An excerpt from my new book, "Fall of the Citizens" available on all e-book devices.
A week later, Josh pulled his car into a parking spot across the street from the address Jack had given him. He turned the GPS off on his phone to save battery, pocketed it, and walked across the street in the blazing sun.
The gate was open on the giant property, fenced at the edges with a suggestion of chain link. The buildings were organized by an absent mind. They stood haphazard facing the inside and outside at odd angles. Every building was a series of garages, painted with thoughtless slaps of blue and orange.
Josh heard voices rising from the back and turned a corner to find them. The Citizens. There were no signs or logos that would announce their presence, but you could recognize them from the knowledge of what they were. Young men and women with only a few above 40, all mixing with cheer. It certainly didn’t look like the terrorist group the news had been haranguing the last couple of days. They had the chiseled chests and arms suggesting men and women of uniform.
You could tell where they worked by what they were wearing. Sanitation jumpsuits mingled with business casual. Firefighter caps with service industry polos. A wide swath of demographic, the proverbial all walks of life. And there were many of them. The sound of their voices combined to a clamor that could be heard down the street.
The gathering centered on a single storage facility whose door yawned open near the center of the crowd. Josh approached it, walking past the many different uniforms. The Citizens had become far too large to be confined to the storage garage.
“Josh!” called Jack, somewhere.
Josh turned to find him and nodded to acknowledge.
“Welcome aboard,” said Jack, beaming with pride.
“You have a lot more people than I thought.”
“I need you to come with me,” said Jack with a folder in his hand. He turned and walked toward the open garage and Josh followed. They turned their shoulders around groups of men and women conversing casually, moving deeper into the garage. They finally arrived at a corner in the back where a hurried collection of desks sat grimy and cobwebbed.
A much smaller collection of people posed around the desks. They stood shifting on their feet and not talking. They all held folders. In the corner of his eye, he saw pink. Jack stopped and turned to Josh.
“These are the other newbies. We get a couple more every week, these days,” said Jack, motioning to the people standing around. Jack handed a folder to Josh. “I know that it seems weird that we keep records on our members but Max likes to keep everything well organized. You will see that most of this has already been filled out, but make sure we have everything correct and bring it back to me.”
Josh took the folder but didn’t look at Jack. The pink had caught his eye again. It was a woman. She was about his height, athletic frame clearly visible through a tight t-shirt and dark Capri's. Her skin had a slight tan, and she had a small, sparkling stud piecing in her nose.
The color that had drawn his gaze was her hair. It was electric pink. It stood out even in the dim light of the garage. She had gathered it into braids and some were tucked behind her ear while others fell into her face. Somewhere in the distance, Jack said something.
She was laughing. She had green eyes, and they squinted when she laughed.
“Okay, I am guessing it’s the hair,” she said.
Josh didn’t say anything even though he knew her comment had been directed at him. She made him nervous to talk.
“I just did it, it came out brighter than I thought. Not really sure what I want to do with it so I started braiding it, you know,” she said.
Josh stared back at her. He was finding words.
“You’ve got the new person folder, too. I just got here yesterday,” she continued despite Josh’s silence.
“Hi,” he said finally.
“Hi yourself. What’s your name?” she said.
“Yeah. I know. I am probably the first Betty you’ve met that isn’t 100.”
“So you think the hair is a little much? I decided if I am going to do all this revolutionary stuff, why not go nuts, right? I got this too,” she pointed at her nose.
“No, it looks great. I mean, you look great. You really pull it off.”
Betty laughed. “Thank you, Josh. Do you always flirt at work or just with girls with pink hair?”
“Uh… well…” Josh felt caught.
“So,” she said, letting him off the hook, “did Tyson recruit you too?”
“No. Jack did,” he said.
“Oh. I haven’t met him. I haven’t really met anybody but Tyson yet.”
“What does he look like?”
“Like Manute from Sin City. The Michael Clarke Duncan character from the second part with the hookers.”
“I knew who you meant. I love that movie.”
“Cuz it’s awesome,” she said.
“So does that mean he only has one eye?”
“Well no, he’s just a giant bald black guy who looks menacing. But he’s super nice and smart.”
“Yeah, I don’t see anybody that looks like Manute.”
“Okay!” said a loud voice near the door.
