We are undergoing a managed transition
Freedom Decentral: A Novel
[Conclusion: Chapters 30-34]
by Jim Davidson
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
[Continued from Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Parts Nine, Ten, & Eleven part Twelve part Thirteen part Fourteen part Fifteen part Sixteen &Seventeen Title and Art Contest part Eighteen part Nineteen part Twenty part Twenty-one part Twenty-two part Twenty-three part Twenty-four part Twenty-five part Twenty-six part Twenty-seven part Twenty-eight part Twenty-nine]
Chapter 30 Another Ambush
"There was not a rock for twenty mile, there
was not a clump of tree,
But covered a man of my own men with his rifle cocked on his knee.
If I had raised my bridle-hand, as I have held it low,
The little jackals that flee so fast were feasting all in a row:
If I had bowed my head on my breast, as I have held it high,
The kite that whistles above us now were gorged till she could not fly."
― Rudyard Kipling, Ballad of East and West, 1889
Ken Wilcox emitted a series of curse words. He paused for breath and looked again at the images on his laptop screen He picked up his beer bottle for a swig. It was 10 pm in Littleton, Colorado, just outside Denver, and he was allowing himself one beer. It helped calm his stomach and it went okay with the upsetting news. All those death camps. Terrible.
Looking at the photo of his late wife Carlotta, Ken narrowed his eyes slightly. Three years earlier, a Denver police officer had stopped her car. Finding the attractive married woman by herself, the officer had summoned back up. Days later, Ken had found the wreck of his family car and the remains of his wife's body. His ensuing investigation had revealed that the gang in blue had raped his wife, then cut her throat. They had carefully set fire to the family sedan in a vacant lot in a bad part of town. Her body they had further mutilated and left, naked and dismembered, next to the car. In their arrogance, they had made no effort to conceal their movements from the local homeless people.
Since then, Ken and his friend Tormund with whom he had served overseas had made a special project out of the Denver police department. Officers patrolling alone on foot, horse, or in a squad car were their targets. Learning their routes was simple, because their communications were easily monitored. Within six weeks of that August day when Ken had found his wife's body, the Denver police stopped sending out officers by themselves.
Ken got up and went to the window overlooking the parking lot below his apartment. He raised the Venetian blinds. The potted geranium that his wife had loved was on the window sill. Ken took it and set it on the coffee table nearby. Then he returned to the room he used as his home office.
About half an hour later, the phone rang. It was Tormund.
Tormund asked, "When?"
Ken said, "Tomorrow night, 11 pm."
Then Tormund asked, "Where?"
Ken said, "Those abandoned warehouses on Downing, near the remains of that brewery. You know the place?"
Tormund said, "I'll be there."
The line went dead, as Ken knew it would. The two of them had long since developed a system for working together. Few words meant less information to be interpreted by whatever agencies were still monitoring every call. Tormund could see Ken's apartment from his home a block away. The flower pot and the blinds being up at night signalled the call to action.
Ken went back to his front room and let the blinds back down. He carefully put the geranium back on the window sill.
All those dead bodies from the photos taken by the rescue teams that had swarmed into death camps, slave camps, and torture sites all over the country were in his mind as Ken lay resting in bed that night. He had seen death before, and dealt his share of it. There had been times when getting information in a hurry meant doing to captured enemy soldiers what had to be done. Seeing the same things done to civilians was upsetting. Thinking about how the same system had encouraged Denver police to be a criminal gang was upsetting enough; knowing that it was epidemic had Ken seething.
Just after midnight, he rolled out of bed, went out to the kitchen, and drew a sleeping tablet from his pantry. About ten minutes later, back in bed, he fell sound asleep.
Johnny Jones didn't like his new partner. Glenn Jewell was a bully, and not very bright, which was typical of the police officers Jones knew. But Jewell was very fat. Jones liked to stay slender, and worked out two hours every morning to keep fit. Jewell took every opportunity to eat. If he exercised it was walking on the way to or from the patrol car they were assigned.
Having seniority meant that Jones got to drive. Letting Jewell drive would have been worse. It was bad enough watching him stuffing his face with candy or crackers. There was always a small sea of litter at Jewell's feet. Wrappers, crumbs, bits of this or that. Wadded napkins. The man was a slob.
"Eighteen twenty foxtrot. Meet the man, meet the man, 6300 block Downing. Dead bodies. Respond code three," came the voice from dispatch. The time on the dashboard clock showed 01:26.
Even though it was voice activated, Jones turned his head toward his shoulder-mounted microphone. He said, "Eighteen twenty responding."
The dispatcher immediately began droning again, " Sixteen twenty-seven hotel, meet eighteen-twenty foxtrot at 6300 Downing. Seventeen forty-four x-ray, rendezvous at 6300 Downing." Acknowledgements came through as Jones flipped on lights and sirens while accelerating.
Three squad cars would converge on the scene. Wanting to be first to arrive, Jones kept accelerating, darting and weaving wildly. Using the oncoming lane, cutting off other drivers, in one instance causing another car to skid out of control, but that was a civilian, a nobody. Getting there first would make Jones incident commander. That tiny extra bit of power would be his tonight. Maybe with good results he'd be able to work his way off the night shift.
As Jones turned onto Downing he could see up ahead a group of flood lights set up at a construction site near the old abandoned brewery. Jewell had called up the local compliance map on their squad car's laptop computer and it showed no authorised construction in the area. Seeing that he was first on the scene, Jones slowed, flipped off his siren to switch his radio back to voice activated mode, and radioed to dispatch. His lights stayed on, painting the scene alternately in red, blue, and white.
He said, "Eighteen twenty foxtrot now approaching 6300 Downing. Traffic cones and flood lights, appears to be unauthorised construction."
Dispatch repiied, "Eighteen twenty on scene. Sergeant Jones is incident commander. Inbound units approach with caution. " At the words naming him incident commander, Jones smiled. He slowed further and stopped just past the intersection with 64th Street, his headlights pointing South. There, set off by the traffic cones and illuminated by the flood lights were the dead bodies mentioned by dispatch. There was a city-marked portable generator trailer providing the power for the flood lights.
Jones turned his head toward his shoulder mic and said, "Downing incident command. We've located one of the city's missing generator trailers. I'm seeing a pile of bodies, dispatch. No sign of the caller. What did the man say when he called this in?"
Dispatch came back after a few seconds, "It was a text to our anonymous tip line sent from a phone registered to Henry Hill, 6600 Washington Street. It says 'dead bodies at 6300 Downing, meet me there.' Nothing further."
Jewell keyed in that address, and was switching from map view to satellite, but Jones had no doubt what was there. " Dispatch, that address is a vacant lot. That name sounds familiar though. "
Ahead in the distance, turning from the east onto Downing from 62nd Street and killing its siren came another patrol car. Moments later a third car approached from the West, also along 62nd Street, stopping in the intersection to fully block traffic. Both newcomers left their lights on but their sirens off.
Jones knew that Henry Milgram and Marie Stewart were in car 1627H and Pedro Gonzalez and Juan Alvarez were in 1744X. As they arrived on scene, the others radioed to notify both dispatch and Jones of their presence.
Jones pulled his car to parallel 64th Street so it would fully block Downing from the north as Pedro had done with his squad car at 62nd. Jones thought for a few moments and said, "Well, let's meet in the middle, see what's there." His words were carried by his voice-activated radio to the others and back to dispatch. Jones grabbed his helmet from the bracket under his seat and opened his door.
He and Jewell got out of their car to walk toward the lights. Jones was strapping on his helmet. Jewell had left his behind. The other four officers approached along both sides of the street from the far end of the scene. Soon all six were standing within the perimeter of the lighted area, listening to the generator thump, and looking at the pile of naked bodies.
Enjoying his command privileges, Jones started with criticism directed at everyone. He said, "I see you're all still leaving your helmets in your cars. Even Jewell here."
Then, seeing that Milgram and Stewart were starting back toward their car, Jones said, "Stop. Don't worry about it this time. Gonzalez, you and Milgram start turning over bodies, see if we can find any identification."
Gonzalez and Milgram exchanged a look that indicated their view of Jones as any kind of leader. Then Milgram shrugged and moved toward the pile of bodies. Gonzalez grimaced and joined him. Gonzalez grabbed the shoulders of the top body in the stack while Milgram took the ankles. They shifted the naked body a few feet and turned it face up. Recognition was immediate.
On the chest of the body was a tattoo that said, " We get up early to beat the protesters." Below it was a police baton and a combat boot.
Milgram said, "It's Willie Brown. Cold as ice. "
Stewart let out a sudden breath and dropped to the ground. A moment later, Alvarez did as well. Jewell grunted but stayed up.
Jones, turning toward Jewell felt an impact on the side of his helmet. He dropped to the ground, deliberately lowering his profile. He'd spent time in Syria before getting his job with the Denver police. Drawing his pistol with his right hand, Jones turned on his left side to assess the situation. Milgram was three feet away, shuddering in his death throes with a huge wound in his neck spilling his blood.
Lifting his head slightly, Jones confirmed that Gonzalez and Jewell were both down as well. Then Jones scrambled toward the pile of bodies as as sort of defensive position. He still had no idea what was going on, but he knew procedure.
