"Provocation. I'd like to give them provocation," Jasper Feldspar Clarke muttered impotently beside me. We stood at the DEA barricades that separated Jasper from his friends, who were trapped and surrounded within the Emma Goldman Arts Co-op and Biodiverse Living Center.
Provocation, indeed. We had all heard the latest statement delivered by that self-important, faux-military DEA field commander. He told reporters his teams were taking a slow approach -- negotiations, rather than a full-force raid -- because they didn't want to give the radical criminals up on the hill any provocation to "carry out their threat to blow up themselves and their children."
Blow themselves up, my Aunt Fanny. That bunch up at the commune could barely pool their collective technology skills to light a match. Rigging explosives to blow themselves sky high was ... well, I hardly have to tell you. But then, you know the tactics governments resort to when they're after evil, deadly dope dealers.
But Hardyvillians could have dynamited, sniped, booby-trapped, and fought like real Americans ... sigh. We could have done so much. But you know what we had to do instead?
Wait. Our sniper teams lurked in the hills, disguised in their Ghillie suits and hidden under brush, moving continually, wary of helicopters. Or even satellite spying. Other militiamen impatiently awaited orders. (Our militia may be unorganized. But it's not disorganized.) We alleged communicators awaited information.
Unfortunately, official lies didn't count.
The worst thing that had ever happened in the history of Hardy County was upon us -- invasion by tyrants -- a violent gang of thugs attacking people who had never hurt a soul (and who had possibly helped many). And we couldn't do a damn thing.
Why didn't we just shoot the bastards now that they'd invaded? Think about it. We shoot. They send in the Army. We shoot. The survivors end up in a protracted guerrilla war. And Hardyville might as well be Baghdad, it'll be so often on the lips of every news anchor. Pretty soon, Hardy County will be a wholly owned subsidiary of Haliburton. (The town's historic invisibility cloak might have worn thin and be on the verge of tearing through, but it still protected us more than a little. The media variously reported the location of the commune as Montana, Wyoming, or Idaho. Blessedly, neither they nor the DEA teams had even approached Hardyville proper.)
No, our strategy had always been to keep them out through invisibility. Now that they were here ... well, whatever we would do -- and rest assured, we would do something -- had to be done with finesse.
The big question was why the heck were they stalling? And how much time did we have?
Like Sergeant Schultz in the old Hogan's Heroes, we knew nothing.
* * *
"Is the communications monitoring looking any better, Bob?" I had left the barricade and slipped into an inconspicuous Honda parked by the side of the road, where Bob-the-Nerd and a raft of e-gear struggled to get some solid information out of the Babel of fed transmissions.
"Nope," he sighed -- then continued tinkering. (We'd never had cause for snooping into other people's communications in Hardyville so nobody was practiced at it.) "I'm sorry. But they're using ..." He went off, describing random frequency-switching and a host of other tricks They the Rulers have adopted to keep We the People from learning what they're up to. I tuned out the technicalities, understanding only that the feds were about as communicative as Jehovah.
"I don't think I'm going to be able to hack into their official communications," he said finally, leaning back and pushing up the baseball cap that had slid down to his eyeballs. "It's beyond me -- at least, beyond anything I can do now."
I thought I just might sit there and have myself a big, hysterical cry. I stared out at the milling raiders and their media followers. I regarded the gathering crowd at the barricade. My gaze trailed up the long, empty driveway winding behind the hill -- where surely our communal neighbors, and our old friend Dora, knew by now what deep trouble they were in. I wondered what they were doing up there, what they were saying to each other, whether they were considering surrender in the face of grim odds.
"What on earth are we going to do, Bob?" The question wasn't really for him, but for me. He ignored it and returned to fiddling.
Then after a while, he lifted his head and grinned. "Listen," he said, passing me a tiny ear-bud.
"...groceries," a woman's voice was complaining. "And Thad fell and broke a tooth and you're out there having another of your big adventures and ..."
"We've hit some sort of snag ..." a man interrupted.
"Right. Another 'snag.' There's always a 'snag' that keeps you from getting home, isn't there?"
Still pressing the ear-bud to the side of my head, I looked at Bob -- totally confused.
"Who needs official communications?" he grinned. "A dozen of those idiots over there behind the barricades are talking all about it on their cell phones. Anybody can listen in on a cell phone."
I grinned back, high-fived him, and continued eavesdropping.
Eventually, we heard magic words. And terrifying ones.
* * *
"Holy shoe leather," Carty whistled, when Bob and I arrived at his command post on Nat's ranch and showed him the scribbles we'd made from our cellular surveilling. "So Delaval's behind that place. That explains a lot."
