American Phoenix

- a novel -
 
by Joel A. Wendt

portents and whispers


 
"Synergy?" said Hex-man.

"Right, synergy" replied J.C.  "Things happen together.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  We tend to think that political and social change requires that we organize movements.  Remember when we always talked about the "movement".

"Sort of, that was really before my time".

"Yea, right, okay.  So anyway, synergy is about multiple things happening together to create something they can't accomplish alone.  Its one of the main organizing principles living in the social organism.  Just one, by the way, but for our purposes it will help to understand it.

"Yea, I get it.  You and I, we do something together.  Get better results than if we do it alone.  Plus, other people, people we don't even know.  They do stuff, and it interacts with our stuff synergistically.  Is that a word?"

"I think so, but you get the basic idea.  The thing is we can count on it.  In fact we need to become highly aware of it.  Think of us as trying to navigate the seas of history.  In these seas are currents, and if we can ride some of the currents, stuff happens in a better way, than if we are trying to steer across them or against them.  So we have to learn to make mental maps of the seas of social existence, and then find that place we want to work, and with whom - keeping in mind that we aren't alone and that others have similar goals and it all works together synergistically. "

"Okay, I get it I guess.  But can you explain a little why this works, especially when people aren't really organized into mass movements?"

"Well, actually, mass movements are kind of dangerous.  The more mass the less consciousness.  We get mobs and violence.  Small groups appreciating that each other exists do better.  They concentrate more on what they really can do, and less on ideology.  The phrase "think globally, act locally" understands this.

"Try it this way.  Lots of people today want to decide for themselves what is true and what is right to do.  Think of this impulse, a very common modern human impulse, as a kind of emerging social force in the evolution of human consciousness, or human nature as some might say.  But everyone doesn't always agree about what is right, yes?  Yet, what happens is that when a lot of people are struggling to do what is right, and not just hiding under the covers, you get a lot of right things being done in a lot of places.  The way the social organism works, in its synergistic sense, is that all these right things add up to something more than the individuals can often imagine.

"Everyone has a place, the place right where they are.  In that place they seek to do what Plato might have called the Good.  This ideal of the Good is like a wonderful landscape, seen from many different directions.  So each one of us, seeking to do the Good, helps bring this wonderful landscape more and more into real social existence.   Each of us is like a kind of small sun, shining into the social organism our own striving for goodness."

"Okay, I can see that.  But how do we know what the Good is?"

"Well, everyone has their own way of course, but if I was to try to put the how of it into words, it has to do with  when we think with our hearts and not just our heads.  If we think just with our heads we get a a kind of cold and calculating idea, generally one more selfish.  But we need to think with our hearts, that is we need to think in a warmer way, more empathic, more caring of the other person, the thou.  So we will the good and think with our hearts.  Everyone can do that, don't you think.  Or at least try."

"Yea, I get it.  Don't need somebody to tell us what to do.  We do our own thing, and if we will the good and think with our hearts, something happens all over the country or the world because of the synergy principle, something we can't imagine."

"Right, you got it Hex-man.  Oh, one other thing.  Ever see the movie Six Degrees of Separation?"

"No, what's it about?"

"Well, the story is kind of funny, but it has this idea behind the title.  The idea is that between ourselves and any other person there are only six relationships.  You know someone, and they know someone else, and so on for six relationships, until each of us is connected to any other person in the world by only six such relationships, or six degrees of separation."

"Crap.  Can't be true.  You think between me and the President are only six people? Shit, no way."

"I don't know, its just the idea.  Maybe some math people invented the idea.  But there is some truth.   We are connected in ways we don't see.  You know me.  I was in Vietnam, and I knew this CIA guy.  Maybe now he works in Washington and his boss knows a Senator, and the Senator knows the President."

"Christ, that is weird."

"Yea, I know.  But think about it in a different way, along the lines of what we have been doing with the synergy idea.  These connections are real.  We influence each other.  You need something from me, or I need something from you, then these relationships become important.  Things spread like splashes on a pond.  Who knows what energy flows along the connections. "

"Cool.  By the way, J.C.   I need a favor.  Got a little package I need delivered to someone.  Can the shadow warriors handle it?"

