(Note: This novel contains critical ENEMIES FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC
"plot spoilers,"so consider reading that book before plunging into this sequel.)
At the edge of the field was the tool truck, a mud-splashed white full-size GMC pickup. Ranya dropped her hoe into a plastic bin in the back, and the supervisor sitting in the cab made a notation in his ledger book. Beyond the tool truck, on the dirt road leading from the cornfield, was Warden Linssen's black Ford Ranger. The power window on the driver's side rolled down as she approached.
"Ranya? Get in. You're done with the weed line for today. Maybe for forever." The warden was wearing wire-rimmed aviator's sunglasses, and she smiled warmly through the open window.
It was the first time Ranya had opened a vehicle door in five years. She had ridden in the backs of camp trucks on occasion, but never in the cab. The AC hit her with a forgotten alpine blast, pushing out the Oklahoma summer heat. As she settled into the spongy seat, Ranya suddenly remembered riding in another pickup truck that mad September in Virginia, six years before. Brad's pickup truck.
The deputy warden was wearing a crisp Internal Security Agency senior officer's summer working uniform: black pants and a white short-sleeved dress shirt, with the ISA patches on the shoulders. She was an attractive woman about forty, Ranya guessed, with short jet-black hair that was cut flat around the back to keep it the regulation length: just covering her collar, but no more. Like the other senior ISA officers Ranya infrequently saw, she carried no sidearm. She was an administrator, and duty guns were beneath her station and pay grade.
Linssen put her truck into gear and pulled out. "You must be wondering what's going on, right? Why I came for you?" She was grinning, relishing her secret.
"Am I getting out of D-Camp?"
"No, no I'm afraid not." The warden sounded genuinely sympathetic. "But I do have good news for you, some very good news. But let's have lunch first, and get you cleaned up! I think maybe I'm going to take you out of the fields and put you into admin. If you want it--if you have the right attitude for it." She turned and smiled at Ranya again.
The last time she had spoken in private at any length with Deputy Warden Starr Linssen had been in her office in the administration section of D-Camp. Ranya had requested the meeting, after being beaten in her bunk by a group of male and female guards during one of her first nights in camp. Ranya had forcibly resisted their brutal "seduction" attempts, biting and kicking at her attackers.
During that initial meeting, Linssen had appeared sensitive to her plight, and Ranya was able to steer their conversation to the subject of her missing son. The warden had promised to seek out any available information about the child, if she could. Her main concern was that Ranya "fit in," and not invite further abuse by "antagonizing" the guards. As if defending herself against sexual assault constituted antagonizing the guards! Nevertheless, the guards had kept a wary distance after that first unsuccessful attack, and Ranya gave the deputy warden some of the credit for that small mercy.
A series of dirt road turns led to a cracked asphalt track, just inside the ten-foot high razor wire topped perimeter fence. The fence itself presented only a minor obstacle to escape. The real control was exerted by the tiny chips implanted behind her left shoulder, just under her neck: Radio Frequency Identification Devices smaller than a grain of rice. The RFID chips were used inside of the camp to control the movements of the detainees. Every time they passed through a gate or numerous other portals, they were automatically counted to determine that they were where they should be at all times.
Around and beyond the inner camp, sensor wires were buried in the ground, and other wires were strung along the many fences. Any prisoner crossing a buried sensor wire, or approaching within a few feet of a fence, would trigger an alarm at central control. Beyond D-Camp lay unknown miles of rural western Oklahoma: more fields stretching to the horizon, and probably more buried sensor wires.
"Ranya, I hated seeing you turned out as a field worker. Hated it! But after your fight with the guards... Anyway, I know about your background, your education." The warden reached over for Ranya's left wrist. "Let me feel your hand...ugh. All callused, so rough...that's no way to live! But there's no reason D-Camp has to be so bad, not all of it. We have a saying: you scratch my back...and I'll scratch yours, all right?" The warden squeezed her hand.
Ranya said nothing, but withdrew her hand, glancing over at Linssen. The warden had a blue-black tattoo of a grinning quarter-moon visible on her neck, partly above her collar, and a matching sun-face on the opposite side. Her white uniform collar always made them appear to be rising or setting. "Is the good news some word about my son?"
"Ranya, you've been here for almost five years--let's not rush things. Okay?"
Linssen stopped at an open vehicle gate in another fence, which separated different areas of the former Army base containing D-Camp. A few feet opposite an electric eye on a steel post, she held up an ID card against her side window to be scanned. A guard stepped out of his cement blockhouse, gave them both a perfunctory look from a few steps away, and waved them on. In five years, Ranya had never seen this area of the base. It was both unsettling and exhilarating.
