Ever since the state of Florida had been cordoned off as a free range penal colony, the Medicine Girl had planned her escape.
There were not many places to go.
The warming seas now spawned enormous hurricanes throughout the year, so her father and other marauding tribes of prisoners grew skillful in watching the winds and in studying the movement of mercury in ancient barometers. They had to become proficient in many things. Since the wars, there was no cavalry coming to rescue anyone.
Her father had refused to leave, trusting the tropical terrain and knowing the remaining ecosystem well enough to survive, to form a tribe, to raise a daughter. It wasn’t hard to find fish, usually three-eyed and gasping in the yellow nights. It wasn’t hard to find water, but it was usually brackish and needed desalination. It wasn’t hard to defend the Medicine Girl and himself, a beast of a man who wielded a stone-sharpened machete and a length of motorcycle chain with ease, sometimes both at the same time.
But he was getting older and the Medicine Girl was getting prettier.
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Double rows of razor wire and anti-personnel landmines were planted as indiscriminately as dandelion seeds from Jacksonville to New Orleans, doing an effective job in keeping undesirables exactly where the United Authority wanted them to be.
The Medicine Girl’s father stood by her near the reinforced barrier to the Kingdom of Georgia with two older men, both war-torn and weary. One of the men grimaced, in obvious physical pain. The other man looked stoically determined. She paid little attention to either, focusing solely on her father’s last instructions.
“What do you have to sustain you?”
“Dried fish, a flask of water, sunflower seeds, may-haw berries.”
“What do you have to heal you?”
“Honey, thyme, Neo.” At the last, the Medicine Girl held up a little yellow tube. Before, her father had been the keeper of the yellow tubes, but the ointment was too valuable now not to be fought for on occasion. He had the scars to show for it. Several had died, fighting to acquire Neo’s medicinal properties, curing oozing wounds and purulent infections that often led to raging fever, disability, or death. It was one of the tribe’s most treasured possessions, just like the Medicine Girl.
“Travel at night. Go north on the Nine Five. Go west on Two Six at Central Carolina. Take the Seven Seven until you see the ruins at Charlotte Banks. Avoid anyone in a uniform. Declare your allegiance to no one.”
The Medicine Girl nodded. Charlotte Banks had held all of the cryptocurrency before Wall Street and the EMP bombs fell. Any gold in the reserves was as useless as the black glass rectangles found on so many corpses before the war, before the electricity stopped.
“We have people in Old North Carolina,” he said. “Tell them who you are descended from. We are still known in those places. Find the Militia of the White Crosses.”
With that, he wordlessly instructed the two old men to run on to the razor wire. The physically ill man landed first, his body cut to shreds. The other man crawled over his body and landed squarely on the second sharpened strand. He quickly impaled himself as well, allowing the Medicine Girl to scramble over both bodies and into the swampy marshes just outside the Florida penal colony.
Now all the Medicine Girl needed to face were the landmines.
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It had been a decade since the former wastelands of China and Russia coordinated cyber attacks, crippling America’s crumbling power grids, water treatment plants, and financial sectors in all 59 states. North Texas was especially hit hard by a series of high altitude nuclear electromagnetic pulse bursts. The resulting EMP detonations destroyed all circuitry from South Oregonian to Classical Massachusetts. Even if there were still-functioning power plants, the transformers, transmission, and distribution lines instantaneously became incapable of relaying power.
Much like the federal, state, and local governments.
That was all the Medicine Girl heard the older tribe members gripe about: what happened in the past and what could happen in the future. There was no now. But there was no going back either. There was no “land of the free, home of the brave.”
The Medicine Girl had never known a real home, just the thickets and fields and woods in the North Florida wilds, her mother patiently showing her all the treasures from the earth before she was taken.
Now? Behind every tree or rock lay someone who wanted something, the scarcity of resources causing people to take by force what they needed or, more often, simply what they wanted.
We are civilized as long as we are comfortable, her mother had said, showing her again the plants that healed in time and the plants that killed in minutes.
The Medicine Girl arose with the sun, leaving her hiding place. She slept at night, knowing her father would send other men. Her mother had warned her about his duplicity.
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From a safe distance, the Medicine Girl watched the men come down the Nine Five. She was sure these were the men her father had sold her to. Did he not think she understood his furtive glances and thinly-veiled remarks? Just because she was quiet didn’t mean she was an idiot. She knew her father would barter for anything that kept him alive for just a little longer and in a little more comfort.
Declare your allegiance to no one, she thought, knowing the black cherry flatbread she left for her father and his men contained powdered black cherry tree leaves. After she had left, the Medicine Girl was certain he’d break bread with his conspirators, soon finding themselves staggering and convulsing. They’d be dead in less than an hour.
As the men passed south on the decrepit highway, the Medicine Girl walked in a northwesterly direction. From the information she had gathered, the land all the way to South Mexico was utterly barren, but the State of United Dakota seemed promising. At least there was talk of potable water and fertile fields. She had even heard talk of the existence of bumblebees in that clime.
With one last glance at the men, now far enough not to be a threat, the Medicine Girl shook a handful of sunflower seeds into her mouth and journeyed on.