Under the Sun – Part 1

Yanaba spied the stranger’s approach from the corner of her eye, and her alertness ascended to the next level.

“Maybe we can help each other out,” he murmured as he stepped to her side.

She shifted half a step away from him while sizing him up.  He was a young man, maybe mid-twenties.  Only a few inches taller than her, he had a lean build worthy of a track runner.  His blonde hair was a bit tousled, and there was stubble on his face.  His navy blazer, light blue shirt, and khakis were rumpled.  Although after what happened last week, most people looked rather frumpy these days.

“How so?”  She figured it was a good idea to determine his motivation.

Unless he was a complete loon, he surely wouldn’t try anything now.  About twenty National Guard personnel – a small fraction of their usual entirety – were milling about the school parking lot as they secured the dragged-out-of-retirement vehicles to deploy from the city of Paducah in Kentucky.

He slipped a blue knapsack off his shoulder and deposited it beside him on the pavement.  “I heard you get to hitch a ride with this caravan since you’re a congresswoman.  But peasants like me aren’t allowed.  Take me along as one of your staff, and I’ll see to it you get to your destination safely.”

How did he find out about her arrangement with the unit?  And did a threat lurk within that offer?

“I’m already surrounded by military.”

“Mm-hmm.”  He glanced at the soldiers and their equipment before returning his attention to her.  “But do you really trust every single one of them one hundred percent?  And riots have broken out in some places.  What if some gang gets cocky about raiding this convoy?”

“Does half a dozen dirty trucks pulled out of mothballs qualify as a convoy?”  As soon as the question escaped her lips, she regretted it.  What if he was a scout for some such gang, trying to mole his way in so he could compromise their defenses?

The left corner of his lip curled, and he stepped slightly in front of her.  His left hand tugged aside the front panel of his blazer, revealing a shoulder holster and the pistol it contained.

“All the more reason to carry extra protection.”  He slipped back to her side.

Although Yanaba’s glimpse of the weapon was fleeting, it appeared to be small caliber, perhaps only a .25.  Her husband would call it a lady’s gun.  This guy had taken a risk showing her that.  How could he assume she wouldn’t alert the nearby soldiers?

He quickly followed up.  “You know how to shoot a semi-automatic?”

She studied his face.  “Why do you ask?”

“Because this is the deal I’ll make with you:  get me on that caravan, and you get to carry the pistol.”

“You’d surrender it to me?”

“Only while we’re traveling together.”  He smirked.  “As soon as we part ways, I get it back.”

That seemed like another risk on his part, and maybe she could use that to dampen his enthusiasm.  “You trust me to give it back?”

“Fair enough, isn’t it?  We’ll have to trust each other.”

She wanted to concentrate on getting home, not on figuring out this guy’s angle.  For nearly a week now, ever since a solar storm of unprecedented magnitude leveled the electric grid and everything dependent upon it, she’d been trying to get back to her husband and two sons.

US representatives – especially freshmen – weren’t high enough on the food chain to commandeer any military transportation that was already stretched thin.  And fully cognizant that congress was impotent in addressing a coronal mass ejection, Yanaba had no qualms about joining the thousands, or probably hundreds of thousands, attempting to get home.

With what little influence she had, she’d managed to hop from unit to unit, helping to pack and unload supplies.  She was still only about a third of the way to her destination, but she’d managed to get this far without the aid of any staff.

“Where’d you get that, anyway?”  Maybe she could punch a hole in his story if it was cockamamie enough.

“Gift from my parents.  Years ago.”  He shrugged.  “I’m trying to get back to Colorado.  I was unfortunate enough to be attending a security conference in Lexington when all the lights went out.  It took me this long to walk this far.”

His right foot rose slightly as he twisted the sole toward her.  The leather sneakers were scuffed and tattered.

He lowered the foot.  “So I’d like to get home before spring turns into summer and I wind up barefoot.”

His reference to the conference smelled too convenient.  “What kind of security are you in?”

“Oh, right now I’m just a peon who helps make sure drugs don’t get smuggled out of the hospital.  The conference was supposed to upgrade my training, give me a nudge toward consultant or analyst work.”

