“So we’ve been rebuilding this town for, what, three years now?” Baxter Wellington said as he brushed sweat from his brow as the midsummer sun started its slow journey of setting in the west. He had hustled the quarter mile from working on new settlements where the old Walmart had been many years before the war brought death and destruction here. He was a tall, broad shouldered Caucasian who looked to have been the poster boy for Hitler’s Aryan race had he not come from a Jewish mother’s womb back in his native England. He was walking with several others for what was to be a big meeting about the future of the settlement.
Ayesha Shabarr tied her long, jet black hair behind her head into a pony tail with practiced expertise as she replied, “Yes, three years…four if you count those lucky enough to be in Forest City when the war ended.” Of the 7500 who had lived her pre-war, only less than a hundred locals managed to survive the war by staying here. Some simply fled, others weren’t as lucky. So many graves had been dug hastily that one of the most important jobs early on for the new settlers was to properly bury those who had died, which numbered well into the tens of thousands.
Ingmar Samuelson looked like Baxter’s sister, but she was of Swedish descent and had arrived here as part of many who had fled Europe because of the atheist takeover and subsequent driving out of anything and anyone remotely religious. As a devout Protestant, she had the choice of leaving or being sent to prison for treason. “I thought things were bad in Europe until I got here. We’ve had our share of religious wars in the past, and this one was the worst of the lot. But this…” she shook her head and turned to gesture to what was once Grahamtown, the African American section of the small town, “this is just a nightmare!”
“Race wars, religious wars, class wars…we had it all here.” Rodney Cramerton said as he mopped sweat from his dark forehead. Once upon a time, he had been a star halfback at the University of Alabama. He had been a contender for the Heisman in 2016, and probably would have won it in 2017 had the world not gone mad and college football succumb to the chaos. “Same all over Alabama and Mississippi, where I’m from. Black folks being lynched by white, blacks lynching whites in retaliation, and way too many damn guns!” This time he was the one who shook his head. He remembered the horrors of the battles of New Orleans and Memphis as he fought alongside his two Army brothers as part of the Secularists against the Fundamentalist movement to sought to impose a theocracy on America. The response had been so violent that it sparked a war so brutal and violent that it made the first American War, the Civil War, look like a small fracas.
They were surprised as how many people were assembling in the makeshift amphitheater that was constructed out of the rubble of the old Florence-Haynes Cone Mills plant. Years before, there had been talk of converting the old buildings into condos. That wouldn’t happen now, as those old buildings were taken out in the first hours of the war when it started on July 4, 2017. Now, it was a bumpy plain that was being smoothed out for an eventual communal center and government building. “Good thing it’s not going to storm tonight.” Rodney said. “Lord knows that one last night nearly took us away!”
“You’re telling me!” Baxter said in his crisp British accent. “I could have swore we had a tornado come by last night!”
Ayesha Shabarr replied, “You would have known if it was a tornado. One of the surviving locals said they usually didn’t get them around here. Something about being in the Thermal Valley, or something like that!” Then she noticed a sign that said who the speaker was going to be tonight at the meeting and her eyebrows shot up, “He’s speaking tonight?”
“Wow!” Rodney said, “I didn’t think he would ever come back here, given what all he saw during the aftermath of the war!” Captain James Moss had once served in the US Army until the world went to hell. He had signed up with the Secularist when he heard of what the Fundamentalists were doing within the Army, and he had served (and somehow survived) from the start in Forest City until the end in the very same small town. Sure enough, a beat-up Ford Suburban pulled up to the amphitheater and out stepped the chiseled body of Moss, whose close cropped gray hair made him look like the veteran jarhead that he once was. Rodney knew the war had changed him from that, though, and he had left two years before to help out in and around Charlotte because seeing his old hometown struggle to rebuild was too much for him.
Gasoline powered generators cranked up to provide rudimentary lighting and sound for this event, and the foursome had found out that many had driven over the broken roads from as far away as Raleigh and even Columbia to come here. Moss waited until all the roughly three thousand had settled down before he ascended to the lectern on top of the dais without an introduction.
“You know who I am, I’m sure, so no need for an introduction.” he said bluntly. “I’ve been traveling all over the two Carolinas for the last two years, and the simple fact is that we can no longer rely on the United States government for anything, simply because it no longer exists.” He paused to survey the reactions of the crowd to that news, then went on, “Our entire government bureaucracy has collapsed in the aftermath of war, and even state governments have collapsed. If we do not do something soon, it could keep us from ever recovering!
“Raleigh and Columbia are too dangerous to try and rebuild there, and so is Charlotte. We’ve been able to keep law and order here, and we’ve been able to start seriously rebuilding here. We need to start thinking of organizing things here beyond just this small but growing community.” He paused to let his audience take that in before going on with his speech.
As the day turned into night, Moss began to lay the foundation of what would become a new nation, whose capital would be built here, in the old Tri-Cities of Rutherfordton, Spindale and Forest City. The crowd was at first skeptical, but Moss began to point out some of the people who had come here, many of their own and without compulsion. “We have engineers, scientists, journalists, accountants, builders, shapers, makers and dreamers…all here, waiting to start building our new nation!” When he sensed some doubt within the crowd, he said, “Look, I loved America more than most of you, because I served in now three wars, but that country can’t be saved, not anymore. We need to start anew, and we need to start now!”
Once it was over with, Moss spotted Rodney as the black man made his way towards the dais as most began to depart to talk about what Moss had said. Rodney waited until Moss finished talking with the scores of people ahead of him, then approached his former commanding officer. “Sir, I don’t know whether you’re the smartest man here or the craziest…” Rodney said.
“I’m probably a little bit of both, Cramerton.” Moss said with a smile, then added, “But we need to do something, and I can’t do it alone. All I can be is a catalyst, and maybe helping to bring all of you here will help things out.”
“If that’s the case, we’re going to need more shelters and supplies!” Ayesha said as she came next to Rodney to talk with Moss. “We’re already strained with coming up with fresh water and food, among other things.”
“I’ve contacted some friends of mine who were in the Army Corps of Engineers, so we can work on that.” Moss said, then looked up as a sudden clap of thunder came up. Without many of them noticing, clouds had come up from the southwest, indicating that the storms that had missed them this afternoon were going to pay a late visit after all. “Come, my friends! Let’s talk somewhere inside, where we won’t get rained on and catch cold!” With that, they headed to what passed as the local pub and, with many others, began the process of hammering out not only a new nation, but a new world.