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Chapter 7 - The Listening Post

Several long and torturous weeks on the road to Maryland passed. At first, the Reclaimers had attempted to stay on the remains of the major interstate highways; however, they quickly changed back to the secondary roads as the interstates became increasingly unpassable. Thirty years of neglect had allowed the many overpasses and bridges, required of a modern highway, to deteriorate to the point of extreme danger. After a collapsed bridge had blockaded their path and forced a five day detour, the decision was made to travel on the slower, but safer secondary roads. Plus, this allowed them to more easily bypass the very hazardous, abandoned, rotting urban centers. The infrastructure of a modern city required constant maintenance, and without that attention, the entire gleaming façade rapidly began to crumble. Thanks to the reports of Gerald Farmer, they knew that collapsing buildings, sinkholes, and chemical contamination were just a few of the ever-present perils of the slowly decomposing corpse of the “modern” city.

As their numbers continued to grow, the Reclaimers were finally driven to stop and reorganized. They chose the tiny crossroads of Morton, Indiana along the remains of US Route 36 to make their camp. The location decision was mostly based on the spotting of another large band of wild horses grazing in the overgrown pastures set along the crumbling highway. The three wagons that the Reclaimers had begun their journey with were no longer adequate for their bloated numbers. In fact, the council decided that as many horses as possible would be captured and pressed into service. They would be required for the fleet of wagons that had been authorized as a necessity for moving their expanding, elderly community forward.

Jason was concerned with their slow progress. He just could not escape the thought that this entire epic journey would have taken less than one full day before the Capture. It was incredibly frustrating to remember the technology so freshly in his mind, yet know that it was completely beyond his reach. At this sluggish pace, Jason was becoming worried that they would start hitting cold weather before they arrived at Fort Meade. And even if they did reach Theia before winter set in, what then? The group had grown far too large to all shelter in the Theia bunker itself as he had originally planned. Perhaps he should try and convince the council again to find a suitable location for a more permanent settlement. Time and time again, his suggestion had been rejected. The current thought was that the journey itself was giving the Reclaimers their purpose. It was feared that a static settlement would quickly begin to fray and then be overrun by the increasingly dangerous bandit gangs.

For the thousandth time, he asked himself how this had become his problem. Why couldn’t he just sneak out one night and make his own way to Theia? But, of course, he knew the answer. Somewhere along the line, he had accepted responsibility for these people and he just couldn’t bring himself to abandon them. They were following his crazy idea, after all. The original thought was that there would be safety in numbers. He just never dreamed the numbers would grow so large. And, if he was honest with himself, he liked it. Never in his first twenty-six years had he ever entertained the thought that he might someday become the leader of what could very well be the last form of civilization on the planet. The very idea seemed absurd and yet here he was, leading hundreds of people in what could be a foolish and vain quest across the land, to do what exactly? Find the locations of their loved ones? After so many hardships, the concept seemed incredibly feeble but somehow it was turning into a core belief for the Reclaimers as if he were Moses leading his people to the Promised Land. Jason knew the potential disappointment could be devastating and dangerous for the group, but the objective had taken on a life of its own and could no longer be controlled. He had no idea what would happen once they arrived at Theia. They would have to find a new purpose. Was he going to be responsible for rebuilding society? Was he up to that lofty goal? If he could only find Beth, then he would know that anything was possible.

At least one thing had worked out well, thought Jason. Carlo Olvera’s Regulators had proven themselves indispensable already. Twice they had repulsed bandit raids, then hunted down the offenders and destroyed them. Thanks to the Regulators, the nomadic Reclaimers were enjoying a growing reputation of being a refuge from the pitiless post-Capture world. Unfortunately, this status had caused their numbers to continue to swell to unmanageable proportions as desperate people searched them out for protection and purpose. They had been forced to stop temporarily to repair and build new wagons, but Jason knew that a group this large could not stay in one place for long. They had only been able to find enough food thus far by the incredible efforts of their foraging parties. Unfortunately, once the group was stationary, they would quickly scavenge the surrounding countryside clean. Jason knew this break would have to be as quick as possible, or people would start to go hungry.