"Yeah. But there's this, too." Bob pointed further down the page. Carty squinted at my illegible scribbles. Bob continued, "Most of these agents are getting the same disinformation Herr Kommandant Field Commander is shoveling on the media. They're passing that horse manure to their wives, girlfriends, and boyfriends. But near as we can tell, a couple of the Kommandant's close subordinates have the real skinny. They're planning something. Claire and I couldn't always tell junk from the real deal in these conversations. But that ..." -- he pointed to one particular set of lines again -- "well, you know."
Carty read aloud: "They'll give us 'provocation.' We'll be 'forced' to move. Even the wusses at HQ won't be able to object. Watch the fireworks."
He shook his head. Nat walked in at that moment and Carty passed the sheet of scribbles to him. Nat read. We all wondered what kind of deadly "provocation" the feds might manufacture. And how soon they'd do it.
"Provocation," Nat muttered, with all the power of rage in his old voice. "Provocation. I swear. We'll give the bastards their provocation."
And we all looked at each other -- and knew that we would do exactly that.
In reality, it took a few hours for a workable scheme to congeal. And some phone calls. And more than a little "wing and a prayer." But afterward it seemed to us all that a fully formed plan had been born in our minds at that very moment.
"Let's roll," Carty ordered.
* * *
Of course, the usual idiots objected. And to be honest, so did plenty who weren't idiots. The plan -- mostly the work of Nat and Carty -- was dangerous. Some of us might not survive it.
"It's one thing to go head-to-head with invaders," one of the footsoldiers in the Hardyville Militia objected, as assorted involved Hardyvillians crowded into the back room at the Hog Trough at the hastily convened meeting. (I watched the clock, painfully aware we had no idea when or how the feds would arrange their "provocation." Would they move while we were talking -- even though it was still daylight?) "It's another thing to risk our lives ... like that ... to rescue people who think we're scum. I'm all for running the feds out -- and the sooner the better. But ..." He punched a finger at the paper on which Nat had drawn a sketchy diagram. "That's crazy stuff."
"Yeah," agreed another Hardyville militiaman, "We'll get rid of the feds. But them gun-hating hippies are on their own."
"Dora's up there," Nat reminded everyone, as if that simple fact answered every objection.
Bob added, "And the communers aren't doing anything to hurt anybody, don't forget. While the feds are."
"If we don't put ourselves on the line to defend unpopular people," I said, "then who's going to defend us?" I didn't have to add that we might need defending perilously soon.
"And we have been invaded," Carty reminded them. "Tyrants are on our sovereign territory. We're not just 'helping the hippies.' By doing this right instead of attacking head-on and foolishly, we're giving ourselves the best chance to stay free. More than that. We -- you and I, the people of Hardyville -- have been given the responsibility of defending the last bastion of freedom within these united States. It might not be what we'd wish. No one wants to face hard days and hard choices. But now is our chance to rise for freedom's sake."
Everybody looked down at their copies of Nat's sketchy diagram. To some of us, it was the most terrifying thing we'd ever seen. Were abstractions like sovereignty and freedom worth such risk?
"I'll do it." It was the voice of Tonio Carolina -- the new kid in town, just 17. "I don't want to lose Hardyville after we just found it." His mother Charlotte grasped at his sleeve and opened her mouth to object. Then, seeing his resolute expression, she halted. Her boy was becoming his own man.
"I'll help," volunteered Christian Goodin, even younger, and Tonio's boon companion. His father Will looked at him proudly and nodded his head: I'm with you.
"Me, too," squeaked Jasper Feldspar Clarke. The Emma Goldman communard came to the meeting clinging to my side in fear of all things Hardyville. But he insisted he had more of a stake in the plans than anybody. Everybody stared at him as he spoke up -- this weak-chinned kid who looked ready to hurl, but who was willing to do what some of them were not. "And I'll carry a gun. Just like the rest of you." Some snickered. He felt the need to explain. "My dad was a rock-hound. He taught me to shoot rattlesnakes when I was six years old." He added, as if making a shameful, but necessary, admission, "I've even hunted prairie dog." He hung his head, unable to face the stares.
Watching teenagers and a chubby pacifist volunteer for duty that terrified them prompted some older, sterner militiamen to contemplate their boots or fingernails in shame. Pretty soon, Carty and Nat had a full complement of volunteers for every duty -- including the most nightmarish.
"Those old mine tunnels are unstable," Carty admitted, nodding toward the diagrams everybody held. "We don't know their condition. Even Nat's not sure exactly where they run any more. His drawing's only guesswork. We're not gonna be havin' one minute of fun, I don't need to tell you. But the fact is simple: Overland is out; too heavily patrolled. We have to go underground and bring those people out. Now. Tonight. Before the feds can concoct their 'provocation' to Wacoize the commune."
"And then," Marty Harbibi offered from the back of the room, quavering as he tried to sound bold and insouciant, "we'll give them fireworks. Right?"
Thank you to proofreaders Darrell Anderson and EB -- saving writers from themselves one typo at a time.
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