"Dispatch," he called, "Downing incident command, my team is down. Send backup."
Silence. Looking at the radio mounted on his belt, Jones could see the flashing red light. Some sort of malfunction. Thinking for a moment, Jones aimed at the nearest flood light and shot it. It made a satisfying spray of glass and a few sparks, then went dark. He didn't have a good shot at the other lights from his position, so he shifted posture and crawled a few feet forward.
Overwhelming pain came from his right femur. It was shattered by a bullet. The suppressed rifle that fired it made too little noise to be heard over the sound of the generator that still powered the remaining floodlights. Whoever had killed his team was above him. The knowledge would benefit Jones very little, though. As he rolled over to return fire, his gun hand took a shot as well.
This penultimate shot came from close range from a suppressed 9mm pistol. Ken Wilcox walked into the circle of light. Jones knew fear.
Wilcox spoke, "Johnny Jones. Madcap. Been looking forward to our meeting for a few months. Ever since we found out you were selling guns and ammo to the Red Rangers through your brother Joe. Didja hear? He got convicted in Paradox. Got himself shot."
Jones stared at his attacker. In a querulous voice, barely held together against the pain, Jones asked, "What ...what do you want?"
Wilcox smiled. Raising his pistol he replied, " Revenge." With that one word he shot the incident commander in the face.
Tormund and Ken retrieved the sidearms of the officers. These went into a large duffle, out of which Tormund took another duffle. Then the two of them stripped the bodies with the ease of much practice. Clothing and body armour went into the duffle bags. Items like wallets and personal keys would remain in the clothes so they'd have no trouble matching things later.
Leaving the bodies, the two of them quickly hauled the duffles to the incident commander's patrol car. Standard procedure following the radio blackout they had arranged with a frequency jammer would have backup squad cars rolling toward the scene, possibly " code one" without lights and sirens. There was usually about a five minute interval while dispatch tested their own systems and tried to raise any of the responding cars, followed by some unknown interval before a more distant group of cars could be vectored to the scene.
Even so they moved quickly. Using keys left in the ignition by Jones, Ken opened the trunk. He lifted out some of the equipment stored there, then hefted the two duffle bags and hurried them over to his car, parked on the street nearby. Tormund had slung his rifle and retrieved the squad car's laptop which the late officer Jewell had neglected to secure. Checking the trunk, Tormund grabbed the remaining gear and joined Ken at his car.
They put the captured items into the trunk of Ken's Taurus sedan. While Ken closed the trunk and started his car, Tormund went back with a paraffin and lint fire starter in a small brown paper sack. Setting this on the driver seat, Tormund lit the paper sack with his pocket lighter and headed back to Ken's car.
The two of them drove around the block on Washington to get to the other patrol cars. By the time their trunks were emptied and their laptops were in the back seat, it was time to go. All three patrol cars were on fire as they drove away. They didn't have far to go.
The area they were in was mostly abandoned warehouses near an old rail line. Washington street took them past a spaghetti bowl of a freeway interchange where I-76, I-270, and I-25 came together. About 16 blocks from the scene of their recent ambush were subdivisions on both sides. Turning onto one of these lesser streets, then another, and still a third, they came past a series of homes with attached garages.
The two of them drove into one of these that had its garage door open. A shiny Toyota pickup truck was parked in the three-car garage, leaving plenty of room for Ken's Taurus. Tormund used the remote to start the garage door down behind them. Ken killed the engine and lights. Opening their car doors at nearly the same moment, the dome light stayed off, having been disabled early in their career. The two men opened the trunk and the back doors of the sedan.
Tormund grinned at his friend. "You think any of their crap is tagged?"
Ken shook his head. "No," he said, "most likely not. We'll run the scanner over it, see if anything pings, but they still aren't very up to date here. Just as well."
About twenty minutes later, the two were seated at a table in the dining area of the home. All exterior windows had black-out curtains. Tormund was dismantling the laptops and Ken was boxing the weapons and ammo. Over on the stove, a pot of water was set to boil. They continued to work at their separate tasks.
Tormund compressed the contents of the three hard drives and sent them to the rebel alliance on an encrypted channel. Ken had everything ready to go into Tormund's truck positioned by the door. The two men prepared combat rations with the hot water. Then they got cold beverages out of the refrigerator and sat across from each other at a folding table.
They wouldn't move from their current location for at least 24 hours, by which time the crime scene they had just left would be cleared by the Denver crime scene investigators. Depending on the situation outside, shown to them on strategically placed cameras, they would wait as long as necessary. The concealed cameras were small, powerful, and wired back to their location by way of the storm sewers. No radio signals were wanted from the cameras, of course, as that would lead a clever enemy to the cameras and possibly further.
It had taken a week to prepare their current hideout, which was one of twenty known only to the two men and dotted around the Denver area. Of course, they knew their territory well, and had detailed knowledge of the police department's communications—unencrypted radio—and procedures.
Most of these were homes of disappeared persons who would not be needing them ever again. Denver's police force was vicious and thorough. But the county's ability to keep its seized properties in inventory was limited due to corruption. A bit of extortion with one of the chief clerks had resulted in a bonanza of empty homes registered to the county in its tax records, but completely missing from its inventory of properties to be liquidated through sale to the public. The county government very kindly paid to keep the lights and utilities turned on, also through oversights in accounting arranged by their favourite clerk.
The rest of the houses they used from time to time were available to them because of fellow veterans who were happy to help. For those locations, Tormund and Ken never brought any work with them from the scenes of their operations. They were simply guests in the home of a friend, and would stay overnight to make sure the coast was clear before returning to their apartment complex in the suburbs.
"Never ceases to amaze me how little they bother to upgrade security. It's like they aren't even trying," Tormund said, munching on the lamb and vegetable main from his ration.
Ken grunted. He focused for a few minutes on his food. Taking a swig from his sports energy drink, he shook his head. "They think of people as expendable. You know that. When they run out of cops, they recruit more."
Tormund nodded. The two men completed their meal in agreeable silence.
Then the two of them set to work on the wallets. From the driver licences they created a list of addresses. These they checked against some offline map software. Over the following week they would conduct surveillance at each home. That was made easy by having the keys taken from the clothes stripped from their enemies.
The two men operated by certain rules. They didn't make war on the dead, so once the bodies were stripped, they were either taken to a refrigerated warehouse for future use or left. Ken was unwilling to mutilate any body because he had found his wife Carlotta's body that way. He felt they needed to prove they were better than the gang they were now fighting.
Family members were left alone, unless they were known to be police or other law enforcement. Sometimes during funerals for the fallen officers, sometimes during other times when the entire family was away from the home, in some cases weeks later, in a few cases months later, the homes of the ambushed police were raided.
Ken and Tormund would get any data stored on home systems or memory sticks, collect any obvious valuables, look for hidden caches, and load up the van they had for the purpose with weapons, ammo, food, and anything of interest. Typically the van would be parked in the garage of the home if it had one, and the raid would take place during daylight. Occasionally they used early morning hours on a Saturday or Sunday when neighbours would be sleeping in if they had to work without cover of a garage.
The police existed by taxing and intimidating the public, hurting whomever they encountered. Since taxation is theft, all the funds received by public servants were stolen. Finding all their victims and returning the property to its rightful owners would be laborious. Meanwhile, there was a war on.
After the revelations of the death camps, the two men added an additional step. Every home of every police officer from that day onward was torched. Simple techniques involving electricity or natural gas, or both, were used to make sure the home fires started burning a few minutes after they left.
The death camps represented the betrayal of the American people. It was time to burn the system of oppression to the ground.
Chapter 31 Flying Home
"I can go for miles in my airplane
Have a lotta smiles in my airplane
I can go up, I can get down
But I can't get to you if you don' want me around
In my airplane..."
~ The Royal Guardsmen
John Kell turned his head to look at Mary Morris. He said, "What do you mean, we can never go home?"
Mary smiled at John, then looked away to the view out her side of the plane. She replied, "Oh, it's a saying from Heraclitus. He was fascinated by the ever-changing nature of reality. He said that you can never step twice into the same river. You cannot be the same person you were the last time you stepped into it, because you change. The river cannot be the same river it was the last time you visited it, because it also changes."
John nodded. Just then Mary turned her head to look at him. She smiled at him. He smiled at her. They were on their way.
Glancing past John for a moment, Mary's eyes widened. Her smile disappeared. She pointed out John's window and said, "Look at that convoy!"
John's smile faded as he turned his head to the left to look in the indicated direction. There below them on Interstate 85 were hundreds of trucks, some painted in woodlands camo and many in desert colours. At least a division of combat troops were moving.
Up in a cloudy sky at 11,000 feet, the Cessna 400 was unlikely to be seen, or considered a threat. Even so, John was briefly happy that their route was not going to parallel the convoy below them. It looked like all those troops were headed northeast to Greenville.
Craning her neck a bit and looking past John's shoulder, Mary exclaimed, "Those are tank transporters down there! "
Dipping his left wing briefly, John took a good long look of his own. Sure enough, there were M1A1 Abrams tanks en route. They were mounted on low-boy trailers being hauled by the army's version of the semi-tractor.