Despite their situation, Jason was impressed by the bustling town of tents that sprawled out before him. The people just kept filtering in from the abandoned wilderness to join them. According to Tammy’s last report, there were well over five hundred souls milling about in that field. They had certainly lost many folks along the way as well. Most had succumbed to natural causes, exasperated by the stresses of the journey on their already worn-out bodies. Indeed, many Reclaimers had become expert grave diggers as they tended to bury at least one of their own at every campsite. One could easy follow the group’s progress merely by the graveyards they left in their wake. Jason knew that, on top of all her other duties, Tammy Jenkins was also attempting to keep track of the names and locations of all their dead. It was her hope that someday the information may give comfort and closure to someone.

Jason realized that even with the increased number of wagons they were building, there still wouldn’t be room for everyone. In fact, with the current rate of their growth, there would actually be less wagon space per person then when they started. Anthony Simmons had suggested that they find one of the mysterious hover towers and attempt to commandeer it for their own purposes. Jason had to admit that the use of the strange vessels could greatly shorten their journey, but unfortunately, they had yet to spot another hover tower along their path despite the order for the scouts to keep an eye out for them. On the other hand, Gerald Farmer had recommended that the Reclaimers stay far away from the dark towers, as they were heavily defended with automated weaponry that had seemed to be able to tell the difference between Freemen and Drones. Jason was conflicted. He didn’t want to needlessly endanger his people on an unknown like the towers, but if he could shorten their journey from months to mere hours, then he knew he could save dozens of lives that would otherwise be lost to the dangers of the road.

“Mr. Chairman!”

Jason swiveled his head and saw a small knot of people approaching him in an almost reverent manner. He was still getting used to the new title of Chairman and almost hadn’t even acknowledged the salutation.

“Please, call me Jason,” he corrected the group of five people that he did not recognize. So many people had joined them over the past few weeks that, regrettably, he had not been able to meet everyone. And even if he had met them, Jason knew that he was horrible at remembering names. He had always depended on Beth to surreptitiously prompt him with the correct information whenever he got himself into the awkward social situation of the forgetting names.

“We just wanted to say how much we appreciate the fact that you took us in. Thank God we found you when we did,” gushed a lady who appeared to be in her mid-seventies.

“Well we’re certainly glad you could join us, Ms. …” Jason paused to allow her to fill in her name.

“Jennifer Smalls, and this is Ralph, Sally, Phuong and Lynette,” she said, pointing to each of the other people in turn. “And again, let me thank you for the opportunity to be a part of the Reclaimers. We will do anything to serve you and the council.”

Jason was taken aback and disturbed by the statement. “You understand that you don’t need to serve us, right? We are all free here. We just expect everyone to pull their own weight or at least as much as they physically can.”

“Of course, Mr. Chairman, we didn’t mean to offend,” Smalls said meekly while slightly bowing her head in deference to Jason.

Jason realized that the group did not understand at all. The last thing he ever wanted was to have people worship him in some cultist manner. He had heard rumors that this image was beginning to take hold within some darker corners of the Reclaimers and it greatly troubled him.

“Rawlings,” a gruff voice called out.

Jason turned and saw Gerald Farmer approaching him. He turned back to address the cultist group to set them straight, but they had backed away and were already blending into the crowds of people. He sighed in resignation and made a mental note to confront the situation as soon as he got a chance. “What can I do for you, Gerald?”

“Allowing your faithful followers to bask in your glory, I see. Very magnanimous of you,” said Farmer sarcastically.

Jason scowled. “I’m not sure where this is coming from, but I certainly am not encouraging it,” protested Jason.

“You better get ahead of this thing because I see it growing. Hell, the other night I passed a tent where they were asking for the blessing of the Chairman in their prayers.”

Jason shook his head. “That’s just not right.”

“Damn right, it’s not. But these people are confused and scared,” agreed Gerald. “Don’t let this shit go to your head, Jason. You’re a good man, but history is full of good men who let power corrupt their hearts,” Gerald warned.

Jason flushed “I won’t,” he said tersely. “What did you want, Gerald?”

Gerald eyed him for a second before answering, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to be leaving for a few days.”

Jason was surprised “Where’re you heading?”

“There’s a Freemen Listening Port right outside of Indianapolis. It’s only about fifteen miles from here. I want to check in and report.”

Jason was curious. “What’s a Freemen Listening Post?”

“It all depends. Most of them are just well marked shacks with stacks of papers and pens inside. The legend goes that the idea was conceived in California and quickly spread out from there. The concept is simple. Essentially, it’s the duty of any Freemen in the vicinity to stop at a Listening Post and write up a report on their travels and observations. They then leave that report at the listening post. So, each Listening Post contains the reports of every Freeman that has visited them over the years. It’s a surprisingly effective why to spread information in this world,” the cranky, older man explained.

