizen! I have assembled the folk of the collective as you ordered- as you... requested.”
The First Citizen nodded, waiting until the frightened group of farmers, some already shivering in the midnight air, stepped into the light, their frightened faces looking from him to the soldiers. No doubt some of these simple folk were hoping the government men would save them.
As the Second Citizen drew near McCrory whispered, “Time to let them see the face of the enemy.”
Speaking loud enough for the group to hear he looked down at the squirming man on the ground, a hardened veteran, wearing the stripes of a First Sergeant, “You were caught trespassing on lands belonging to The Collective. Tell me why you’re here. Tell all of us- why you have come here.”
Despite his obvious youth, the man didn’t flinch and like the First Citizen, he spoke loudly enough for the assembled group to hear him as he struggled to his knees, hands bound in front of him, “We saw the smoke from your fires and we knew that you were illegally cooking fuel. By Executive Order of the President all fuel sources have been nationalized to assist in relief efforts and...”
McCrory knocked the man down with the back of his hand, turning to the group as he struggled back up, “You hear that? These men- I do not honor them by calling them soldiers- came here to steal fuel. The bio-diesel that fuels our farm equipment, that we will use to feed our families, the ethanol that fuels our motorcycles that we use to defend our land from thieves- like them!”
The Sergeant was looking out at the assembled farmers intently now, as if he had expected them to help him but he hadn’t given up yet, “We were not stealing. All fuel sources have been nationalized by the President’s lawful orders, you have a duty-“
McCrory kicked him this time, knocking the man back, whatever “duty” he was about to inform him he had turned into a sputter as he tried to breathe.
“I know all about my duty! My duty is to these people! People of the collective! Who need my protection from people like you and your President!”
He turned to face the assembled group. To his credit, the Sergeant tried to rise again but this time two of McCrory’s soldiers stepped up and held him down. McCrory reached into his jacket and held a thick document high, “This- this is our notice to this man’s President that these lands- our lands- are seceding from the Union and no longer recognize his authority. Everyone who is part of the collective and agrees with me, step forward and sign this. Anyone who does not, must leave with this man at dawn.”
McCrory watched, eyes blazing with more than the reflections of the bonfire as men, women and even children stepped forward one by one and signed the document he had set on the stump of a tree. After several minutes a small group detached themselves from the line and approached, led by David Sandoval.
“We- we’ve been talking. Me and the Sinclairs. We’re thankful for everything you’ve done for us but we can’t follow you into this. The- the government is going to- this is all going to blow over soon.”
McCrory looked over the group one by one: Sandoval, Sinclair, their wives, and David’s son, Bruce. After a long pause he said, “Do you all agree with David here? Do you think the government is going to somehow set this right?”
All nodded except young Bruce, “No! No way! We should stay here! This is our land! Our fuel! Just cause he wears some uniform he can just come and take it from us?”
For a few seconds Sandoval just stared at his son in stunned silence. Before he could speak, McCrory stepped up to him and took his hand, “You should listen to your father, Bruce. A boy should obey his elders.”
McCrory turned back to Sandoval, “You realize you’ll have to leave everything behind? We need all that we have here, for the collective.”
Sandoval opened his mouth a few times as if to speak, then finally just said, “All right. If that’s the way it has to be. But we can’t stay here.”
McCrory just nodded, then motioned to his men, who let the Sergeant stand again. He handed him the document, now signed by everyone except the Sandoval and Sinclair families, “Escort these folks back to your base, if you would Sergeant. And one more thing- send no more. Next time, we will kill everyone.”
The Sergeant just nodded, taking the document and stuffing it between his Kevlar vest and his fatigues, before turning and leading the two families back into the gray road that cut through the dark forest. As the neared the treeline Second Citizen Stephenson walked back close to him, “We’re just going to let them go?”
McCrory nodded, “We’re stronger without unbelievers like them using our fuel, eating our food. And letting them go is a sign of strength to the others. They know now we’re not afraid of anything out there nor do we need anything from out there.”
Stephenson nodded but it was clear he didn’t really understand, “One more thing, Second Citizen, post a man two miles further down the road tonight. I have a feeling sometime during the night young Bruce is going to leave his old family and come back to us.”