John said, "Mary? Can you reach into the back and get my binoculars, please? I've got a bad feeling about this stuff."
Mary unbelted and fairly climbed into the cramped space behind their seats. Twisting the pack, she found a convenient outer pocket just the right size, and came up with the Vortex Razor binoculars. She handed these forward to John, then climbed back into her seat and put her belt and shoulder harness back on.
Looking over the convoy, John found insignia he recognised on every vehicle he scanned. It was an army division loyal to one of the owners. He shook his head. Setting the binoculars in the space between his seat and the pilot's door, he focused on the instrument panel.
He was familiar with the Garmin G1000 glass cockpit having learned in a plane outfitted with one. It showed him their cruising speed, about 265 mph. Their heading was right on track, and the righthand panel map showed their progress. The "steam" instruments at the top of the dashboard showed the same information in older formats.
For a few moments, John pondered whether to reconnoitre more closely. Looking to his left, he imagined the difficulties. A convoy that size would either have crewed air support or drones. Anything he radioed would be intercepted. Even an encrypted signal would be detected, and the fact of that signal would be meaningful. Better to get home, get connected, get the word out. Besides, Mary was precious cargo. He glanced right, and saw her staring at him.
Mary said, "You're thinking about going down there to get a closer look, and whether that's going to be dangerous." She raised her eyebrows and continued, "I can see you've decided against the idea. They'll have drone patrols and maybe combat aircraft. Besides, any signal we send is going to be a problem, so we have to get connected. "
John widened his eyes a bit, and smiled. He nodded. "Those were my very thoughts. We're just ordinary travellers on a flight from the coast up into the hills. No bother to them unless we get close or look like we care about them."
Mary looked aside out her window. She nodded. " First rule is, don't get caught," she said. She turned her head toward him and grinned.
Moving his right hand off the control yoke, John reached over and gripped Mary's left hand. He nodded and smiled at her. "It isn't much further. I'm glad you're here."
Squeezing his hand briefly, Mary said, "I'm glad I'm here, too."
John guided the Cessna down onto the grass airstrip. It was a calm day, and the windsock atop the barn hung somewhat limp. John had landed many aircraft at his family's ranch in the last fourteen years. His dad had taught him when he was only fifteen. Today the landing was perfect.
John let the plane roll along for a while as he eased the brakes on, got stopped, and then taxied back to the barn which doubled as a hangar. Next to it was a broad concrete apron with tie downs for visiting aircraft. Deftly, John stopped at one of these.
The ninety minute flight had not been tiring for either of them. John had flown many longer flights over the years, and had slept on board the Flying Nell. Mary had also slept, and the virus-specific antigen she'd been given had worked wonders. Like many of the freedom community developed bio-pharmaceuticals it actually worked, unlike nearly everything touched by the evil mass-murdering cartels. Physically, Mary felt great. Spiritually, she was still very troubled.
John went through his post-flight check list from memory. With Mary's able help, he tied down the plane. Then he hefted his backpack and put it back on, hooking the ends of belly band together. Mary was wearing the vest Karen Runningwolf had given her. Smiling at her, John held out his rifle. She smiled too, and slung it over her shoulder. The two of them held hands and walked toward his family home.
Slam! The screen door always swung fully open and into the wall next to it whenever Melissa Kell came running outside. Today was no exception. Having heard the plane land and taxi, Melissa had finished in the kitchen on the other side of the house where she was taking some freshly baked biscuits from an oven. Walking swiftly across the house, she fairly leapt off the porch without pausing to use the three steps, and was several paces down the walkway, shedding her apron when she saw that her brother had brought company.
Fifty feet apart the two siblings stopped, and Mary did as well. Directly in front of her was an imperfect mirror, sharing her height and weight almost exactly, Melissa was as pale and blonde as Mary was dark and brunette. Mary smiled. Melissa smiled. Something about her ... each woman had the same sense of familiarity to the other.
Melissa raised an eyebrow and glanced at her brother, which brought Mary back down to Earth. Mary also glaced over at John. John was grinning broadly at his sister. Releasing Mary's hand, he brought his arm up to gesture that here was someone new.
"Sis," he said, "Please meet the princess we rescued from the enemy's castle this morning, Mary Morris. "
Using his same right hand to gesture at his sister he continued, "Mary, please meet my sister the spiritual healer, Melissa Kell."
Gathering her skirts, Melissa executed a perfect curtsy, saying, "Pleased to meet you, your highness." With these words, a frisson passed down her spine, and Melissa realised that she had a spiritual connexion with Mary that transcended their current lives.
Having felt a similar frisson of energy, Mary smiled and giggled. Making her own curtsy, she said, "John has elevated me to princess without my prior knowledge. I'm very pleased to meet you as well, Melissa."
Melissa looked at Mary with a quizzical expression and said, "John, you're going to want to put your pack in your room and talk to mom and dad in the kitchen. Help yourself to the biscuits. Mary and I have a bunch of things to discuss, and we'll be in my room."
Mary turned to John, hugged him quickly, kissed his cheek, and ran over to Melissa. The two women hugged, and ran hand in hand back to the house, up the steps onto the porch, and inside. John looked at them go, glanced up at the windsock over the barn which was suddenly standing straight out as a gust of wind came out of the north. He felt it as coolness on his face. Smiling to himself, John stepped lightly down the path and leapt up the three steps onto the porch in a bound. He was very happy.
As he came into the parlour, John smelled the biscuits all the way from the kitchen. Those smelled great! Past the living room, he could see the brightly lit kitchen, and his parents sitting at one of the kitchen tables. John waved and smiled, then gestured upstairs.
He said, "I'm running my gear up to my room. Be down in a minute. Don't eat all the biscuits!"
His mom replied, "Don't be silly dear, your sister made fifty of these little delights. There'll be plenty when you get here. "
Smiling broadly, John took the steps two at at time, passing the landing for his parents' master suite and going on up to the top floor of the house. Pausing for just a moment in the stairwell to look out the window at the familiar view spread below, his smile widened. Weeks of training and hours of the mission had left him eager for familiar sights.
With a start, he realised that his ankle no longer hurt. Whatever Lisa Angeleno had done while he slept aboard the Flying Nell it was fully healed. Even the dramatic hop onto the porch and stair climb had not brought so much as a twinge of pain. Counting his blessings, he walked past the closed door to his sister's room, punched his privacy code into the door lock for his room, and watched it chase a small green light around a circle, then display the words "now open. "
Going in and turning on the overhead light, John quickly shed his pack. Then he went for a moment into his bathroom, ran warm water in the sink, splashed some on his face, rubbed some onto the back of his neck, and towelled off. Regarding his own familiar visage in the mirror for a moment, John smiled again.
Having paused for his ablutions, John went to his desk, booted his computer, and entered a series of passwords to mount the encrypted drives. Waiting for the boot cycle to complete, he reached into the mini-fridge and pulled out a nearly empty bottle of pomegranate juice which he poured into one of the glass tumblers on top of the fridge. After entering a very long password to access his Linux debian desktop, he launched an open source email client and composed a few messages regarding the things he and Mary had seen moving up Interstate 85. He encrypted these messages to various people up his chain of command and several others in his network of cadres, applied his digital signature, and sent them out.
A few minutes later, sitting at the kitchen table with his parents, John attended to buttering a couple of his sister's highly acclaimed biscuits. Everyone in the family all around the country who had occasion to sample them spoke well of these buttermilk blessings. Fresh from the oven, with butter and a bit of red raspberry preserves from his mom's canning operation, they were a blissful joy.
His mom brought over a glass of iced tea. She set it beside him, leaned over and kissed her son's cheek. Then she tousled his hair briefly and returned to sit by her husband.
Alfred Kell looked at his son. Waiting for a few bites to be swallowed, he asked, "Who was that young woman your sister rushed upstairs with just now? It seemed like they are fast friends, but in all my born years, I've never seen her before."
Cassandra Caine Kell looked at her husband and then at their son. From the blush coming over John's face, she surmised part of the truth, and said, "She's someone you brought home from your adventure today, isn't she? We read about it on the 'net this afternoon, that you'd opened that terrible slave camp in New Jersey, then got away with all kinds of people, scattering to the four winds as the hoaxer reports claim. The owners are pretending to be very distressed by all the damage to their camps up and down the two long coasts. You'd think they were talking about brigands breaking into a factory or something."
John drank quite a bit of tea, then wiped his mouth on a cloth napkin that was at his place. He nodded. "That young woman is Mary Morris. I think she may be the most amazing person ever."
For the next twenty minutes, he told the story of his descent into the camp, the death of their pilot, the minor injury to his ankle, his part in the rescue operation, the trip by Hydro Lance to Savannah, and their recognition by the crew, the gifts from the rental car company and the fixed base operation, as well as their flight over the military convoy. He mentioned in a general way that he had sent messages out when he visited his room upstairs.
Cassandra said, "We're very proud of you, John. It went well for your team. Some of the other teams met more organised resistance. All of them were successful at rescuing most of those in the camps. We've seen some of the photos and videos. There have been a great many atrocities."
Her eyes shifted to the right, as she recalled the things she had seen earlier that day. Scenes of carnage and brutality inflicted by those with power over those without. She sighed.