"Hacker business?"

"Yea."

"No problem".


Chapter One

Into the Maelstrom

Sergeant Jones lit another cigarette. It was his third in twenty minutes. He'd quit smoking five years ago, but in the last three weeks he'd taken it up again. Jennifer, his wife, had made only one comment, but all the same understood. He'd told her what was going down. They'd talked about it all night more than once.

He paced some more beside the humvee. His nervous energy had him field stripping the butts without thinking about it. A set a head lights broke around the edge of the hanger and caught him full on, like a trapped deer. He stood quite still, hardly breathing.

The private car stopped beside him, and major Augustus stepped out and stood looking at him, a hard stare, before finally reaching in and turning off the engine and the lights. The two of them had become close, during the Gulf War - as close as an NCO and an officer can become.

Sgt. Jones didn't know whether to salute or offer a hand shake. He hadn't called the meeting, and wasn't sure what he was going to say, because the situation was well outside all the formal and usual military protocols. Well outside.  Far too close to treason, mutiny and the worst possible crimes a soldier could commit.

*

interlude and news item: a law suit was filed in Los Angeles yesterday by a rapist who had acquired AIDS from his victim.  Damages in excess of 20 million dollars was asked for, since the victim was a well known Hollywood movie star. 

*

Jason walked out of the video store.  Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the homeless man who he thought had been following him.   His heart started thumping very fast, but it was broad daylight and there were several dozen other people on the street.  Even though it was not the way he wanted to go, Jason turned away from the homeless man and started walking very fast.  After a block he turned and looked again.  The homeless man was nowhere to be seen.

With a sigh of relief Jason turned toward home.  His mom was already expecting him to have come home right after school, and stopping in the video store to return the movie she didn't know he had rented was not a fact of which he wanted her to become aware.

A couple blocks later he turned a corner, and bumped into the same homeless man, almost knocking him down.  Shocked into stillness, Jason looked into the unshaven, dirty and oddly smiling face.  A bruised and callused hand reached out toward him, holding something.

"A gift", the homeless man said, in a surprising melodious voice.

Without thinking Jason looked down at the hand.  In it was a deck of cards, still in its cellophane wrapper.  The picture on the cover grabbed his attention.  It looked like a still out of the movie he had just returned to the video store, the movie called Matrix.

Jason looked closer.  He couldn't help himself.  The picture looked like a close-up of Neo, the Keneau Reaves character, who was being handed a book by the girl who had the White Rabbit tattooed on her shoulder.  This was not a scene from the movie.

Jason leaned even closer, and could see that the book was familiar.  It was Neil Stephenson's novel Cryptonomicon.  A sharp gasp escaped him and his mouth become suddenly very dry.  He looked up at the face of the homeless man again.  He looked closer, trying to see past his own prejudices.

The face was warm and friendly, the eyes kind, and somehow ancient, perhaps even wise.

Again the homeless man spoke: "A gift, it is yours Jason.  Take it".

With the mention of his name, Jason was again very fearful, but somehow also enchanted.  He reached out and grabbed the deck of cards, and mumbling a bare "thank you", stepped around the homeless man and started running home.

Ten minutes later he was alone in his room.  He opened his own well read copy of Cryptonomicon to the back pages where the encryption system called Solitaire, using a deck of cards, was described and explained.  He read it three times and realized that he had to go slow, to not assume things, and to be very careful.

He opened the deck of cards, and carefully wrote down the sequence in which they were arranged, without disturbing the order.  They were not organized in the usual way a new deck was organized, separated into suits and in numerical order.  Once the order was written down on a page of unlined paper, he returned the cards to their box.  Now he needed to think.

He turned on his computer and went out onto the net looking for an mp3 file of the Jefferson Airplanes song: White Rabbit.  After it was loaded into his system, he set it to playing over and over in the background, while he studied the order of the cards written on the page.  About the third time around, when Grace was singing the line about the Red Queen, he noticed something almost in the middle of the order of the cards.

The two red queens of the deck bracketed a series of number cards, with no face cards mixed in.  Not only that, but the number sequence was itself unusual.  There would be three number cards, then a 10, then three other number cards and then a ten and so forth.  So that if one took the 10, and saw it as a 1 and 0, as a binary code break in the numbers, then what one had was four three digit numbers broken by "dots", like a Internet domain address.

