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Globall War of Terror: Shopping Trip

I left the meeting with Legal 1 and immediately jogged from there to the range.

I kept my fury the entire way.

On arrival, the assistant supervisor was coaching a guard on basic handgun. He hadn't been licensed before the Firecracker, still wasn't sure if he wanted to be, but he needed to learn to use a handgun before we would let him carry one. Given recent events, he wanted to carry.

I announced as I jogged in, "Range is hot!"

The assistant supervisor agreed, "Range hot" and motioned the guard to put down his handgun on the firing line and watch.

"STOP! Armed security!" I shouted as I drew at Lane #3, the 10 yard range. "Drop the weapon! Now!"

I then fired ten rounds in one long barrage, dropped mag, reloaded and re-engaged.

I reloaded with the third magazine, scanned left and right (a precaution against tunnel vision), and holstered.

"Range is cold," I said calmly.

"Copy cold."

I reeled in my target. Literally - fishing reel with fishing line. You don't want to eat the fish from these creeks, thank you New Almaden. There's a reason the local newspaper (now a useful source of toilet paper, as they were no longer publishing in paper) was named the San Jose Mercury News. The ecologists figured that the contamination would have taken a hundred years to wash out of the watershed. Nowadays, who knew? Or cared?

There were eight neat holes centered in the head of the target, and twelve neat holes centered in the torso of the target. One to the head, two to the body, repeat. You do the math.

I swept up my brass, sifted it and placed it in the used bin. I signed out twenty rounds from range stock and reloaded my magazines. I used a cleaning kit and did a quick patch clean.

By then I had calmed down enough to walk back to the campus administration building and deal with the lastest handicap to doing my job.

"Sir, you have a visitor. Mr. Jones from Finance."

The visitor was sitting on a hard wooden bench (formerly outside) which faced the security control point without providing cover or concealment. He looked unhappy. That was OK, so was I.

"Hi Jones. What's your chest size?"

"Excuse me?" he blinked. A nebbish type wearing glasses and a white shirt with a pocket protector, he looked like the essential dork. Until you realized that his pocket protector's pens were neatly aligned and included a pencil, and his white shirt and blue slacks were neatly cleaned and pressed. In the middle of an apocalypse, which took some work. He also carried a brown leather briefcase.

"Your chest size. Your shirt size."

"Forty."

"XL set of armor for Mr. Jones please." The control center lead signed a set out to him.

He looked at it dubiously.

"Put it on. Company employees do not leave the wire without armor. No exceptions."

He put it on. I excused myself, went to my alert locker, put on my armor and helmet and unlocked my rifle. I slung my load bearing equipment over my armor and secured it.

"Let's go, Mr. Jones."

We walked to the motor pool where our four vehicles were waiting. The Hate Truck was on point. Lovingly fitted with a ram plate, spikes and antigrenade mesh backed with barbed wire, it was how we insisted on our right of way. The next two vehicles were ordinary pickup trucks fitted with huge racks so we could carry as much loot as possible. The passenger seats now had sunroofs and the guards stood behind half-shields rigged with rifles.

One truck had a 500 gallon chemical tank trailer hitched behind it. I personally checked both the hitch and the emergency hitch release. The tank was labeled in small print next to the two fire extinguishers, "DIESEL FUEL ONLY."

The last truck was our beloved technical, a converted crew cab with armor on the sides and a single pintle mounted machine gun. At least it looked like one from a distance. In sober point of fact it was a machine gun looking piece of metal with a squib system for using firecrackers to sound like bursts.

The rifles were all quite real, however.

All were painted "SECURITY" on the sides. It would be telling to say for who.

"With me, first truck." We bypassed the Hate Truck and its grinning crew to sit in the second vehicle in line.

I stood in the passenger seat. Mr. Jones sat between me and the driver, an angry young woman with an impressive resume. The only reason she hadn't been drafted yet was because she couldn't carry more than 20 pounds due to a sway back. Private Brooke, formerly of Uncle Sam's Misguided Children and now one of my employees, was worth far more than her weight in gold. To misquote an action movie: "Give her a rifle and she thinks she's bulletproof. Give her a vehicle and she thinks she's God!"

I waved my arm in the classic "Ready" circle, then pointed forward in the "Move out!" command.

We rolled out the gate and into the hot zone.

The road within half a mile of our site was clear of trash and debris. We made sure of it.

Beyond that point were clumps of trash and debris, occasional individuals (who kept their hands plainly in sight for as long as we were near them), and what quickly became urban shantytown. Anything inhabitable was inhabited. Tarps and plastic and metal sheeting added to the livable areas.