Alfred reached over and took his wife's hand. She looked up. She smiled a brave smile. Her husband smiled back. He said, "We've begun. We knew it wouldn't be easy, and we knew it had to be done, and so we've made a beginning."
Clattering down the stairs came the sound of two sets of feet. Moments later Mary and Melissa came striding across the living room. John's face lit up. He leapt to his feet and held out the empty chair next to his. Mary smiled and nodded and took that seat. Melissa grabbed a chair from another table and brought it up. Then she set a plate with two biscuits in front of Mary, rifled a silverware drawer for utensils, and came back with them. Grabbing some biscuits for herself, Melissa sat.
During these activities, John said, "Mom, dad, please allow me to present Mary Morris. Mary, my mom, Cassandra Kell and my dad, Alfred Kell."
Cassandra said, "Welcome to our home. We're very glad you're here."
Alfred added, "Yes, you are welcome here."
Mary smiled at each of them. "I'm very pleased to meet you. Melissa has told me a great deal about you. You've a very nice home." She glanced down and saw the biscuits, so she attended to buttering these and adding some jam to her plate.
Melissa said, "Mom, dad, I want Mary to stay in the room across the hall from me. She's been in that camp for months and the trauma was terrible. Torture, rape, seeing people beaten down, people she worked with at the camp beaten and disappeared. She and I have a lot of work to do together to get her beyond what she's been through."
Cassandra looked briefly at Alfred, who was already nodding. She said, "Well of course, dear, that's exactly right. We want Mary in our home for as long as she wishes."
John grinned on hearing this point. He looked at Mary and saw that she was smiling and crying at the same time.
Melissa reached over and put her left hand on Mary's right shoulder and used her right hand to take hold of Mary's right hand which was on the table next to her plate. John reached across the table to put his hand atop both of theirs.
Mary smiled at John, then at Melissa. Then, turning to their parents said, "Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Kell. Your generosity of spirit is very touching. My parents died when I was little and my grandparents raised me, but they passed away two years ago. And when I was caught, all my things were destroyed or stolen. Your welcome is a great blessing to me."
Alfred smiled, nodding, and said, "You are welcome as long as you care to stay. We have a lot of animals here, and several gardens, so there's no shortage of beauty and harmony. I hope these can be a balm to your spirit."
Looking down, he attended to the last piece of a biscuit on his plate. With his mouth full, he looked carefully at his son. Swallowing, he glanced at his wife, whose beaming smile made clear that she could see the signs of love as well.
Not wanting to there be any doubt, he smiled and continued, "Welcome to the family."
Chapter 32 Kings of the High Frontier
"A good plan violently executed now is better
than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future."
― George S. Patton Jr.
Carlos Perez nodded at the image of his son on the laptop screen on his desk, glancing briefly into the web cam mounted there. He said, "Yes, that seems best. Leave a minimal team in the captured space station, take all the firepower we have, and blast that new battle station. When can you go?"
Juan looked at his father's image and said, "Right away. There's no advantage to delay, things will only get worse the longer we wait."
Seeing nods from all the others present at his conference table, and from the images of the other team members now in orbit, Carlos nodded once, firmly, and said, "Go with God." He sat back and looked at the main status screen, thinking through the orbital trajectories. A significant concentration of their firepower should be nearing Battle Station 7 in about two hours. Carlos ordered the calculations and had them sent up to the orbiting teams. The same calculations could be made on orbit, of course, but having the ground team handle things reduced the work load on those in orbit.
Hu Ponse spoke up from his position near the ceiling of the Destiny lab module. He asked, "Why don't we keep skeleton crews aboard the spacecraft we send against that new battle station, and leave as many here in our captured space station? Wouldn't that be safer than sending everyone into harm's way?"
Juan smiled at his team mate. He replied, "You know better, Hu. Concentrating our forces only makes sense if we use them in attack. Putting everyone in one pressure vessel, the one with the least firepower, makes no sense. It is the same centralisation mythos that ruined the economy a few years ago. As it is, the people we leave here need to isolate each module, and wear their pressure suits with helmets at hand, as unpleasant as that will be. No telling what may happen, except that no battle plan survives contact with the enemy."
Deke Mason looked over to Juan's end of the module and asked, "What is the plan?"
Juan replied, "Envelopment. I want to go at that battle station from every direction at once. We can get everyone there at the same time, about two hours ten minutes from now. Think of it as the enemy's gate in Ender's Game. That battle station is 'down' and our goal is to send everything we've got down at it. If it does to the Guban station what it did to Sky Angel Seven, we're going to have trouble holding on up here."
Sky Angel One
Tiffany Tomasovna was worried. Despite their envelopment of Battle Station Seven, it was still very dangerous. Its sky rods and its rail guns were part of the danger, its MIRV warheads were another, and despite a number of solid hits, its reactor was very much on line. Tif could see its automated systems repairing the damage. Two additional sources of concern. The plane change manouvre it had executed was bringing it toward the captured international space station, what they were calling Rebel Orbital Port Two (ROP2). Worse, it was also going to be over Somaliland in a few hours and be able to target its warheads and sky rods at ROP1 now in finally launch prep in the Guban.
The rebellion could lose its temporary orbital logistics hub, lose its main base of operations in orbit before it could be launched, and they'd launched everything else they had ready. Additional Sky Angel teams were gearing up for launches in about a week, sooner if anyone could manage, but a great deal of good fortune would be needed to reduce that timeline for any of the potential replacements. Who they were and what they had were all they could muster.
This idea about needing replacements had only just crossed Tif's mind when she saw Sky Angel Fourteen take a direct hit on their propellant tank. There was an explosion and an asymmetrical impulse, causing the vehicle to tumble.
Juan Perez took charge and said, "Ramos, move Angel 12 to cover that gap, we don't want to leave an opening. Pete do you read? Status report on Angel 14 please."
Everyone was busier than usual for tens of seconds while they adjusted their positions. Battle Station Seven responded after a second to the gap with a flurry of rail gun missiles and several more sky rods at Angel 12 to attempt to prevent the gap from being covered.
After fifteen seconds of this activity, Frank Taylor's voice was heard from Angel 14. He said, "Pete Ling is badly injured from an electrical fire at his control station. I've re-routed controls and should have our tumble recovery completed in a couple of minutes. We'll be low propellant though. Main oxygen tank is gone, using auxiliaries only."
Tif opened a separate encrypted channel to Juan. She said, "There's a timing delay. That beast has a remote operator. If we can isolate its signal or destroy its antennae, we can put it on internal control. Then we just have to outsmart a machine."
Juan replied, "Thanks Tif, that's good thinking. There are a number of antenna structures we can target."
Switching to the general channel, Juan called out, "All Angels, target anything that looks like a radio system on that beast. We're not going to break through the reactor any time soon, but we can take down its remote operator's input. That should reduce its tactical capabilities. Angel 8, rendezvous with Angel 14 and deploy tethers. Gil, see if you and Frank can arrange a tow back to ROP2."
Twenty minutes later, a new problem became urgent. Although they were fairly sure the remote operator was largely or at least intermittently cut off, all of their vehicles were running low on ammo. Isaac Vossius in the captured battle station, now designated Rebel Battle One or RB1, reported that he had zero sky rods left. Only one of the rods he'd thrown had damaged the last enemy battle station early in the conflict, and that damage seemed to be fully repaired now.
Juan Perez keyed off the external communications system for his team's spacecraft. Then he looked across his crew compartment at Hu Ponse and Nancy Farnham who were still aboard. For tactical reasons, to conserve manouevering fuel, they had left George Memtok aboard Rebel Orbital Port Two, the former international space station. Hu seemed to have anticipated the moment because he returned Juan's gaze and nodded.
Nancy was a little busy just then targetting their rail gun to send the last of their ammo at the enemy. That accomplished, she looked up at Hu's tap on her elbow. Seeing his gesture, she looked over at Juan.
"We can hit that reactor with a collision," Juan said. Nancy looked confused for a moment, not sure what would be colliding with the enemy's reactor. Then her eyes widened.
A thousand thoughts passed through Nancy's mind in a few seconds. Misgivings, unfinished business, and the situation screens in front of her all flashed by in her mind's eye. The deciding factors were the vulnerable space station on the ground and the recently captured space station in orbit. They didn't have much time left to save either target. They really wanted to save both. All these ideas brought home the conclusion that Juan had reached. Glancing briefly at Hu, she realised that he had also steeled his resolve. Looking Juan in the eye, she nodded.
Juan's hands moved on the controls to shift their orbit, and he keyed on their communications with the fleet. "Sky Angel Twenty, to all angel teams. I've taken a collision course with the enemy battle station ..."
Isaac Vossius spoke up, "I'm sorry sir, but I cannot let you do that. Tell my family goodbye."
From the position of his vehicle, it was clear that he had reached the same conclusion even earlier than Juan had. Moments later Isaac's massive captured battle station collided with the nuclear reactor of the enemy vehicle. The collision broke open the containment vessel, destroyed all the coolant systems simultaneously, and the explosions from his propellant tanks took Isaac's life and further damaged the enemy station.
There was a moment of stunned amazement. A general intake of breath could be heard followed by muttered prayers and expressions of shock.