Jason's mouth dropped open.

He popped up a virtual console window in his Linux operating system.  He typed 'nslookup' and then the numbers from the deck of cards.  His computer displayed a few lines of information and the last one, the domain name this number was associated with made him draw a sudden deep breath.  It said: "hellojason.com".

His hands suddenly became very sweaty and he dried them quickly on his jeans before he went to his browser Galeon and then out on the net again to the actual website.  Again a shock, this one no less powerful than the preceding ones.

The page was small and loaded quickly.   It said:

"Hello Jason.  Please be careful, as soon as you log off this page everything will disappear.  This page is already erased from the server it was on, right after you loaded in on your browser, and no one will even know it has been here.  Below is a download file link, which file will also erase as soon as you take it.  The file is virus free and contains a computer program for using the Solitaire encryption system without the laborious process of doing it by hand.  The example in Cryptonomicom has a typo it, so this program will be better.  By the way, welcome to hacker paradise."

The message was signed: "the dreadlords of cyberspace", the name of the most notorious, yet remarkable hacker group known.  They were the Robin Hoods of the Internet, hacking into corporate and government data banks, and then publishing very embarrassing information all over the Internet.  Within the last year, two major corporations had been forced into bankruptcy, and their executives and boards of directors indicted, because of serious environmental crimes.  More than one government bureaucrat had been forced to resign, including one Senator, because of facts discovered and published by the dreadlords.

Needless to say, without hesitation, Jason downloaded the Solitaire encryption program file.

*

President McHenry strode into the room with his usual full stride, his long legs carrying him quickly to his chair at the head of the conference table. There were only a dozen others in the room - a few aides, the NSA and CIA chiefs, a handful of generals and one marine Sergeant, who looked, and felt, totally out of place.

The President threw a small set a papers to the table surface and sat down with a great sigh. After the others had sat, except for the Sergeant, who seemed to want to melt into the walls, McHenry shoved the papers into the middle of the table and looked around the room.

"What the hell is this", he said, in a voice that expected answers and would allow for no excuses.

On the table, was something which styled itself a newspaper, but which was simply a few sheets of normal sized paper stapled together in the corner. It called itself "the Soldier's Heart" and had appeared on hundreds of military installations world-wide, almost all on the same day. It did not appear in places where officers would see it, but only where NCOs, Sergeants and Naval Chiefs, and all the enlisted ranks would find it. It appeared first in small numbers, but in less than a week it had been photocopied many times, and few there were who had not read it.

On some installations, the commanders had tried to confiscate all the copies and not a few soldiers had been put in the stockade for possessing one. Worse, it's existence had made it into the main stream press and there was uproar everywhere, because of what it advocated.

This meeting was supposed to be able to tell the President where it came from and what the Joint Chiefs of Staff were going to do about it. Unfortunately, the meeting would end with more questions than answers.

*

interlude and weather report: the National Weather Service reported today that with Hurricane Gene rolling in on the heals of Ester, this is the fasted and earliest sequence of category three hurricanes in history.  The Southeast coast of the United States, and the Eastern coast of Mexico, got ready once again for another horrible hurricane season.

*

Major Augustus frowned deeply. He was not happy, but he was a soldier, and before he jumped to any judgments he wanted to give Sergeant Jones a chance to explain. The whole of America's services were in an uproar, and Major Augustus knew that Jones was deeply involved, knew it in his bones, even though he didn't have any facts yet on which to base this view. But he knew Jones and he knew Jones was political. Bright, self-educated, and dangerously political.

"C.J." he said, holding out his hand.

"Major", said Jones, taking it.

For a long moment neither spoke. The night air was cool, early fall. Crickets sang in a ditch on the other side of the perimeter fence. C.J. broke the silence first.

"I don't want there to be any secrets between us, but you've got to realize that this is very big, very serious."

"Yes, it is serious, that's for sure.", said the Major. Emphasizing the words in such a way that it was clear that he thought the Sergeant was in a lot of trouble.