“That doesn’t sound very secure or efficient,” questioned Jason.

“Well it ain’t the internet, that’s for sure. But what do we need security for? The drones never seemed to be interested in them, but of course, now that the drones are awake, who knows what will become of them. Anyways, I figured I’d check in and see if I can find out any new information. Plus, I got a hell of a lot to report myself.”

Jason thought about it. He doubted that the listening post would have any useful information since the Awakening, but it might and they could use any scrap of news about the surrounding area that they could get. “Why don’t you take a few of the Regulators as backup,” suggested Jason.

Gerald frowned deeply, almost offended. “I don’t need them to hold my hand. I’ve gotten along fine in this world by myself for thirty years.”

“I know,” agreed Jason, in an attempt to sooth Gerald’s ruffled feathers. “That’s why we can’t afford to lose you. You know as well as I do that it’s not the same world anymore. There seems to be bandits around every bend in the road and even you can’t avoid them all. Look, if I’m wrong, then nothing happens, but if I’m right, then they might just save your life.”

Gerald grunted in a manner that told Jason he had convinced the grumpy Freeman, “Fine, they can come, but I won’t have them wearing those dammed blue coveralls. If another Freeman is at the listening post, then he’ll shoot first and ask questions later.”

Lieutenant Amy Hammersmith and two other Regulators slowly followed Gerald Farmer on the overgrown trail. Since the Reclaimers were in camp, the troopers were able to requisition three horses for their mission to escort Farmer to the Freemen Listening Post. However, the Regulators hardly required the horses to keep up with Farmer’s decrepit nag, who he lovingly called Adelene. Amy knew that the poor animal should have been put down years ago, and yet the horse continued to loyally trot along seemingly happy to carry her aging master. For his part, Farmer lavished attention on the poor creature. His love for the animal was obvious. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for his extreme devotion to the horse, Amy was sure that the animal would have passed away years ago.

As if her thoughts had triggered his actions, Gerald stopped Adelene and gingerly climbed down off her back.

“Time for some walking,” he announced.

The other troopers groaned and Amy could not blame them. They had ended up walking more of the distance to the Listening Post than riding.

“Perkins, go scout up ahead about a mile or so and report back,” ordered Amy. At least she could keep one of her troopers busy during the forced march. Perkins seemed relieved to be given the assignment and happily trotted on ahead of the group, rapidly disappearing around the next bend. Amy climbed down from her horse as well and gathered the reins to lead her animal. She had quickly realized that Gerald Farmer was no conversationalist and the escort mission had dragged on longer than it should have due to his ancient horse.

“Don’t give me that look, Regulator. I never wanted you to come along anyways. This was all Jason’s idea. If you don’t like my pace, then you can just head on back to the camp. I’ll be fine without ya,” Gerald announced unprompted.

“It’s Amy,” she corrected him. “Look, we’re not here to babysit you. We are here to help you. I wish you would get that through your thick skull, you ornery old fool. Whatever your history, we are not your enemy.”

Farmer noncommittally grunted then continued to lead his old horse down the trail. Amy shrugged and resigned herself to slowly following the Freeman in silence. After an hour, Gerald unceremoniously remounted his horse, once again completing the endless horse resting ritual. Wordlessly, Amy and the remaining trooper followed his example and the mission continued. They had traveled about half a mile before Amy grasped that something was wrong. Perkins should have returned long before now, she suddenly realized. She became instantly alert.

“Something’s wrong,” she announced. “Perkins should have been back by now.”

“It’s been awhile, but I think the Listening Post is right up ahead. He’s probably just waiting for us there,” assured the wiry, old Freeman.

Amy was skeptical. Her and the Captain trusted Perkins’ judgement. He had acted as their lead scout since leaving the mines and she knew that he wouldn’t neglect reporting back in. She was certain something wasn’t right. A frightening thought then occurred to her for the first time. How much did they really know about these Freemen? Could they trust Farmer? He certainly didn’t trust the Regulators. Was it possible that he was leading them into some sort of trap? She then comforted herself as she remembered that it hadn’t been Farmer’s idea for anyone to accompany him. In fact, he had complained about it bitterly for most of the trip. But something was wrong. Perkins should have reported in.