Unfortunately, in its death throes, the enemy station now launched all its remaining sky rods and all six of its MIRV warheads. None of the rebel fleet were targetted. The sky rods headed toward the orbiting space station and the reentry vehicles headed for ground targets.
Tif said, "What can we do? Everyone is out of ammo! "
Gil Dartmouth spoke up, "Not quite everyone. Frank and I are targetting the sky rods now. We should be able to disable them before they damage anything."
Juan's eyebrows went up. In the heat of battle, he'd forgotten about Angels 14 and 8 which had shaped orbit for the captured space station earlier in the conflict. He sat back full against his padded seat and sighed.
At that moment, Nancy saw an indicator light up on her control panel. She said, "New signal detected."
Seeing that she had her controls well in hand, Juan said, "Let's hear it."
There was a brief squawk of radio noise. Then a new voice spoke up, "Rebel fleet, this is Master Control. My name is Lars Hopkins. When you removed the antenna systems, Master Station Seven went to internal command and control. Unfortunately, its software design was determined by psychopaths who made sure it would wreak havoc if it was about to be disabled. I am now triggering the self-destruct systems for those nuclear warheads. Please confirm. My action is going to be seen as betrayal by the owners, of course. No doubt it is my moment to take independent action. As you can imagine, I don't want the destruction of six cities on my conscience."
All across the rebel fleet, optical systems were already focused on the re-entering warheads, and, sure enough, one by one they began to show small explosions. Safety devices detonated their internal propellant tanks and exploded their guidance systems. These asymmetric impulses caused each warhead to tumble.
Nuclear warheads designed for reentry are fairly robust, but they do depend on attitude control during reentry. Otherwise, the enormous heat of atmospheric reentry can completely consume the components necessary to cause a nuclear explosion. Of course, the nuclear material itself is very dense, and some components would likely reach the surface of the Earth, but with neither guidance nor propulsion, and with their reentry shielding rendered useless from tumbling, there was no longer a danger of nuclear detonation, with one exception.
As each warhead was nullified by the self-destruct system, Lars entered a new set of codes at his work station, giving him the ability to signal the self-destruct on the next warhead. He was acting rapidly, but his controls were designed to limit his freedom for independent action. He was having to over-ride multiple systems meant to lock him out in case he went rogue. These intricacies worked the first time, the second time, the third time, the fourth time.
All across the sky, and down at Angels Control, sighs of relief were widespread as each of the first four warheads was destroyed. About thirty seconds went by and then the fifth warhead's self-destruct charges detonated.
Typing furiously at his work station, Lars experienced a power failure. His entire work station went dark. A moment later his entire vehicle went dark. The internal protocols had given up on keeping him in line, and had nullified his ability to act.
Juan typed a few commands and sent an in-the-clear radio message. He said, "Lars, come in Lars. Master Control, five out of six is good, but can you go one better?"
There was no reply. Far below, the last remaining reentry vehicle dwindled with distance.
Juan switched back to the rebel fleet channel and said, "Angel 16, see if you can rendezvous with that Master Control spacecraft. I think our new friend is in trouble. And, anyway, there's zero chance he'll want to return home after what he's done. Angel Control, there's going to be a nuclear detonation somewhere on the eastern seaboard."
Hampton Roads, Virginia, was a body of water famous for the battle of the ironclads in 1862. At that site, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia fought for two days in early March in an ill-fated effort to lift the blockade of Confederate ports. The surface detonation there of a 475 kilotonne nuclear warhead wiped out ships, warehouses, bridges, buildings, ended tens of thousands of lives, and wiped out electrical and electronic systems for miles around.
The war for freedom had just gone nuclear. No one in the rebellion had any idea why Hampton Roads had been targetted.
Chapter 33 War Comes to Appalachistan
"We never announced a scorched-earth policy;
we never announced any policy at all, apart from finding and destroying
the enemy, and we proceeded in the most obvious way. We used what was at
hand, dropping the greatest volume of explosives in the history of
warfare over all the terrain within the thirty-mile sector which fanned
out from Khe Sanh. Employing saturation-bombing techniques, we delivered
more than 110,000 tons of bombs to those hills during the eleven-week
containment of Khe Sanh.
—Michael Herr, 1977.
The Softening Up
Daylight came early on Thursday 8 June. In another twelve days, the very longest day of the year would hail the arrival of full Summer. Sadly, a great many who saw that dawn would not live to see another.
First light saw pilots and technicians swarming toward aircraft up and down the coasts and up into the mountains of Appalachia. Jets and attack helicopters began taking off just before dawn.
All along Interstate 85, from Lynchburg Virginia to the crossings of Lake Hartwell on the border between South Carolina and Georgia were deployed the tanks, troops, armoured transports, and command vehicles of the slave owners including hundreds of thousands of volunteers from the communist-indoctrinated inner cities. These forces would head upslope three hours after dawn, once the anticipated " softening up" had battered the resistance into what the owners anticipated would approximate submission. They still had no understanding of the abolitionists opposing them.
Meanwhile, their artillery crews began pounding the nearby hills, villages, and towns with round after round of shells, mostly incendiary and anti-personnel, but in some places high explosives for fixed emplacements and to shatter buildings. Where defenders were in armoured vehicles, these were targeted with armour piercing rounds from the artillery units, although many such vehicles were hidden from view in caverns, hollows, entrenchments, inside buildings, and in other ways.
Some aircraft were aerial reconnaissance, now necessary because the orbital assets of the slave owners were being rapidly destroyed, ever since the late Tuesday victory in the space war by the freedom alliance. Isaac Vossius's name was on the lips of all the freedom enthusiasts worldwide who had followed the events in orbit. His sacrifice was not in vain.
In the early light, behind the first ridge line, all along that route, men, women, and children began to inflate balloons of various sizes. In some places, there were pressurised tanks of helium, in other places hydrogen was used. As the first owner aircraft began to dot the eastern horizon, hundreds of thousands of balloons were released, each carrying aloft a cable, chain, or small piece of metal. As the jet aircraft sped overhead, they met the rising clouds of the smallest balloons coming out of the West, carried on the prevailing wind. Dozens of aircraft sucked these into their air intakes, flamed out, and came out of the sky—here and there crew members were able to eject successfully.
The coordinated offensive continued. Now attack helicopters were sent in to wipe out the rebels manning the lighter than air defence. Now these people released many tens of thousands of pairs of balloons, each set with a cable between them, many also linked to the ground by strong tethers. Various applications of nanotechnology and 3D printing had gone into some of these cables, others were simply the strong metal familiar to tow cable manufacturers.
Elsewhere, defence teams were pulling cables taut between trees, towers, buildings, and across ridges where the cable ends could be set in stone. Helicopters encountering these obstacles in their "nap of the earth" flights were quickly arrested. Some flew between balloons only to find fouling cables wrapping their rotor systems. Few of these high speed encounters were survivable.
Yet the assets of the slave owners were massive, and everything seemed to be committed in this battle. For every jet brought down, four more were behind it, for every attack helicopter reduced to burning debris, six were following.
Having done their work, the lighter than air defence crews left their empty gas cylinders and moved to other locations. Some took up positions to resist the assault waves with sniper rifles, anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, rocket propelled grenade systems, and many other innovative weapons. Others fled back to safer locations in the hills and hollers, going to ground or taking up support roles in logistics, communications, or supply. Women and children retreated into the massive limestone caverns found all over the region, or were shepherded by loving families into deep underground bunkers.
In spite of the efforts of these brave defenders, hundreds of aircraft completed their bombing runs, attacked isolated positions, and supported the ground assault. It was as though the slave owners were throwing everything that they had at the interior of the country, to destroy those who would defend themselves from tyranny.
The Deep Fake
Deep underground at Wasp, Tennessee, there was a muted sound and much shaking of the ground with each nearby bomb detonation that exploded up above. Susan Nolan and her children gathered around Bob Nolan and Sam Smith who were about to set out.
Bill Watson looked around for Tyrone and, sticking his head through the partly opened doorway of Ty's bedroom, found him staring at a computer screen. Bill said, "Ty, it's about time for Bob and Sam to head out."
Tyrone looked up. His sickened expression was disturbing to Bill, who turned his head slightly to indicate his question. Tyrone gestured him over and moved his mouse a bit, then pushed back his desk chair on its casters, as if to distance himself from the video now playing on the screen.
Bill watched the video as an actor turned toward the camera, displaying Ty's face, and then did various terrible things to women and children. The sound was off, but from their expressions it was clear they were screaming in pain and terror. He shook his head, reached over to the screen and pushed its power button. The blank screen reflected Ty's image, then Bill turned to face his friend.
Bill said, "You knew this would happen. As soon as we began discussing telling the world about their death camps and torture sites, you knew that they would use your images from the video to create a deep fake. We all knew it was coming, too. Everyone knows it's how they operate, how they think, who they are. They think people who obey them believe all their lies and are unaware of their deep fake technologies. Perhaps they even think that people in the rebellion would be taken in, but we're not. They can't discredit you. And this video of theirs tells you how desperate they are."