The crowd came in closer. The people outside pushed their way inside. The new people were crowded together. The conversations around them turned from casual to an excited buzz. The Citizens took places in the garage and held them. Jack’s voice was shouting in the distance. “Okay, we are ready. We are ready. We are all here.” He said, sounding both excited and nervous.
The crowd closed into the garage. A small circle was left in the middle of the room. There a clear path for a single file line from the outside to the small circle in the middle. Jack walked through it to the circle, followed by two others.
Josh and Betty were pushed closer by the mass of bodies. They stood on their tiptoes and craned their necks to see. Betty pressed her knuckles into Josh’s back. “That’s Tyson.”
Josh saw him. “Good call on the Manute thing,” he whispered.
“I know, right?” she said.
There was one more walking down the line. The buzzing crowd hushed. Josh guessed him to be in his early 30s. He was thin, wearing sunglasses and stubble on his face. He had a full head of brown hair, buzzed evenly. He was dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans.
“I think that’s Max,” Betty whispered.
Jack stood on a folding chair. “Wow. So many of you now.” The Citizens buzzed. “The big news is that this is our second to last meeting here and then we are moving on to the next place. We will be at the Birch Run Expo Center in Birch Run.” The crowd murmured. Betty shrugged at Josh to indicate she had no idea where that was.
“Yes, I know,” Jack continued, “it’s a little far north, but we need the central location. We think we are likely to get the most people there. Now of course, if you watch the news, you know that we had a successful lift of vaccine supply. It was even more successful than the reports say. Between the trucks and the supply that we have purchased, we estimate we now have over 2 million doses.”
The Citizens cheered. The sound was deafening in the tin walls of the storage garage.
Jack waved his hands to quiet them. There was a slight hush but the buzzing in the crowd was impossible to silence. “We are now able to start the new program. If you or your families still need to be inoculated, please let us know. Also, inform your friends who are still in the active police and military that if they need to be inoculated, we will do it. If they need members of their families inoculated, we will do that for them, too.”
More loud cheers. Brilliant, thought Josh.
Jack admonished the crowd again. “Okay, okay, quiet please. So if you need help with that, see me or Danton. We all know who Danton is, right?” Many in the crowd confirmed. “For our last meeting next week before our move please be here and bring everyone you know. It’s going to be very special.” The crowd buzzed a little louder. “Okay, everyone, Max has a few words for you.”
Whispers went through the crowd like electricity. Some shushed the talking person nearest them. Others whispered, “Max”.
Jack got down off the chair. Max did not replace him. He stayed on the ground.
“Thank you, Jack,” He said. The crowd was dead silent. “The operations went well the other night. Some of you participated in them. Whenever we do these things, you must hold yourself to a high standard. You only have to turn on the TV to understand what is happening here. Your actions are shaping history. Your names are going to be memorized. Your actions are going to be written into songs. The things you do are going to be written about for centuries to come. Your actions, every one of them, are shaking this world to its core. Presently. Not in some far away future that will never materialize, right now. So make sure that you understand that when you act. History is watching. Those people, out there, watching us, they don’t know what you know. What we know. They are not aware yet. They have been asleep for a century. You are shaking them awake.”
There was a second of silence, and then a deafening cheer.
Betty looked at Josh. “Wow,” she said.
“Thank you,” said Max and the crowd quieted again, instantly. “Now, where is Josh?”
Josh held his hand in the air with a sudden twist in his stomach.
“There you are. I need to speak with you. Josh comes to us from the famous Anonymous hacktivist group. He is going to be very valuable in the next phase. We are glad he is with us.”
Excited faces turned to Josh from all over the room, smiling with religious enthusiasm. Betty poked him in the back. “There you go, Mr. Man!”
Max looked peaceful. He held his hand up, “That’s all.”
The room started filing out. Some of the Citizens lingered outside the garage, others went right for their cars and home. Jack and Max looked in Josh’s direction.
Josh looked at Betty. “I think I have to go. When am I going to see you again?”
“Whenever. I don’t really have anywhere to go. I guess I’m just going to go back to the hotel room they got for me.” She said. She spoke fast like she was running out of time.
“What’s your number?” Josh said, taking out his phone. She gave it to him. He pushed send. “That’s mine.”
Betty’s phone rang. “Cool. Cool. Well, okay. I will let you get to your big shot meeting or whatever.” She walked away. Josh watched.