Vaxen - A Starting Place
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Cheating Time

by

Vaxen
copyright 2002
(pwaxen@yahoo.com)

Chapter 10 Ė You Can Never Go Home Again

One night turned into a week, which turned into a month, which turned into six. Angela helped Linda reacquaint herself with civil liberties and introduced her to the many other changes that had occurred during her long sleep.

One that Linda found particularly frustrating was lack of smoking space. Since smoking wasnít allowed within 25 feet of a building entrance, the only way to smoke was to stand in the middle of the street. It seemed that the one place one could freely indulge was within the confines of ones own abode and that was impossible as long as she was living with Angela and Leo.

She did want to live with them. Sometime Linda mused on how, without asking, Angela and Leo had gotten her to do the one thing that Dee could never accomplish with all of her ranting. Sometimes she thought it was because she loved Angela. Sometimes she suspected other motives.

If Linda couldn't have her cigarettes, at least she still had her clocks. Her beautiful collection had been destroyed in the earthquake, but she wasted no time raiding the local antique stores and populating Angela's guest room with her old companions. It was here that Angela often found Linda in the mornings, absorbing the cacophony, watching the fog burn away and craving a smoke.

"I think one of your clocks is running slow today," Angela teased as she handed Linda a steaming cup of coffee and snuggled down beside her to watch the fingers of mist drift across the city.

"It isn't the same," Linda sighed.

Angela waited in silence for Linda to continue, uncertain if she wanted to know. She lived with the insecurity that one morning Linda could announce that she had had enough and would be gone before dinner.

Linda had forgiven Angela for her initial deception. Linda said it didnít matter that she was Deeís daughter. Angela wondered about some of the things her mother told her about Linda. Over the years, Linda had become almost mythical. It was difficult to reconcile Linda the myth with the Linda who lived with her.

"The clocks."

Angela's mind returned to the conversation. She tilted her head to see if she could detect any difference in the ceaseless clatter of the timepieces. They sounded the same to her.

"The clocks don't talk to me like they used to." Linda's voice was so sad that Angela bit back a flippant question about what clocks have to say.

"I could lose myself in the sound," Linda continued. "I became a part of it and it became a part of me and together we could escape. It never happens anymore. It hasn't happened since just after that first time I came back from stasis. Since then theyíve been like strangers to me. I keep hoping Iíll find their voice again."

"Is there anything I can do?" Angela asked.

"Come with me."

"Where?"

"My family owns..." Realizing she was the only one left in her family. "I own a cabin on a lake in Sonoma. I want you to go there with me."

"It could be dangerous. The farther you get from the security centers like San Francisco, the more lawless things get."

Linda wrenched her gaze away from window. She blinked at Angela as if she just became aware of her presence in the room. "Have you ever been outside of San Francisco."

"Well, of course I have," Angela blustered, caught in a half-truth. "I went over to Richmond to pick you up, didn't I?"

"I don't suppose you've ever been to the wilds of Sonoma County. In my day, it was home to the finest group of mountain women you'd ever want to meet. Lesbians as far as the eye could see."

"You might not recognize it today. How were you planning on getting there?"

"Drive."

"You didn't plan to using my car."

"Sheesh. If I wreck it I'll buy you a new one."

"I mean that I don't think my little car can handle some of the roads we're likely to encounter. The California highway system isnít what it used to be."

"Don't worry about it. I think I know just the person to arrange things."

À À À À À

Angela thought that Linda would contact Manfred Associates and rent some kind of transport - preferably an armored truck. Instead, Linda looked up some of her old acquaintances.

The next thing she knew she and Linda were headed north on a secured Bart car. Angela had insisted on the secure car. In case of attack, the unsecured cars could be uncoupled from the rest of the train.

Leo wanted to come along, but her mother thought it was too dangerous and Linda didn't seem keen on bringing her. Angela suspected that Linda's resistance had little to do with the possible perils.

The train ran on a raised rail that gave them an excellent view of Marin Country as they paralleled Highway 101. Traffic on the freeway seemed very light for the morning commute. When they reached the end of the line in Novato, they were surprised to find a crush of passengers waiting to occupy the non-secured cars behind them.