Tyrone sat with his arms crossed, looking down. He nodded, looked at his friend, gritted his teeth, and gave a slightly feral grimace, as if he were ready to tear into someone, anyone. Then he mastered himself and shook his head. He said, "I know it. I still feel hatred toward them for doing these things."
Bill nodded, "I know. Hard to love your enemies when they're so patently evil."
Tyrone nodded as well. "Jesus never said it would be easy to follow his ways. He also cast out demons, and I think that's part of what we're facing."
Bill nodded again and said, "C'mon, let's go shake hands with Sam and Bob. They're heading out."
Hopping to his feet, Ty held the door open for Bill and followed him into the main room.
All along the line of their enemy's attack, people loyal to the rebellion began dropping highway overpasses and bridges. In many places, they were using already rigged explosives, in other places more impromptu methods were needed. Some hillsides above stretches of highway were brought down to landslide over the road, leaving dirt, boulders, and whole trees littering the path of the oncoming troops and transports.
Some of these actions took out individual vehicles, but that was incidental to their purpose. In a few places, bottlenecks into the hills kept the enemy from advancing. In most, though, it simply delayed them while they found alternate routes. But in every case, it pinned the lead vehicles heading toward the broken roadway, forcing them to stop and make arrangements to back up the column of those following them.
As a result of having now stationary targets, the abolitionists were able to bring in attack aircraft of their own, such as the Super Cobra flown by Sam with Bob handling the weapons systems and accompanying drones. Where aircraft weren't available, artillery shells rained down on the stopped columns. Panicked troops fled their vehicles and tried to find ways off the roads, which had become killing zones.
The View from on High
Up in orbit, Juan's teams had spent the entire day Wednesday gathering the materials from the remnants of the destroyed enemy battle stations. Several dozen sky rods were salvaged. When the enemy attack on Appalachistan came, Thursday morning, these rods were directed at the columns of tanks heading up Interstate 26 from I-85.
Numerous craters were left where the sky rods fell. One company of tanks crossing the French Broad River were hit by six sky rods that not only obliterated many of the vehicles, but also dropped the bridge, stopping the column of tanks, trucks, and armoured vehicles behind. Again, the rebellion sent forward attack aircraft and used artillery to disrupt the trapped column.
Ann Branson sent a detailed report down to the team at Wasp, Tennessee. Analysis of the attacking formations made it clear that they were attempting to reach, with as much firepower as possible, the location where Bob Nolan's lab was hidden. As the weary day wore on, it looked as though some enemy infantry, the irregular forces out of the coastal cities, including Red Rangers, were going to get through.
Karen Runningwolf looked into the web cam above the laptop. She said, "Mr. Difficult completed his interrogation today. Things are much worse than they seem. The owner's whip, Antony Marcus, revealed that the owners are preparing to use nuclear weapons all over the Appalachians, in the Rockies, and wherever they think our people are found. According to Mr. Marcus, they were looking for an excuse to justify their actions. No doubt the destruction of Hampton Roads and the damage to Newport News is the pretext they were looking for. I'm sorry I don't have better news to report. You'll find attached to this message lists of targets recovered from the bunker where we found him. Some of these are marked highly probable from his reactions under interrogation. Every effort should be made to warn the affected populations, including our own people. May God have mercy on their souls."
Far away across the continent from events in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee there was a deep rumble throughout San Francisco. The long awaited and much feared "big one " had arrived. Seismomenters read 9.2 on the Richter scale, and the modified Mercalli intensity was rated at XII, the most extreme level.
Seismic waves could be seen on ground surfaces. Buildings collapsed. Bridges and overpasses slammed down. Underground pipelines throughout the city ruptured. Rail lines bent and sheered. Rapid transit and cargo trains derailed all over the region. Everywhere lines of sight and level were distorted. Cars, people, and many other things were thrown into the air.
Within moments of the initial shock, fires broke out. Rubble, bodies, and debris littered the city. Clouds of smoke and dust blew slowly along with an onshore breeze.
Colonies in Space
Far to the east around the curve of the Earth, the space colony lifted off its cradle. One hundred three rocket engines provided lift, and their nozzles were slightly canted to provide spin. Moments after liftoff the vehicle was hundreds of feet in the air, spinning gently for stability and accelerating.
From their acceleration stations Aamiina Hersi Kalinle and Harold Ley monitored the launch sequence with elation. Everything was going great. The enormous spacecraft headed east to take advantage of the Earth's rotation. As its ground track crossed over the shore of the Indian Ocean, it was fifteen miles in the air.
Far below them in the waters of the Indian Ocean, a submarine had just surfaced. Crew members scurried out of hatches and onto the deck, rapidly assembling equipment and deploying an experimental surface-to-air rail gun. As they made ready to aim and fire, the new space colony continued on its ponderous way, gaining altitude and passing toward the east.
A klaxon sounded, and the captain's voice came over the crew address system. "Stand down. Target has reached altitude beyond our range."
All across the deck crewmen stared at the fiery apparition as it continued to rise beyond their reach. Many of them smiled, then looked around to see who had seen them doing so. Finally, they returned to their tasks, and began disassembling the rail gun.
As Friday night fell, the enemy forces were still battling their way in eastern Tennessee. Bob and Sam had already refueled their Super Cobra twice during that day of fighting. Like a massive amoeba, the forces of the slave owners sent out one pseudopod after another. Everything that wasn't headed toward Wasp seemed to be part of an effort at envelopment.
At 10 pm, Bob called for retreat. The people remaining in his lab were clearly in danger of being surrounded and there was no way to hold the position. Indeed, their military doctrine was against holding positions. Far too many weapons could project force into any given building, fortification, or cavern. No location was worth sacrificing men and women to defend it, simply because the locations were not the freedom alliance. The people were.
Bill made sure everyone was headed down the northern escape tunnel. Then he set the trip wires. Anyone forcing their way in would not survive the explosions prepared for them. Nevertheless, Bill wanted to leave the lab intact in the event they were able to return to it. So he left all the power systems operational. He, Bob, Susan, Mary Sue, and Clementine all had the codes for getting back in. If there were anything left to get back into, that is.
As they emerged from the tunnel, Bob and Sam's helicopter, once again fully fuelled, came overhead. It headed up the valley toward US 25. Scouting the area, they found everything clear and reported back. Then they proceeded west along the highway to check further down the intended escape route.
As the refugees came up to the highway, they entered a long low wood building. From the outside it gave every appearance of being an abandoned stable. Opposite the road was the door they entered by. Inside were several pickup trucks and SUVs. Screened from the highway by trees were two sliding doors that Bill and Pete opened.
Susan, Clem, Mary Sue, and Tyrone drove the various vehicles out onto a gravel parking lot. Pete and Bill closed the doors behind them. Bill climbed in on the passenger side of the pickup driven by Mary Sue. Pete did likewise with the SUV driven by Clementine. Susan had her three children with her. Soon everyone was seated and heading West.
Three jet aircraft came out of the eastern sky, flying low and fast. Their sonic booms swept over the fugitives. Their cannons and missiles targetted Bob and Sam's helicopter. Bob's drones expended all their ammunition returning fire at the jets, downing two of them, and fighting off the missiles, interposing themselves to absorb much of the auto-cannon rounds.
Screaming in a high gee turn, the last of the enemy jets came back around. Its remaining air-to-air missiles and cannon fire from its guns overwhelmed Bob's remaining defence systems. Sam had brought the helo up to just above auto-gyro altitude. When the main rotor system took a hit, began leaking hydraulic fluid, and started flaming up, the last jet broke off and headed for its home base. Shrapnel in his left shoulder, Sam guided the copter as best he could through its emergency landing.
As the copter crashed in a farmer's field, Susan turned the convoy of ground vehicles down a side road. Coming through the open gate into the field, she was fairly confident that open gate meant no livestock. Flying over bumps and folds in the ground, she raced with her family toward her husband, the other vehicles following only slightly less recklessly.
Cresting the last ridge separating her from the crash site, she saw Bob supporting Sam as the two moved quickly away from the flaming wreckage. Rounds began to cook off behind them, sending tracers, shrapnel, and bullets in all directions. Somehow everything seemed to go elsewhere, but seeing the chaos ahead, Susan turned on the crest of the hill, slowed, and turned to parallel the ridgeline, getting her children back below the hillcrest away from the wreck.
As if to confirm her fears, a fireball lit the sky. The fuel had exploded. The uncontained explosion went in all directions, preceded by a ground shock travelling at the speed of sound in dirt, knocking the feet out from under Bob and Sam, followed moments later by the air shock, and then a rain of debris. Fortunately, only minor wounds were inflicted as they hugged the ground beneath them.
Having made certain of the explosion, Susan turned again and headed over to her husband. Parking nearby she and the children rushed up to Bob and Sam, who were still clinging to the dirt. Lifting his helmeted head and shaking it slightly, Bob looked up, rolled onto his side, and exposed his shattered visor. His face, battered, bruised, and cut, but mostly intact displayed a rueful grin.
As Susan, Little Bob, Kathy, and Amy rushed up, Bob said, "Hello wonderful people. It's good to be home."
Chapter 34 The Year AD 5023
"Long ago, as it still is today, it was the
custom for a boy who reached a certain age to go into the forest and
wait for a dream. He would build a small lodge and go without food for
many days in the hope he would be visited by some animal or spirit of the
forest that would take pity on him and give guidance and power."