"It started as a brother thing, you know how that goes." said C.J. reminding the Major that they both were black and that still meant certain things, had to mean certain things.

The Major sighed, and kicked with the toe of his shoe at the ground. What could he say. It was true. It was, unfortunately, very true.

"Look C.J.", he said, "No one wants to do what we all think is coming, but there has to be order, and we have to follow the chain of command."

"That's just it major, we don't have to do it, if it is an illegal order. We don't have to do it."

They both looked around, at the ground, outside the fence, at the side of the hanger, anywhere but at each other. It was like a chasm opening up between them, these two black men, born a few years apart in the same neighborhood in Detroit. The sergeant older, a veteran, a former instructor in the Rangers, now the chief NCO on this base. The major, younger, college educated, part of the unit's intelligence group. America seemed to be heading toward some kind of race war, and the Army, and perhaps other parts of the military, were going to be put right in the middle of it by the politicians.

*

President McHenry looked around the room, daring someone to speak and say something meaningful, something that made sense. On his desk back in the Oval Office were emergency presidential orders, waiting to be signed, declaring martial law in over a dozen major American cities, and assigning various military units to peacekeeping operations within them.

Now, on the table in front of him was nothing less than the threat of a revolt among the enlisted and NCO core of the Army, and perhaps the other services as well. For years minority men and women had found a place for themselves within the profession of modern warrior life, so that a large proportion of NCOs, Naval Chiefs and other essential career service men and women were black and Hispanic. Somehow these people had formed some kind of association, some kind of private group, and were essentially announcing that they would not go into American cities and turn their guns on the members of their own races.

This magazine, or whatever you wanted to call it, the Soldier's Heart, not only had editorials explicitly urging a refusal to follow such orders, but outlining, in detail, the legal ramifications of claiming that such orders were in violation of all those legal and extra-legal principles that not only gave a soldier the right to refuse an illegal order, but essentially demanded that such an order not be obeyed.

The cities were burning and the American Army was nearly in revolt.

*

Emma turned over, trying to wrap herself a little better in her blankets. But her ribs came down on a large object, sharp, perhaps a bit of glass, so she startled herself to full awareness and sat up. The alcove in the alley was out of the wind, so she was basically warm. Hungry of course, she was always hungry, but nonetheless she was warm.

She could see Ace hunkered down a few feet away, eying her. He had what looked like a hot coffee in his hands in a Styrofoam cup. She could see the steam rising. He took a sip and then passed it to her. It was bitter and burnt tasting, several hours old. Ace had probably got it from Mary, the black janitor who cleaned up the McDonalds. Mary always prowled the restaurant for left over food, and gave it away, before she threw it out at night; and, in the morning, before she went home, if you hung out near the back, she'd give away the old coffee before starting the fresh pots for the morning shift.

Mary was good people, and Emma always remembered her in her prayers before she fell asleep at night.

When she gave the cup back to Ace he cleared his tired old throat and said:

"There's a meet'n tonight."

Mary smiled at that. A toothless smile she knew, but she'd been on the streets most of her adult life, and these meetings were something special, something new. Who'd ever thought the homeless would get organized the way they were getting now. Then she chided herself. They weren't the homeless any more, they were Shadow Warriors in the battle between the rich and the poor. They had a purpose, they had meaning, they had stories, they had each other. They weren't owners, they were human beings and they were special.

She smiled again at Ace, and he grinned back. She knew what he was thinking. No one paid attention to them, people turned away and didn't want to look. They were invisible and they owned the streets at night now that they were organized. Them and the gangs of course. That was a strange thing. This cooperation with the gangs. She'd heard rumors about how it started, but still didn't understand it. But the fact was she was safer now, safer than the police ever made things. The shadow warriors moved silently through the streets, they were everywhere, more and more each day as the collapse continued. They were the eyes and ears of the gangs. They participated in the treaty meetings. Some said it was shadow warriors that got the first treaties made. Something to do with a confederacy the American Indians used to have. Power through union and agreement. Emma didn't understand it but she sure liked not having to run and hide anymore when she saw some browns or blacks in colors walking down a street.

*

Avery watched the sheriff and his deputies from a distance. He had the night vision goggles on, the ones with the built in magnifying capacity. They were serving another writ of eviction, this one on some family out in the woods.