“I don’t like it,” Amy said. “Keep your eyes open and your weapons at the ready.”

“There it is,” announced Farmer pointing at a building in the distance.

The building looked to have been a Jiffy Lube Oil Change Center at some point in the deep past. There was a small store attached to three large garage bays. A huge, very obvious sign made of poster board hung in one of the windows. It said simply “Freemen Listening Post” in large, faded, neon pink letters.

“Very subtle,” said the other trooper sarcastically. His name was Baker and his aging Nordic features had faired very well over the long Capture.

“We never had to be subtle. It’s not like the drones ever noticed what was written on a wall or in a window,” retorted Gerald.

“Where are the rest of the buildings? They didn’t typically put Jiffy Lubes in the middle of the damn woods,” Amy asked, confused.

“The whole area burned down years ago,” Gerald said nonchalantly. “Lightning probably started the fire and there was no one to put it out. The fire eventually burns itself out and then Mother Nature moves back in. Soon, all traces of mankind are erased. This building just happened to be spared from the fire by a quirk of fate. I suspect that’s why it was chosen for the Listening Post. That little trail we just followed used to be a pretty major two lane road. This whole pattern of destruction is fairly common, actually. I haven’t been there myself, but I heard that most of Boston went the same way.”

The idea made Amy wince. The thought of a major city engulfed in flames was the stuff of nightmares. But at least, she comforted herself, no one would have been there when it happened. They dismounted and tied up their horses before cautiously approaching the building. Amy motioned for Baker to circle around and check the back of the structure. The trooper obediently jogged off with his rifle at the ready and disappeared around the corner. In contrast, Gerald confidently stroke up to the front door and walked inside as if he owned the place, while Amy cursed then hurried to catch up.

The inside of the building was nothing like Amy had expected. The original oil change garage décor had been completely replaced with floor to ceiling racks of wooden high-end shelving. Boxes filled the shelves, each clearly marked with a year. In middle of what used to be the garage bay, sat a large ornate wooden desk and matching chair. Stacks of paper along with jars filled of every known writing implement covered the surface of the desk.

Gerald plopped himself down into the plush chair and immediately picked up the papers from the desk lying beside a box marked in bold numbers with the current year. He quickly immersed himself into reading the documents while unconsciously tugging at his long white beard, oblivious to Amy, as if she had ceased to exist in his world. The front door creaked and Amy snapped her gaze to the entrance but saw only Baker carefully closing the door behind him.

“I found Jenkin’s horse tied up out back, but no sign of him. His gear was missing too,” Baker reported, the concern obvious in his voice.

Amy nodded gravely, “Understood. Farmer, how long are you going to need here?”

Farmer ignored her and continued reading.

“Farmer!” Amy shouted.

Annoyed, Gerald pulled himself away from the paper and looked at Amy as if noticing her presence in the building for the first time. “What?” he growled back at her.

“How long do you need here? I’ve got a missing man out there and I need to start looking for him,” she said, exasperated.

Gerald snorted and waved her off dismissively, “Go. Find your man. I can look after my damned self.” He then immediately returned to the reports without another word spoken.

“Damn old fool,” Amy muttered to herself, and then turned to her remaining trooper. “Ok, we’ll start a grid pattern search using this building as the center. He couldn’t have gotten too far without his horse.”

“Unless he was taken by someone,” Barker added grimly.

Amy ignored the remark. “Farmer, we’ll be back. Do not leave this building,” Amy ordered.

Framer merely grunted and waved her off again, never bothering to remove his eyes from the document he was reading. The two Regulators briskly left the building and soon Gerald could hear their horses galloping off into the woods.

“You can come out now. They’re gone,” Gerald announced aloud to the seemingly empty building.

For a long moment, there was nothing but silence in the small structure, then a rustle of motion could be heard from beneath the floor. Seconds later, a small panel of wood hinged open from the floor revealing a trap door leading to what once had been the below floor oil change bay. Finally, a short man pulled himself through the tight opening then stood silently, evaluating Gerald.

The man couldn’t have been more than 5’5”. He was bald, but wore a long mustache with ends that dangled off his round, dirty face. He was well built, with biceps stretching the short sleeves on his filthy dark t-shirt. His appearance reminded Gerald of an evil Russian wrestler persona on TV from when he was a kid. The idea almost made him laugh but he managed to restrain himself when he noticed the large holstered revolver strapped to the stranger’s thigh.