— Ojibwe traditional story
Hort was a man. He knew that he was a man because he had completed his vision quest two summers ago. As every member of his tribe had done for all the generations known to the wise ones, Hort had spent a week in the wilderness, fasting the first three days, praying, exercising, eating only what he gathered, tending his own fire, boiling drinking water from the streams and ponds. He was fifteen years old when he went on his vision quest.
The vision he had was of a passageway, a place nearby. The place in his vision felt as though he had been there before, it felt familiar to him. Yet its appearance was unlike any place he had ever been.
Hort's tribe lived in a cavern that was toward the high end of a canyon. The wise ones, Eli and Eleana, had told him the stories of their past. How the world had been created along with the sky and all the universe. How mankind had risen to greatness, become depraved, been cast down into suffering, clawed their way back again and again and again. Or, as Eli would often say, how mankind had been chained to the wheel of history.
When Hort had become a man, Eli and to some extent Eleana, became more forthcoming with answers to his questions. He had asked about the passageway in his vision.
Eli had nodded and had said, "Yes, that is a place that is familiar to me. I know this passageway. Where it would lead you, I don't know. But I know that to approach it, you need more knowledge than you have. If you seek that knowledge, I can share with you techniques that will aid you. Since your vision tells you that you are familiar with that passageway, it is a choice you face, whether to seek the knowledge to gain entrance, or to eschew that knowledge and stay away. "
Hort had nodded in his own way, slowly but thoughtfully. He had said, "It seems like my destiny is along that passageway, and that what you are saying is that I have the choice to go there, to pursue my destiny as shown in this vision, or to remain in ignorance."
Eli's nod this time had been very brief, a simple down and up motion of his chin. "We live well here, and in peace. We have knowledge of the foods and the paths through the forests. We have connexions to the other tribes nearby and through them trade and commerce with peoples and lands all around us and many places far from us. Living is easy. The path to greater knowledge represented by the passageway is difficult. It is fraught with intellectual challenges, spiritual challenges, emotional challenges, and physical challenges."
Hort had said, "Yet there are rewards. There was a feeling of fulfilment that came to me as I walked along that passageway in my vision. Nor am I able to put away the vision's key lesson: there is information that I do not know, the seeking of which opens more knowledge. Choosing to turn away from that knowledge cannot ever be satisfying, because I know it is there. When I was a child and knew not, there was nothing missing for me. But now, knowing that there is knowledge to be gained, I cannot stop knowing it is there, even were I to choose not to look for it."
Eli had smiled. "Yes," he'd said, "that is a great truth. Not knowing what you do not know, you do not perceive a lack. Knowing that there are things you do not know causes you to seek to know more, and, while that way is an endless struggle against the boundaries of ignorance, it satisfies the craving to know some of what you do not know, and to learn more about the extent to which there is even more knowledge to be learned. The choices before you represent infinite possibilities no matter what you choose. The choices relating to remaining ignorant are as diverse and as infinite as those leading toward greater knowledge, but they are attached to a feeling of longing and dissatisfaction. Your vision has shown you the joys of the path of knowledge."
Hort had turned his head aside, thinking of the choice before him. Then he had looked back at Eli's face. He said, "You've spoken about the past greatnesses, the times of accomplishment, of mastery. Tell me, have we ever gotten past the wheel of history? Were we ever worthy of greater things?"
Eli had smiled, then grinned, then laughed. He had said, "Yes, we are. We are very worthy."
Those words still troubled Hort, but knowing the ways of the wise ones, he would need to return to this topic another time. Hort had again asked if his people were past the wheel of history or not, but Eli had only smiled. Then Hort had asked about the way forward.
Eli had responded, "In order to gain entry to the passageway, you must answer questions. These are not my questions, so it does no good to ask my why these are the questions. But, since I have been within the outer foyer, I know the answers to gain entry there. Part of the work Eleana and I do here is to share the questions with you and help you learn the answers. The first question is: what shapes are the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon?"
Hort had thought only a moment before answering. He had said, "The Sun appears to be a circle in the sky and the Moon does, as well."
Again, Eli had smiled. "Yes, I am aware of their appearances. But the question is not what they appear to be, but what they are. That is a more difficult question, isn't it?"
Hort had nodded. He had thought back on his fifteen years. What had he seen that would help him answer this question?
Hort had said, "You drew attention to the eclipses of the Sun and of the Moon whenever these could be seen in our sky. So, if I conceive of a shape for each of these bodies, one way to test that conception is to consider what shadows are cast by each object upon the others. When the Moon is seen against the Sun, it hides an arc. When Earth's shadow is seen on the surface of the Moon, it is always shaped as some part of a circle. For that to be true, it ought to be spherical in overall shape, but it could be open to the sky as long as light cannot pass through the entire shell in the direction of the Moon during an eclipse. I cannot imagine another shape that would match what I've seen. "
Eli had nodded. He'd said, "You may come to see what happens if you choose to answer as you've spoken just now. The next question you'll be asked is: how large is Earth?"
That question involved a great deal more discussion, just to get a sense of how to go about finding the answer. In completing a journey of hundreds of miles, Hort had come to a greater understanding of his part of the world. Walking, driving around in wagons, and riding horseback were important skills in his culture. His people insisted that all sons and daughters, before their fifteenth year, knew how to ride, how to swim, and how to shoot. It was regarded as a matter of essential understanding to craft a bow and to make arrows.
The discussion of methods led Hort to make a rod eight feet long and to measure the shadow it cast at noon on the autumnal equinox at two locations separated by over eight hundred miles distance. He also had to develop a tool to reliably measure that distance accurately during the journey South and to confirm that measurement on the way home. All these activities had taken Hort many months.
Learning the trigonometry to calculate the circumference of the Earth was less physically rigorous, but also took many weeks of tutelage from Eleana, who was their teacher of mathematics, sciences, and healing arts. Understanding how very large the planet was and how little of it he had seen was one of the great aspects to this work, a humbling experience, but also thrilling.
There were, of course, many other questions that needed to be answered. Which planets have satellites? How far away is Venus? Why does Venus have phases, and why doesn't Mars? How far is the Moon? How far is the Sun? How long does it take Jupiter to complete an orbit of the Sun?
In order to see the major satellites of Jupiter, Hort had been shown how to make a mirror, how to silver it, and how to shape it. With Eli's help he had constructed a Newtonian reflector. Eli was all about the practical arts, buildings and gardens, plumbing, furniture, looms, and the harnesses they used for horses and cows. In another era, Eli would have been known as the village blacksmith.
Finally, Hort had been invited to come into the home of Eli and Eleana. As part of his coming of age ceremony, Hort would take a meal and talk with the wise ones. Since his vision had revealed him in the passageway, there had been two years of preparation. So, although Hort knew that he was a man and had been for two years, it was on his seventeenth birthday that he was to take his ceremonial supper with the wise ones and be fully embraced as an adult member of his tribe.
That day was today! Hort woke up early and filled with energy. He jumped out of his furs and blankets, pulled on his clothes, and left his hut. Having status as a man had meant building his own hut within the great cavern. Hort had chosen a location near the cave mouth, but inside one of the inner tunnels.
Children lived communally in the main cavern, where up to eighty of them would run around, build their own toys, play hide and seek, hold races, or head out into the nearby canyons and forests with their families or in groups. There were always many things to see, many things to gather, and as children grew and learned to swim, fish to catch, or as they made their first bows and fletched their first arrows, game to hunt. Families had individual huts within and outside the cavern system, some well outside it in the forest. Some huts were at ground level, others high in trees.
All kinds of foods were cultivated, including mushrooms, vegetables, livestock. There were silver lodes which members of the tribe would work from time to time. Eli would help in the work of refining, and they had craftspeople who would make jewellery or furnishings out of silver. Selling these craftworks was part of the trade network in the region, which made it possible for Hort to travel by wagon and horse to distant places.
The day of his seventeenth birthday was a whirlwind for Hort. He spent much of the time with his girlfriend Joelle. She had been his constant companion since they were both thirteen. They would walk in the woods, gather foods and flowers, make crafts together, study their lessons together. As they had grown older, they had become lovers.
Celebrations of birthdays and other festivals were a part of the joy of living in their tribe. Families would craft gifts for the people with birthdays, often for weeks in advance. Joelle had a very soft pelt from a puma she had killed two years earlier when it had threatened one of the youngsters. Joelle had sent three arrows into its face within seconds, the second arrow penetrating the cat's left eye and killing it before the third had entered its mouth.
So the occasion at that time was celebration, of course, to honour Joelle for protecting the children. For weeks after she would give lessons in how to hold arrows for fast shooting, and would tutor others in the tribe in making the shots fast and accurate. Also during those weeks, she learned to tan and treat the fur to make the skin soft, supple, and the fur soft.
Today she presented Hort with a jacket made from the fur. It was a wonderful gift, sized to fit him, with a full lining made from silk that had been brought from far to the South. There were pockets inside the jacket, including one for a slide rule that Eli and Hort had crafted to make his calculations go faster.