Belittling himself seemed to be a habit, but it didn’t give her any real clue about what kind of person he was.  A conman would know some people might find the trait endearing.  And a conman could possess certain other skills….

“How did you find out about me hitching a ride with this unit?”

“When technology is kaput, the grapevine flourishes.”  The left corner of his mouth curled again.  “Sorting the truths from the lies was a formidable challenge, but I heard that skeleton military units were addressing the riots in the bigger cities, and occasional convoys would resupply them.

“I also heard they refuse to take civilian passengers because there are too darn many stranded folks like me trying to get home.  But if you have a clout, you know, like a politician, they’d make exceptions.  I overheard you making arrangements with them.”

Yanaba frowned.  “I don’t recall seeing you around here.”

“I was under a truck, fixing a leak, trying to ingratiate myself before using some fast talk on the friendliest-looking person I could find.”

She studied his disheveled clothes.  Yeah, he looked like he could have been crawling under trucks….

He asked, “What do you think of divine intervention?”

The question caught Yanaba off guard, causing her gaze to lock on his face for a few seconds.  As a woman of the Diné, more commonly known as Navajo, she harbored a hesitation for prolonged eye contact.  But sometimes, especially around any Bilagáana, she had to overcome that instinct.

The sentiment he’d just expressed was the sort of reference she rarely heard from others.  When she did, it usually meant she was among friends.

“Why do you ask?”

“Our meeting when we did, at the right place and the right time, can’t just be coincidence.  We can help each other get home.”  Soft intensity crept into his voice.  “I want to find my family and know that they’re safe.  I’m sure that’s what you’re trying to do.  We increase our odds if we join forces.”

No red flags were becoming apparent, but his suggestion of divine intervention had momentarily distracted her from some of the details in his story.  Had that been on purpose?

“If I decline your offer, will you resort to fast-talking the friendliest-looking soldier?”

His lips pursed and his brow furrowed.  “That depends … are you determined enough to get rid of me that you’d make sure I fail?”

She didn’t like playing hardball like this, but these were peculiar times.  The world was more dangerous now.  She had to assume everybody would have an ulterior motive of stealing whatever they could, with whatever devious plan they could come up with.

“Maybe you should just be grateful I don’t report what you’re packing to those soldiers.  Fair enough?”

He continued to study her, and she forced herself to keep her gaze locked with his.  This was no time to show any weakness.

His tone was slightly lower when he replied.  “Then I thank you for upholding my Second Amendment right, congresswoman.  I don’t suppose you can give me any tips for trying to catch a ride with anybody else?”

Maybe it was the disappointment in his voice, maybe it was the fact he remained polite with her, but something spurred that twist in the pit of her stomach.  She had no tips … and wished that she did.

“I’m sorry.”  A touch of regret managed to sneak into her voice.  “I’m barely able to keep up with these units as it is.  I don’t know about any other options.”

“Can’t blame you, of course, and can’t blame me for trying.  I knew it was a longshot.”  He picked up the knapsack.  “Hope your path stays safe.”

He slung the bag over his right shoulder and sauntered away from her.  Yanaba’s stomach wrenched again as he departed, never looking back, each step steady and deliberate.

He’d be all right.  He was young and fit – and resourceful.  Those shoes could hold up for many more miles.

No … this was wrong.

There was nothing new about living in peculiar times.  Suspicion and distrust reigned throughout history.  The world had earned its reputation for being cold and cruel.  But when people stood together, united in a common good, they persevered against iniquity.

He offered her the gun, for crying out loud.

Sometimes divine intervention had to be delivered with a smack.

“Wait a minute.”  She didn’t want to speak too loudly and draw attention from the soldiers.  But despite his leisurely pace, the fellow didn’t seem to hear her.

Yanaba broke into long strides to catch up to him.  “I just thought of something.”

He hesitated this time, and turned to face her.  “You have a suggestion?”

“Maybe we should introduce ourselves.”  She held out her hand.  “I’m Yanaba Todacheene.”