The man was young for a Freeman, very young, Gerald noted. He judged that the stranger was probably no more than thirty-five years old, which meant that he had only been around five when the Capture occurred. The idea of only knowing this world horrified Gerald, but the kid had obviously found someone to care for him. Most likely it was a relative that had been close by when the Capture began. Synesthesia often ran in families but it was still extremely rare.

“Gerald Farmer, 1st Illinois Freemen Regiment,” Farmer announced. “And who might you be, son?”

The stranger eyed Gerald suspiciously for several tense seconds before speaking. “Your friends aren’t real careful. They didn’t even clear the building before leaving you here alone,” he observed dryly while ignoring Gerald’s question.

Gerald nodded slowly. “Yep, they’re kind of new to all this, but I wasn’t really ever alone, was I?”

“How did you know I was here?”

Gerald snorted then pointed to the rifle leaning against the wall in the corner. “It seems my friends weren’t the only ones not being careful. Besides that, you wreak. I smelt you the moment I walked in here.”

The man cracked a smile, which seemed to entirely change his face, then he walked over to collect his forgotten weapon. “It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten a chance to bath. I’m Sid.”

“No unit?” questioned Farmer.

“Nah, my uncle never wanted to get too involved in that shit. He was more of a lone wolf survivalist type. You know, to hell with corrupt society and all that crap.”

Gerald had guessed correctly. A relative had saved and raised him. “Where’s your uncle now?”

“Dead. I think it was a stroke. He just collapsed one day and that was it,” Sid said flatly. “He’s been gone about 15 years now.”

Gerald nodded. “Next question, did you kill our other man?” he asked coldly.

The question obviously caught Sid off guard, but he quickly recovered. “No, he’s unconscious and tied up down below. He’ll be fine. I actually used some chloroform on him. It’s really handy stuff to keep around. I needed a new horse and I could tell he wasn’t a Freeman,” Sid said with full confidence that his reasons excused his actions. “I was even going to leave him his gear, but then you guys showed up before I could finish filling out my report for the Listening Post.”

“Yeah, I was reading what you got so far,” Gerald said waving the paper in his hand. “Is this all true, first-hand stuff? Were you actually there?”

Sid nodded gravely. “I saw it, at least from a distance. It was Hell, man … just total mayhem.”

“How many were there, 4 … 5 million?”

“Shit, more like 10 million, easy,” Sid answered.

Gerald’s expression turned even darker than normal. “Tell me about it.”

Sid shook his head and pointed to the papers Gerald was holding. “It’s all in there, man.”

“No,” Gerald said firmly. “I want to hear it from you. It’s the primary duty of a Freeman to witness… so witness.”

Sid looked down in thought as if considering the request, then began his tale. “Me and a buddy of mine were doing some recon on the St. Louis Indy Complex, you know, to try and catch some good salvage. Sometimes you can get some great stuff out of there if you’re careful.”

Gerald nodded and motioned for Sid to continue.

“Anyways, we were camped on a hill about a mile outside of the complex. We had made sure not to be on any of the flight paths of the hover towers. You know how many go through there, and we sure as hell didn’t want to get spotted by a Regulator patrol. We were sleeping during the day so we could make our supply raid that night. Then we got woken up by the most horrible noise I’ve ever heard. I’ll never get it out of my head. It was the combined wails and screams of ten million people.”

“I’m sure that was … disconcerting,” Gerald interjected.

Sid snorted, “Disconcerting? Shit, it was creepy as fuck. Roger and I crawled up to the top of the hill and were able to get a good look at the complex through our binoculars. It was total fucking chaos. We thought the drones had gone crazy and I guess we were right, in a way. Hover towers were crashing to the ground in massive fireballs all over the damn complex. The explosions were killing thousands at a time. It was a slaughter. Then the gunfire started and didn’t let up for two days…”

“Wait. You stayed there and watched for two days?” Gerald asked incredulously.

“What else could we do? We were terrified of trying to leave. Drones were streaming out of that complex in every direction, millions of them. We had no idea what was going on so we hunkered down and observed. There were constant stampedes of human beings. They kept moving in giant waves. We could actual hear the people getting trampled. I can’t do justice to the scene with words.”