That evening, as the Sun was setting, Hort found Eli at his forge. Eli smiled at his young friend, whose fur jacket looked resplendent in the evening light. It was early October, and evenings were beginning to get cooler, so the jacket was just the thing to keep warm.
Eli doused the fires in his forge, arranged his tools, and walked with Hort to the hut that Eli shared with Eleana. Inside, there was a feast laid out on tables. The three of them filled fired clay plates and sat comfortably by a small fireplace eating with silver utensils.
After their meal, Eli looked at Eleana, who smiled. She said, "Hort, it is not every youngster who has the vision of the passageway. It has been seven years since the last time we have come to this point in the coming of age ceremony with anyone else. You won't remember Siena, though, I don't think, as she has not been back since setting forth along the passageway."
Hort thought back in his memory. He had a vague recollection of the name Siena, but nothing about the woman nor the time of her presence with the tribe. These thoughts mixed with some concerns, though.
With trepidation in his voice, Hort asked, "Will I be coming back after many years?"
Eleana shook her head slowly. "If you are to take companions with you, as Siena did, then you may go for a long time. Often, though, there is not such a lengthy journey involved. People come and go as they are led, and as they choose. Remember, we are free. We are the tribe of the free, the Ama-gi. Whatever we do, we always live free. No one will ever make you do anything against your will."
Hort nodded. These were very basic facts. He understood.
Eleana asked, "Are you ready to begin your journey, or do you have more questions?"
Hort thought for a moment, and said, "I don't really know what else to ask. You've said that you don't know where the passageway is going to take me. I'm not really sure that I understand, though. Eli said he has been in the outer foyer. I gather from what you've each said, there is a sort of vestibule somewhere, a place where the passageway begins. How is it possible that there is a cavern here that has not been fully explored?"
Eleana glanced at Eli who was busy with his dessert. He looked up and shook his head slightly, not wanting her to pass him the speaking stick, as it were. She smiled.
She said, "Hort, the passageway is different for each of us. It is not like the caverns which were formed long ago by natural processes, mostly. Oh, we've expanded some tight places, we've improved ventilation here and there, but for the most part this cavern and all of its twists and turns are the legacy of our people. We've lived here since before the great war three thousand years ago. The passageway is a made thing, it is an artefact. It provides access through a great many dimensions to a vast number of places. Much of the passageway is akin to a labyrinth, not in the sense that you get lost, but in the sense that it goes far beyond anywhere you could reach by ordinary means. When you have spent a few hours inside, you will come to know where you are going. If it is a distant destination, you'll be asked to come back here to invite friends to accompany you. If it is nearby, you'll make frequent visits when you need to do so. The simplest way to say it is, the passageway will guide you."
Hort shook his head in confusion. He said, "I don't understand. You say it is a made thing. Has it been here all these thousands of years?"
Eli nodded. Eleana smiled at him, waved her hand gently, then attended to her own dessert.
Eli said, "Yes. In a sense, we made it. We brought it about, anyway. Some of the elements of the passageway relate to work done here, at this location, on experimental portals. Much of the guidance systems, the guides within the passageway that show you why you were summoned and which help you understand the choices in front of you, those were designed and built, and have been kept current by people like Eleana and myself."
Hort said, "But this is fantastic, incredible. We hunt, we gather, we ride, we swim, we go about in wagons and on horses. Yet we have access to this miraculous passageway, this gift from ancient times. Why do we live as we do, then?"
Eli replied, "We like it better this way. Long ago we chose to live here and be free. We live very long lives now. There are no wars here any longer. No one is required to stay, no one is prevented from inventing new things nor hampered in their wanderings. Anyone who wants to live another way is free to do so. One of the reasons people pass through to other realms along the passageway is to go live elsewhere. The only question that remains is, do you wish to visit the vestibule?"
Hort was nodding his head as the question was being asked. He said, "Yes, I do! Thank you!"
Eleana looked up and said, "Thank you, too, Hort. It is a great honour to have one of our students chosen to begin this journey."
Eli nodded and looking Hort in the eye said, "Yes, Hort. Thank you. It is a joy to have a very apt pupil such as yourself. " Then Eli reached over and held Eleana's hand.
Hort reached his hands across to each of them. They formed a circle together, each clasping a hand of each of the others. They bowed their heads in their traditional way. Then they looked up, smiled at each other, and let go their hands.
Eli stood up and walked over to a wall hanging. The purple velvet had been brought from far away, and it stood between two windows. On it was an intricate geometric design embroidered in soft colours.
Pulling it to one side, Eli took up a velvet tassel that was just the right size and tied the wall hanging so that it hung across the opening it had concealed. He said, "Here is the vestibule. Inside you'll be asked the questions and given the opportunity to answer them."
Eleana had lit a small oil lantern. It was made of silver which framed small coloured glass plates. Most of these were a pale yellow, orange, or green, so the overall effect was a soft lighting. Gesturing Hort to rise, she handed him the lantern when he was on his feet.
Walking up to the wall hanging and casting the light from the lamp into the chamber beyond, Hort found a small white marble seat facing a large black frame. Within the frame was a dark mirror.
Eli walked up to the frame and placed his hand atop a small gem that seemed to glow with its own internal light. With this one touch, the screen lit up with a pattern of lights and colours. It then displayed the word, "Welcome."
Hort's eyes were big and round and his eyebrows were as high as they would go. He had never seen anything like this panel before.
Eli came out and brought Hort to the seat. He said, "The screen will show you questions and give you information. It will show you how to enter answers by touching the screen. It's easy to learn and a great deal of fun. When you are ready, the screen will reveal another opening and tell you what to do next. Good luck, and go with God. "
Hort sat and smiled. He looked at the screen, then at Eli, then turned to smile at Eleana.
She said, "Good luck, Hort. Go with God. We'll be here when you return."
Eli undid the tassel, letting the wall hanging conceal the vestibule. He and his wife went outside together.
* * * *
When I was young, on a course I did steer
To change all the world with no sense of fear.
To help solve problems that all people face,
I invested my skills for the fate of the race.
Working with friends and working alone,
Learning new facts that had to be known,
Trying new methods, daring to dream
The work was quite endless, or so it did seem.
Failures and victories came by the score;
Whatever I did to open the door
Others would challenge until it was late.
Will the bet pay off? What is our fate?
Who can say what the future may bring,
Will it cause us to weep or cause us to sing?
I don't believe in predestined fate,
The future will be what we choose to create.
Each of us working and earning his property;
Keeping it private with total autonomy.
Having such love for each of these folk
Who yearn to live free and shed the yoke
Of oppression that binds with coercion and fear.
Holding a gun or arrow or spear,
Taking up arms for defense of our selves so
No one is master or owner or slave, no
Nobody owns you or me or another.
Nobody plays our father or mother.
We live together or we live far apart
Each choosing his path be it silly or smart.
We are the tribe of freedom you see.
In cuneiform writing they say "Ama-Gi"
The most ancient way of writing we're free,
In wedges of clay before 2000 BC.
For four thousand years now people have known
That freedom is greatest when each is left alone.
No central planners, no central plan
Can make as much difference as one single man
Or woman or child, it matters not which:
The individual holds the key, turns the switch,
Unlocks the door to the future we seek
Next century, next year, or even next week.
Destiny is what we choose to create,
It never has been a matter of fate.
We are not robots to follow in line,
Shuffling along without reason or sign.
I am just me, this guy that you know,
You are just you with your knowledge in tow.
No numbers, no license, no permissions, no crime,
Autonomous factors with reason and rhyme.
True there are those who can't or won't see
That initiating force is wrong as can be.
They act in great haste, they do such a wrong,
We must protect the rest who belong,
Not to each other but each to herself and
Coercing none to gain wealth or land.
The things that we want come best in exchange
For things that we have or produce in a range
Of quality and value that each of us can
Make or devise by some personal plan.
Respecting you while you respect me
Guiding each other and others to see
That all of the future is unwritten as yet
And if we work smart we may still win that bet.
Laying the base on foundation of rock
So that battered by time it will take every shock.
From bottom to top, we build to the stars,
Knowing that what awaits us on Mars
Is another world of possibility, and more
Beyond Mars to a far galaxy's shore.
We travel through space, we travel through time.
There is no mountain that we cannot climb.
We face the future both together and apart,
A journey of miles with but one step to start.
The best thing is taking each seriously.
Respecting the fact of the autonomy
Of each person in order to give them the space
To develop and grow just at their own pace.
We are the Tribe of the Free: Ama-Gi,
Whatever we do, we always live free.
— Anthem for the Ama-gi, 2000
Jim Davidson is an author, entrepreneur, actor, and director. He is the cfo of KanehCN3.com and the vision director of HoustonSpaceSociety.net You can find him on Twitter.com/planetaryjim as well as Pocket.app and Flote.app also as planetaryjim. He appreciates any support you can provide as times are very difficult. See the Paypal link on this page. Or email your humble author to offer other choices. Visit IglooLuau.com for more information. Those seeking a multi-jurisdiction multi-hop VPN for communications privacy please visit https://secure.cryptohippie.com/houstonspacesociety.php For those seeking colloidal silver try ppmSilver.com/Jim Ask Jim about CryptoWealth.
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