They drove past another vehicle gate in the chain link outer perimeter fence. Beyond it to their left lay a two-lane blacktop road, heading south into the distance across endless fields. It was impossible for Ranya to know if the road she saw lay inside or entirely beyond the boundaries of the old military base. The gate itself led into a tractor-trailer-sized double box of chain link fence, all topped with razor wire. Any vehicles leaving the base through it would have to stop inside the steel rectangle for inspection, before the outer gates were opened.
The pickup continued on into an area of trees and white-painted wooden structures, warehouses mainly, parts of what seemed to be an abandoned military supply depot. Warden Linssen made another turn into the interior of the base and in a few minutes, they arrived at what appeared to be a small suburban enclave, complete with sidewalks, lawns and shade trees.
"Home sweet home, Ranya. It was married officers' housing, back in the Army days. Pretty nice, eh? We can have lunch, and talk. I'm sure you'll enjoy some fresh fruit."
Linssen didn't seem concerned about her own personal security, or any escape risk presented by Ranya. She evidently believed the implanted chips made escape impossible. The white clapboard ranch-style house had an old-fashioned key lock in the front door. Linssen opened the door for Ranya and followed her inside, locking it behind them with a dead bolt. She pulled off her sunglasses, revealing startling ice-blue eyes, made more so by the contrast to her raven hair.
"I've prepared a wonderful salad for us, and I can fix you almost any kind of deli sandwich you'd like. But first I think you'd like to clean up, and take a real bath--am I right?" Linssen cocked an eyebrow, almost winking, and smiled knowingly at Ranya. Detainees were permitted only cold showers, twice a week, in the open barracks latrines. Shaving legs and underarms was not possible, and shampoo was a rarely seen luxury. "I've gone to central supply and drawn you some new uniforms. I really don't think you'll be going back to the fields." The warden was now beaming continuously, obviously in anticipation of more than a leisurely luncheon.
Ranya looked around the living room and adjoining kitchen, absorbing the soft homey touches, while noting the absence of evidence of any family. There was a calendar on the wall by the open kitchen door, and she noted that it was Friday, the 20th of June--not that this had much meaning in the camps. She asked, "Why are you doing this for me? I don't understand." But Ranya did understand. She hoped that Linssen would have news of her son, and she guessed what Linssen wanted in return. In spite of her five years in detention at hard labor, Ranya knew that Linssen was attracted to her. The warden had regularly checked up on her, and always used her first name. Ranya was 27, and although the summer sun and bitter winter cold had aged her a bit beyond her years, she still had a face and a figure which made most of the guards, male and female, follow her with their eyes. The meager prison diet kept her slim, and the field work kept her fit.
"Ranya, do you think I like the way detainees are treated in D-Camp? I don't! I try to make the conditions as...tolerable as I can. But I don't set policy! And our budget--oh, our budget! It's still set in dollars, as if that meant anything these days? That's why the farm and cattle operations are so important to us--we could never get by, otherwise. Anyway, I'm hopeful that the Civil Emergency will be lifted soon, maybe after the election, and you'll all be released! Amnesty! But it's a political decision, and I have nothing to do with it. Nothing. You know, I'm just a tiny cog in the machine." Linssen half-smiled wistfully. "In fact, I'm almost as much of a prisoner out here as you are..."
Ranya's reply was cold and matter-of-fact. "We'll never be released. I was sent here for three years 'detention,' that's what the judges said at my first Article 14 hearing. But after my three years were up, they just tacked on another three. No hearing, no nothing. In five years, I've never seen a lawyer. I've never sent or received as much as a phone call or a postcard. How can they ever release us, when they don't even admit they have us in detention? When they don't even admit these camps exist?"
"It's the Civil Emergency, and when it's over, I'm sure there'll be an amnesty."
"I don't think it'll ever be over."
"I don't believe that. I can't believe that! But neither of us can do anything about it--we have to play the cards we've been dealt. In the meantime, I can...I can make life a lot better for you. You went to the University of Virginia; I went to VPI...we have a lot in common, you know! You almost graduated, and someday I'm sure you'll be able to finish your education. But for now, I can move you into the admin section. You'll work inside, in air conditioning! And I can move you to the trusties' barracks, they have some privacy; they even have their own washer and dryer. It's really not so bad there."
"I guess I should be grateful...even though?"
"Yes, I think so too...and we can talk about that, later. But first, why don't you enjoy a nice long bath? I know that's what I'd want, after nothing but cold showers for so long..."