Sid shook his head and paused. “Anyways, like I said, after about two days of almost constant gunfire and explosions, it started to settle down. It didn’t stop mind you, but some form of order was starting to assert itself. We could tell because of the fires. You see, there were millions of bodies rotting in the hot sun and the smell was getting unbearable even from our location. Well someone had finally taken control enough to start organizing mass body burns. The fires were constant and were still burning when we finally made our way out of there.”

“Where’d you go?” asked Gerald.

“We made a beeline to the St. Louis Listening Post. With the complex so near, that place was always pretty busy. We figured it was the best place to find other Freemen and figure out what the fuck was going on.”

“I’ve been there before. It was real nice twelve years ago. Did you find anyone?” Farmer asked.

“Fuck yeah, we found other Freemen. I’ve never seen so many in one place before,” Sid stated. “Everyone was freaked out. After comparing all our stories, we finally started figuring out what was going on. They were waking up. The fucking drones were coming back to life. I couldn’t believe it. I mean all my life a drone was a fucking drone. The idea that a person could actually be in there never occurred to me, not once. It kinda shook me up, ya know?”

Gerald nodded. He knew that the Awakening had been strange for him and he had a full memory of life before the Capture. For someone as young as Sid, the experience must have been as Earth shattering as the original Capture was for everyone else. It must have been analogous to growing up on a dairy farm and suddenly one day all of the cows become intelligent and begin to talk … or scream.

“Anyways,” Sid started again. “After a few days, it was decided to send in some scouts. My buddy, Roger, and a few others volunteered. Only one made it back, and he had one hell of a story. Apparently ten million people suddenly finding themselves disoriented and confused, packed together into a strange place with explosions happening all around them, doesn’t bring out the best in people. As soon as people recovered from the initial shock, and not everyone had a chance to, they began dividing up into factions amazingly fast. Of course, the Regulators woke up with guns in their hands so many of them automatically rose to the top of the food chain.”

“It’s a classic story, just super accelerated,” Sid continued. “Those who grouped up and cooperated quickly rolled up the others until there were only a few factions left. It was a charnel house. Hundreds of thousands fled out of the complex, but most people seemed to stay simply because they didn’t know what else to do. The factions took advantage of that and soon one group emerged as the most powerful. It was led by a ruthless monster that they were just calling the Boss. Apparently, this asshole was a new arrival to the complex, came from somewhere else entirely in his own damn hover tower. Can you imagine that shit? Actually wanting to go into that hell? The guy must be a fucking whack job. Rumor was his tower got destroyed in the initial fighting though.”

“Anyways, we’re not sure how many they actually have but the group itself is massive. Hundreds of thousands of people are under this Boss’s control, however it doesn’t seem stable. There were continual coup attempts but this guy was too clever for them, at least the Boss was still in power at the last report.”

“Are they still at the St. Louis Complex as far as you know?” Gerald asked.

“Most of them are still there, but a large detachment of them left the complex and started heading east. According to one of our spies on the inside, they intercepted a radio transmission about something crazy going on back east and that’s where they are heading, like a plague of locust. I was part of a group of Freemen that was sent on ahead at full speed to stop at every Listen Post and warn everyone I could find. They are coming this way and they aren’t friendly. They may even have control of another hover tower or two.”

Gerald looked concerned. “You’ve seen them controlling a tower?”

“No, I got a report at the last Listening Post. I don’t know if you know this or not, but the short-wave network is coming back online since the Awakening. The last Listening Post I was at had a working radio. It might even be how the St. Louis group got the reports that started them east.”

“The short-wave network went dark after the Regulators starting hunting us,” Gerald said skeptically.

“Exactly,” replied Sid. “And now the Regulators are gone.”

Gerald shook his head. “Only to be replaced with something potentially much worse.”

“You might be right about that,” agreed the younger man.

“Do we have any idea what they’re intentions are? Did anyone else hear this radio transmission that got them so worked up?” asked Farmer.

“Only crazy rumors, man. They are heading to Maryland to capture some super weapon. Or stop someone else from using it. It’s not really clear. Does it mean anything to you?”

Gerald scratched his chin through his bushy, white beard. “Hmm, it just might,” he said gravely. He then slid the paper along the desk toward Sid. “Well, you had better finish up your report then. I’ve got one hell of a report to write myself,” he said as he pulled out several blank pieces of faded paper and started to write. Almost as an afterthought, he added “Oh and you’d better untie Sergeant Perkins and haul his ass up here before his friends return. We’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”

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