This was post Firecracker America, at least in the Bay Area. The former surviving population of San Francisco - which had taken 800 kilotons of atomic goodness right in the Tenderloin - had to go somewhere. Some had already died of radiation poisoning. Others had cancer but no treatment possible or likely. Others would certainly die within a few years of weakened immune systems, but not knowing when or of exactly what.

Sucked to be them. But the wire was to keep our Employees in, and them out.

They looked at our vehicles and rifles with a dull bitterness that did not reach their hands or feet.

We had been tested. It was known that we would shoot. So the bitterness was merely dull.

This convoy was a short run to three known locations. This would be a test of whether our new Finance Officer would have anything to contribute to our expeditions.

First stop was an abandoned auto mall containing several different mechanic shops. They had been looted of obvious items of value, but we were after less obvious items of value.

In this case, Facilities wanted a lift and they cared enough to send two of their own to uninstall it. So we would get them a lift.

We deployed in a herringbone formation (left, right, left, right) and everyone but the drivers dismounted.

The only person who stayed present was a crying old man, Vietnamese, probably in his sixties. From his ribs it looked like he hadn't eaten in a while.

We weren't a charity. I gestured to Mr. Jones of Finance.

"OK, sir, find out if he has a valid claim to any of this property, and if he does, pay him off. That's what you are here for."

Once Mr. Jones made himself understood, the old man dried his eyes and stood up with quiet dignity.

I had to listen. I didn't want to. I'd heard too many horror stories already. But if the man nutted and tried to carve Mr. Jones into steaks and chops, I had to be ready.

"My son owned this shop. He is dead now. He tried to guard his shop and they killed him. They lit a tire on fire and put it around his neck. They made me watch."

As we loaded -- mostly tires, ironically enough, but especially the best of the surviving lifts -- Mr. Jones wrote the man a voucher for the value of the lift, about six thousand dollars. He countersigned it and motioned to me to sign it. I did. What was a signature?

He turned it over and over in his hands.

"What can I do with this?" he asked.

Mr. Jones tried to explain to him about reselling it to someone who could collect from the Company.

I interrupted.

"You can cash it for half its face value in US dollars. You can - during daytime, with a visitor pass - spend US dollars in the Company cafeteria. A not so good breakfast is $20. A good dinner is $50."

He blinked again. Then he bargained for a ride to the Company campus, which we sold him for $200. Cheap at the price. We're not Uber but a bad ride is better than a good walk, and no one else is giving rides in a post nuclear apocalypse.

The hard part would be gently but firmly kicking him out of the perimeter at sundown. He could join the dependent camp, if they would have him. Or he could have enjoyed a good couple meals and then have to walk a few miles back to here, in the dark. He might make it.

We heard loud rap music blasting from other vehicles, cruising down a nearby major street.

"Attention to arms!" I called, but everyone was already alert.

They kept going. Either they hadn't seen us, or didn't want to cross us up. But I mentally noted the problem.

"How long?" I asked the sweating Facilities manager, who was not too proud to turn his own wrench.

"Twenty minutes."

"Keep it going," I said, and scanned with binoculars until he gave the thumbs up.

We rolled, to the next destination.

I took one look and pumped my fist three times. Bypass, keep going.

I'd been hoping that the strip shopping center was approachable, because we really wanted swimming pool chemicals for a variety of purposes, especially water purification.

But it was not worth killing over, and the parking lot occupied by hundreds of people in cars and tents with pairs of big burly men carrying 2x4s and baseball bats along the perimeter made it very clear that we'd have to kill if we stopped.

The third destination was known to us. It was also popular with several other surviving facilities - the hospital, the police, the fire station.

A gasoline station which also sold Diesel.

But we had a problem. The gasoline station owner was standing in front of the Hate Truck waving his arms and shouting in a variety of languages. His guards - rifle armed, like us - looked uncertain but willing to defend their principal.

The technical moved sideways to get a vantage point and per standing orders, the "gunner" leveled his "machine gun" at the man standing in our way.

I dismounted and grabbed at Mr. Jones to get him to go with me.

"You! You rooster mouthing parent lover!" And he continued. That's not what he said, but I trust you get the gist.

"We are here to buy Diesel."

"No, you are not! You are here to steal from me again! Half that jewelry was gold plated! The diamond was zirconium! Do you know anyone who is willing to trade good fuel for costume jewelry? Do I look like a female dog? Why are you trying to embrace me like a female dog in heat?"

