I am all in: I am going to complete the idea I had years ago called “Crosses and Doublecrosses.” The original would have been an espionage/police procedural of over 500 pages. I cannot stay there so long nor write it down. This will be a novella in three acts about the temptation of the hotshot NYC lawyer Sylvia Fernandez.
I’m planning on much exposition about the background of Machine Civilization and what happens to her via the “letter” trope that authors such as C. McCullough used to such effectiveness in her early ‘Masters of Rome’ series.
I always wanted to do something different for each of my books. This is. Here we go.
“My pleasure, Miss Sylvia, Miss Roberta!” He gestured at the car with his left hand. “Shall we?”
“Shotgun!” Roberta called. “Officer Rupert, you’re not married, are you?”
Sylvia slowly shook her head as she got into the back seat. They set off.
“If y’all don’t mind me askin’, just where were y’all headed? Home?” His tone was conversational, but Sylvia noted his eyes never stopped moving. There was more to this man than he let on.
“NYC!” Roberta replied happily. “We were visiting some family in Manila – and big sis had some boring thing to do on Leyte – but I’m going back to school at Fordham and she’s going back to work!”
“Work?” He asked with a look tossed over his shoulder.
Thanks for running your mouth, little sis.
“I’m an attorney with a private firm,” she replied simply.
“A lawyer in New York City. How’s about that!” Rupert mused quietly as he drove. “Um. When was the last time y’all talked to your family?”
It was lost to Roberta, but Sylvia heard the tiniest edge to his voice.
“What do you mean by that?” Sylvia.
“On the flight; over the Pacific.” Roberta.
For just a moment, he ignored the both of them. He rummaged in a pocket of his coat and produced a smartphone.
“Raise my rent!” He exclaimed. “Signal! That’s something of a miracle…”
He eased the car over to the side of the road and stopped. After a few stabs at the surface, he held it to his ear.
“Hey, Deke! It’s me, Alan – oh, it’s you.”
Sylvia was surprised: his entire countenance fell. He even stopped looking about. I wonder who surprised him?
“Yes… yes… no, not – what?” He turned slightly, again flicking his eyes to the rearview mirror and Sylvia. “Really? Right. Goodbye.”
His hand with the phone dropped a bit from his head, then she heard someone calling from it. “Alan? Alan, is that you?” His hand came back up.
“Deke! I’ll be there in about twenty minutes, with two guests… VIPs, got it?” Sylvia could no longer hear the other, but Rupert was nodding.
“Yep. Also, see if you can get a telecom link of any kind to New York City; no, I’m not kidding. And, CB’s ghost has an interest in one of them… right… good. See you!” His phone put away, the tires spit gravel as he sped back onto the road.
“VIPs? Us?” Roberta giggled. “Really?”
Yes, Sylvia wondered. Just what makes us that special?
“What was that you said about a link to New York?” She asked.
He didn’t answer as he took a few sharp turns. He sighed.
“I’ll not lie to you, Miss Sylvia,” he said, eyes on the road, “but word from the Northeast is… not good.”
“’Not good,’” Sylvia reflected. “You imply you nearly didn’t make it out of Atlanta and that one of your own cities is on fire and overrun by extras in a bad sci-fy movie! While our blood is Filipino, we were born in Manhattan and are tougher than you Southerns – ”
“Miss Sylvia?” he rudely interrupted, turning off the main road and headed for a forest around a small lake, “what happens if every piece of plastic money in your hometown stops working overnight? Not just the EBT cards for your underclass but the platinum cards for well heeled folks like you?”
Sylvia was silent slowly realizing with horror that he was not talking hypothetically.
“Any city is three meals from a riot, Officer Rupert,” she allowed, slowly. “Are you implying what I think you are?”
“Just supposition, ma’am, sorry, Miss Sylvia,” he said as they drew up to some laager. “Let’s stop guessing until we can see to that satellite-comm link!”
He slowed and stopped. Sylvia looked around: about ten larger tents, a scattering of cars, jeeps, and Hummers with machine guns atop. Two dozen people she could see – all men; all White. Rupert got out and made for a tent to his left. Sylvia and Roberta followed.
“Alan!” he hailed the man at a radio set who stood, taking the earphones off of his head. “These are the Fernandez women, Sylvia and Roberta. Ladies? This is our communications specialist, Alan Martin.”
Everyone took a moment to shake hands.
“Um,” Martin began with a look to the sisters, “nothing, of course, specific to your family, ladies. There were a couple of private vids posted…”
“Problem?” Sylvia demanded in her prosecutor’s voice.
Martin’s eyes went to Rupert’s and back to hers.
“Not a problem, Miss,” he tried, “just something women shouldn’t – ”
“I’ve seen men and women flayed alive by MS-13 and other gangs,” she countered. “Islamists have killed some of my family in Leyte and I just came from an armed robbery attempt. Show me.”
The three videos consisted of a statico series of images; when it came to the webs text took less than voice than video. What little sound accompanied the attempted videos were mostly the screams of women and men, trying to evacuate to the roof’s of high-rise apartments –
Stupid, she thought. Haven’t even the Jews in New York heard of Masada?
– or of those dumb enough on the street to record that they were about to be killed…
Roberta turned away when a presumed Puerto Rican brought his machete across the face of the cameraman of the last vid.
“Does,” Officer Rupert began slowly, “y’all’s family have land upstate from the city? Somewheres to retreat to?”
“No.” Roberta started to cry; Sylvia carried on. “Except for me, we are city people. I wouldn’t know how to plant a weed and make it grow.”
She watched the two men exchange a look. Why?
“That’s what I’ve heard, Miss Silvia,” Rupert said. “I, really, am sorry for what you’s have come back to. It’s one of those things that everyone thought of but no one expected…”
He trailed off.
“I did neither,” she retorted.
A nod from him.
“I guess only us’ns in Flyover Country did,” he replied. “Let me try again: if you try to get to New York City, y’all will die. If by some miracle you make it there, y’all will die.”
Roberta’s crying was worse. Rupert fished a handkerchief out of a pocket and handed it to her.
“You are telling us to abandon our parents!” she accused. “Based upon… based…”
“The US is done for, Miss,” Martin said. “Trust me. I’ve been listening for weeks. My family is in what I thought was a safe place: Knoxville, Tennessee. All signal in or out of that place is gone. They’re dead.”
Roberta doubled over.
Sylvia considered her time in law school. As an intern. Seconded to her father’s practice. Re-seconded to the NYC’s DA’s office. Her most recent assignment as a Special Prosecutor for War Crimes in Leyte.
I stand for the law.
“It would appear,” she said, taking a great breath and tossing her dark hair back and left, “that we shall be marooned here for some time.”
Three pairs of eyes looked up to hers.
“Tell me, gentlemen,” she gave her courtroom smile, “how may I help you?”