The shadow of a smile touched his lips before he grasped her hand.  “You’re right.  My apologies.  I’m Fritz, Fritz Kaufmann.”

“Well, Mr. Kaufmann, now that we’re no longer strangers, shall we discuss your idea in more detail?”

His smile broadened as he released her hand.  The ache in her stomach faded as he nodded.

“Please, just call me Fritz.  And thank you for such a wonderful suggestion.”

###

Here my contribution this month to #BlogBattle, and the prompt word used here is Peculiar.  Speaking of peculiar, you might have noticed the Part One designation, which means next month’s story will actually be related instead of the usual wildcard.

And don’t miss out on checking into what other writers submitted this month!

13 thoughts on “Under the Sun – Part 1

  1. The sadness at a changed world where nobody trusts anyone bleeds through this Abe. Wanting to and too suspicious of motive to try. I see the worlds gone down in yours too. Fascinating place to explore as a writer. When tech fails, then what?

    Fritz the desperado trying anything to get home and Yana thinking he might be a nutter toting a gun with another motivation. Still might since this is part 1 haha.

    Love the discourse between them too. Really plays out what I said at the start.

    One does wonder how easy in this type of situation a romantic involvement might crop up. A wanting or needing a safe companion in times that have gone wrong. Imagine seeing hundred of people, safe passage restricted. Would you trust the military to remain honourable? Very Hunger Games in terms of the political twists going on unseen in the background one suspects.

    Great job on this one. Next might be a bit tougher mind haha

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Indeed, in today’s culture many would be lost without technology, and therefore is a fascinating place to explore … philosophically. As the last couple of years have taught us, it isn’t the military I suspect as much as the politicians who set protocol and weaponize themselves by whatever means possible. And I confess that since I already know what next month is going to be, this is just a prologue…. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Totally agree. Tech has become a virtual utility. No water in the tap type of cataclysm. Politicians and, I am coming to believe, forced narrative be media. Chasing headlines and how rare is it to see them print/report anything positive?

        Kind of explored a doomsday scenario myself this time. Corona returns haha. Oh, not the virus I hasten to add. Although the original was prophetic so maybe I should have steered clear of the return thinking about it.

        Next month I’ve drafted. Back to DS. Safe ground there for me. The prompt word I think might be quite a challenge for some of us

        Liked by 1 person

      • Kudos on the media. Over here the establishment variety is pretty much Pravda. I finally got to read your doomsday scenario and hope to see more of the Corona story line – not the virus, of course. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sort of. Our media chases headlines rather than actual news. That and anything that might be a disaster. It’s shallow IMO. As for more of that storyline I’m not sure yet. I’ve dipped into it between DS pieces but it does have a certain draw 🤔

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I was surprised to read “Part 1” next to the title. I thought I was the only one that does those. But, having read this installment, I definitely am happy that we will get to find out more next month.

    Kudos to Yanaba for spotting Fritz ahead of time. Shows her situational awareness, which makes me wonder if there is more to it with her or if she had just developed it out of necessity.

    Fritz’s comments about the 2nd amendment and inheriting the gun make me think that this is set in a world where guns have been confiscated/ outlawed. This could be interesting!

    While Fritz is not giving off any red flags yet, I’m still weary. Only because I would be of any stranger. But, as Yanaba realized – sometimes you have to put that aside when pursuing your goals (like survival).

    Good stuff! See you next month!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! You’ve got some good hunches going, with Yanaba being more savvy than the typical politician. The story is set over a decade in the future, so it’s near enough in time that much is recognizable but society is even more dependent on the technology they just lost. And that does set up a situation where your assessment of people can be a matter of life or death!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the idea that in this rapid conversation Yanaba is shown as a person who can think on her feet. Although at first Kaufmann, enigmatic and possibly with some hidden advantage, seems to dominate, as the exchange goes on it can be seen Yanaba is someone with her own set of gifts and abilities, something subtler maybe.
    It’s going to be interesting to see where this is going, like all good ‘Part 1’ s the reader is open to all sorts of possibilities.

    Liked by 1 person

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