He had several guards, mostly family and friends. We could probably take them in a fair fight, but we might take casualties and we would piss off the hospital (no more getting Company casualties treated) and probably the police (which might get us shot at, and would cost us their hypothetical future help in some universe where that might happen.)

"This is Mr. Jones. He is Company Finance. He will talk money. We will pay for what we need. But we need Diesel. One hundred gallons. You will not grudge us one hundred gallons?"

He started screaming at Mr. Jones and I motioned the truck towing the trailer to pull up to #3 and start filling up. The Hate Truck folks pulled up to a gasoline pump, which caused additional screaming and shouting, and a little pushing. Shooting would be next, so I went over to break it up.

"Two cans. Two cans only!"

Mr. Jones then proved that he was worth his weight and space. Instead of epithets in English, he switched to the gas station owner's language and unleashed a vicious display of invective. One of the gas station guards dropped his rifle and started crying. Apparently it was that potent.

The owner replied in kind and volume. They screamed at each other louder and louder, but when the pump showed 100G they both turned and shouted "STOP!" at the same time, then continued their mutual screeching.

Mr. Jones wrote him a Company voucher. The gas station owner looked at it, read it, and started to drop his pants. Mr. Jones took out another voucher and wrote something on it, waving and shouting more.

He switched to English, looking for my support.

"You Company holes of donkeys! You offer me $5 dollars a gallon when going rate is $10! You offer me worthless paper good only for the cleaning of rears that you exchange for cash at half value! You tell me that if I do not like it you will write me paper with half as much value! Do I look like a female dog? Why are you trying to lovingly embrace..."

I drew my pistol.

"The man offered you a deal. It's a good deal. I don't offer deals nearly as good. I don't negotiate well. You know this. Hate Truck! Fill 'er up!"

The Hate Truck crew moved to do exactly that, and the guards kept glancing back and forth between their boss (who fed them) and me (who might shoot them, or order others to shoot them.)

"NO! I TAKE PAPER! YOU NO FUEL HATE TRUCK!"

Good call. It had two extended tanks for over a hundred gallons of capacity, of gasoline which was more expensive and harder to get.

I motioned for the Hate Truck crew to stop. They did, reluctantly.

"You no come back! Never! Not until after next Tuesday!"

Meanwhile, behind his back, the truck/trailer crew - on my standing orders - had pumped an additional thirty gallons.

The nearest gas station guard was afraid to point this out. Good call. Better an ass chewing after we left than more drama right here and now.

"I have present for you," I stated. "We fix two portable fuel pumps, 12 volt and 24 volt, hundred feet of hose each. Here, take free, as small token of our esteem."

The guys unloaded it from the Hate Truck, the gas station owner nearly wept - it would allow him to loot non-surviving former competitors, and both of us knew this - and the team at the trailer pumped another thirty-five gallons of Diesel in the distraction.

Then Mr. Jones proved his worth again.

"You do not need to cash this voucher. This is what is called commercial paper. You can use this to pay _your_ fuel supplier. Do you still have Internet?"

Yes, he had Internet - satellite link for credit cards. (He'd stopped taking fuel cards after the City of San Jose had stiffed him on a $40K bill. Your taxpayer dollars at work.)

All of a sudden, the $6,000 voucher we'd written for the Vietnamese father of the shop owner somehow became part of the deal. The gas station owner would discount it at 70%, not the 50% we had offered, because he could flip it for 90% of value.

The Vietnamese man immediately cashed it out in fuel, to be transported to Company and sold to us there, minus our transportation fee for the fuel he still owned until he sold it to us.

I thought the HP-12 calculator would melt from the strain.

But everyone was happy and smiles and cheerfulness.

We rolled with four hundred and thirteen gallons in the Diesel tank, more than I'd expected (and about ninety gallons more than we'd actually paid for).

This made the ambush almost anticlimactic.

We blew through it without casualties, at least on our side.

Except one.

Godddamn it! Son of a bitch!

There is no first aid for a through and through head shot.

Let it never be said that Company does not honor its deals.

Mr. Sam Nguyen, born 1958 in Vietnam, died six weeks after the Firecracker War in San Jose, California, is buried on Boot Hill - next to three of my guards - with a marker. When the Mormon Church replied to my E-mail (they take genealogical records very seriously, it is part of their faith), we added the names of two sons (and approximate date of death for his son the shop owner) and one daughter to the marker.

The $4,450 we owed him went into the indigent fund for the cafeteria, paying for meals for non-Company affiliated employees, in the absence of living kin.

We used up the fuel in about two weeks.

The lift is still in use every day.

This is life after apocalypse.

It sucks. Avoid it, unless it is the last alternative.

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