"Linda! Linda! Hey, Cahellhole!"

They turned to see a woman with close-cropped gray hair advancing on them at a labored gallop.

"Damn, Ratbottom, you got old!" Linda exclaimed as the woman lifted her in a hug that left Linda's feet dangling in the air.

"Can't say the same for you. You really haven't changed a bit since I last saw you. Wish I could afford some of that long sleep."

"All the money I spent buying weed and shit from you, you should be able to build your own sleep machine."

It was apparent to Angela that despite their bonhomie, these two women had a customer/client relationship. She was disappointed. Aside from Emma and her mother, she had never met anyone who knew Linda and Emma never had anything good to say.

Ratbottom, whose given name turned out to be Julia Rathbourne, led the way to the parking lot. Three women awaited them, although one might have been a man, in a heavily reinforced Winnebago. The interior was a tired as the exterior was secured. As the client, Linda snagged to well-worn seat next to Ratbottom, who was driving. Linda may have called shotgun, but Angela suspected that everyone was armed. No weapons were visible, but the whole operation reeked of militia.

"What happened to the old BMW?" Linda asked.

"The bike or car?" Ratbottom shot back.

"You had a Beamer?"

"Oh, I guess that was after you started your snooze. I still have that Limey machine, but I don't ride much. Person alone on a cycle is an easy target."

"Is it really that bad."

"Bad is a relative term," Ratbottom replied. "I've always said that crime was as much a matter of opportunity as anything else, it's just that nowadays there are more opportunities than ever. Of course, one woman's opportunity is another woman's bad luck, so you do what you can to keep yourself lucky. We canít afford the kind of protection youíve got, but we take care of our own. We have a sweet little encampment up in the Sonoma hills. I'd invite you, but we got some hard-core woman there who probably wouldn't appreciate you."

"Sounds like I chose a bad time to come back from stasis."

"Things are getting better," Angela stated. Ratbottom's friends all gave her a calculating once over then turned away in disapproval.

"Honey, you don't know shit," Ratbottom addressed Angela, glancing back and forth between the road ahead and the rearview mirror. "You see Linda, that's what happened. When you and I used to run, we weren't in the same class but we understood each other and we knew where the cards fell. This Barbie Doll here and I aren't even in the same country."

"Things have changed since Clinton was president," Angela argued, bristling with indignation.

"They re-elected Bill Clinton?" Linda interrupted.

"No, Hillary. Yeh, Hillary was OK. I'll give the old girl points, but the situation isn't one that's going to right itself in four years or eight years or four decades. The purified version of events that you see on the nightly news just isn't the way it is. I think you know it too, Sweetie. Nothing would scare you more than if I told you to get out of this wagon right now."

Angela had been doing a slow burn, but the idea of being gave her a chill. She looked at the back of Linda's head and wondered why she hadn't said anything in her defense.

"Relax, Cupcake. Linda may be footing the bill, but you're my client, too."

"Well, you can start by calling me Angela."

A chorus a oohs end with Ratbottom saying, "Yes, ma'am."

"So, how did all of this come about?" Linda could see that the version of current event she had been getting from Angela was skewed at best.

"Hopper used to be a distribution clerk for the US Postal Service. We think of her as our information officer. Hopper, you want to field this one?"

"The Bush Depression generated many changes," Hopper began in a recitative drone. "Many of the factors were already in place, but the depression and other Republican principles exacerbated the condition. They refused to acknowledge the condition of the economy, in particular the growing number of jobs that were being replaced by automation."

"Hopper was a victim of the "Lights Out" program where USPS achieved the dream of running unmanned mail sorting. It wasn't long before Bush had also broken the unions and privatized mail delivery. After that, she became a librarian until the libraries became paperless and the Internet became the ONLY stop on the information highway."

Hopper pursed her lips in irritation, not pleased to have her personal life shared with strangers.

"In addition," Hopper continued, "the creditors, in particular credit card companies, finally acknowledge the bitter reality that people were going bankrupt faster than finance charges could cover the losses. They stopped looking to the government to legislatively protect them from the increasing number of bankruptcies and started protecting themselves. The middle class shrank and the disparity between the upper and lower classes became more pronounced."

"You can judge a person's wealth these days by how close they live to a secure zone," Ratbottom said. "What's left of the middle class lives on the fringe. We live in lawless territory. You won't see any of those storm troopers they call police out here. By the way, let's not forget that expensive little war that helped take the country to hell on a rocket ship."

"In other word, my dear Ms. Cahalo, count your blessings. You too Sweetcheeks." Ratbottom gave Angela a lecherous wink.

Linda yawned, bored with the socio-economics lesson, and studied the view outside her window. "Are you sure you know were we're going? This seems like the long way around."

"Some of the bridges didn't get rebuilt after the earthquake, especially out in this neck of the woods. You may have noticed that the farther we get from the BART station, the less likely there has been a recent visit from Caltrans."

"So, how long is this going to take." Linda snarled.

"Pull the thong out of your crack. It wonít be much longer. Maybe a couple of hours."

Linda slumped sullenly into her seat and continued to stare out the window.

The women seemed to take up stations, keeping a watchful eye on the road to the side and behind them. They made occasional comments to one another, but never engaged in conversation that would take their minds off the task at hand.

Angela felt frustrated, helpless and exposed. The professional demeanor of the women did nothing to allay her fears. If anything, they made her more nervous and concerned that at any moment they might be attacked. She was attempting to communicate these thoughts to Linda telepathically, by boring her vision into the back of Linda's skull when she noticed a slight change in her posture. Linda was suddenly alert, almost eager. "We're getting close, aren't we?"

"We're very close," Ratbottom answered. "I just hope no one has taken up residence there. We'd better make sure we aren't walking into a situation we can't walk out of." She brought the vehicle to a stop. "Hopper, go scout things out."

Hopper was gone in a flash, leaping with silent grace through the underbrush. It wasn't hard to guess how she'd gotten her name. Almost as quickly she returned with the all-clear.

There wasn't much left of the cabin. If the earthquake hadn't damaged it, the ravages of time had certainly been unkind. Linda got out the RV and approached slowly. She nudged the bottom step of the porch with her toe then gingerly placed her foot on the runner to see if it would hold her weight. She could see through the windows that part of two walls and the roof had collapsed. The lock on the door had been pride loose. She twisted the knob and allowed the door to swing open.

"The white wash is all gone," Linda commented.

Angela, who was standing behind her, searched for an appropriate response, but before she could say anything, Linda whirled around and said, "I want you to come with me."

"I'm here, Linda. I came with you."

"Want you to come with me to the future."

Angela stumbled backward and fell off the porch. The whole structure vibrated with shock. Angela found solid ground and let her feet carry her to the edge of the lake, where Linda followed her.

"Why?" Angela gasped. "How could you ask me such a thing. You know I wonít do it, canít do it even if I wanted to, which I don't. I feel like I'm reliving my mother's nightmare."

"Then chose the road Dee refused to travel. Come with me."

"And what about Leo?"

"We can take her too," Linda responded without missing a beat. It was then that Angela realized that this wasn't a sudden whim on Linda's part. She had been thinking about it for some time, maybe since the moment she awoke from the last stasis.

"I won't do that to my daughter for the same reason I won't do it to myself. It's no way to live -- waking up not knowing what kind of world youíre going to face."

"Don't we do that every day to one extent or another?"

"You know it isn't the same."

"You're just like your mother. Why can't you see this as an opportunity? This is a glass that's more than half full."

The mention of Dee tickled something in the back of Angela's brain - a snatch of half remembered conversation between Dee and Emma at an age when they must have thought that Angela couldn't possibly understand what they were saying. She felt that Emma held the key to understanding why the woman she loved was about to abandon her.

"Have you seen everything you came here to see?"

"For now." Linda replied. "Maybe by the next time I come back it will have fallen down and been completely consumed by the earth."

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