The smoke rose from their early fall wood fire, and he could see the remains of the garden. It looked pretty good sized and Avery wondered whether they had near enough to make it through the coming winter. He could see a lot of fire wood, so they were okay there. But food was much harder to come by, especially if you didn't have money.

He could hear the woman start to cry. The clear night air carried sound easily. The man just hung his head, beaten down by a system that didn't care about him one way or another. Avery couldn't tell how many children, but he could see toys in the yard and a set of swings, so it looked like a young family.

Hector, his horse, made a quick chuff behind him, so Avery looked slowly around to see if anyone else was about. When he spotted what had bothered Hector he was relieved. It was just a coyote. One of many moving through these woods. Between them and the new wolves, there was a lot of competition over deer and small game. It was a big argument to some, whether the coyotes and wolves should be hunted back again, so people could get more meat to eat this winter.

Avery was glad it wasn't his to decide. He was just a scout. The big deciders in the militia dealt with that other stuff. Avery and Hector just rode around at night, mostly trying to keep tabs on the law enforcement folks. The banks were starting to evict people, drive them off their lands, away from their sources of food, water, heat, shelter and friends, and down into the cities, which were hell on earth now if the stories on the news were to be believed. Some didn't believe it. Some thought that the revolution was happening there too. But Avery didn't care. He had Hector, he had the woods, he had food and something interesting to do. Well it wasn't that he didn't care, he just didn't have the ability to do anything about it, so he concentrated on what he could do that was in front of him, and hoped other people were finding their way through the collapse.

He wondered what was next though. With the increase in evictions, the militia leaders were getting ready to do something. "Solve the problem" they would say. He knew what was being talked about, and he didn't like it. Violence was being contemplated. When that started he and Hector would be in more danger. Still, these were interesting times, and he enjoyed being outdoors more than anything.

The door to the house closed and the sheriff and his deputies got into their cars and drove off. That was new, of course, more than one car coming to serve an eviction notice. Avery knew some law enforcement types had been shot serving evictions. Things were getting hotter in these woods, and people were having to choose sides in the war.

The cars were gone, and Avery went down to the house, leading Hector by the reins. He stopped about twenty feet from the door and stood in a field of light from one of the windows so he could be seen, and then called out: "Hello this house".

He like to say this. It was from an old Glen Ford movie he liked. The actor Chief Dan George would say this when he came to Glen Ford's house. The door opened, and the man looked out at him. Avery didn't know whether he would be pleased to hear the militia was keeping track and would try to help, but that was the next part of his duties, to let folks know someone cared. All we got is each other, he would say, which was true, if anything was these days.

*

another interlude and news item: the Republican controlled Senate today passed an even tougher sedition bill.  Anyone convicted of speaking out against the government in this time of war would be imprisoned until the war on terror was over.

*

Arthur looked up from the work on his desk. Through the windows he could see across to the gate house, and he liked that some of the trees were starting to turn bright with fall colors. Today would mark the beginning of a new level in the war, and all the preparations his father and grandfather had made were now coming to fruition.

He gathered up the remaining papers and put them in the shredder. Then he looked at his bed one more time, examining the two bags there, thinking carefully for just one more time whether everything was ready. As he did this the fax on his desk rang, and, anticipating the message, he knew the rest were now ready. This would be the confirmation.

He was wistful for a moment. This had been a good life. It had certain values, but it also had certain problems. The merchant princes were now mostly mad, insane. They were no longer truly educated. They had little sense of history, or of the role that wealth should really play in a society, of the obligations that went with privilege. The world was going to convulse and the money people did nothing to stop its coming; they just tried to make sure of their own survival.

Somebody had to do something.

Arthur recalled his graduation from university, and his father's pride that Arthur was willing to follow in his footsteps, in spite of the opportunity to do other things. They had gone on a very long walk that day, talking about deep things, things few people would have understood or appreciated.

None of his peers understood why Arthur was going back to the rich man's house, to follow his father into the service of an old and venerable banking family, instead of striking out on his own. Arthur knew they would not understand. so he had not tried. He could live with their disappointments and criticisms, because he thought he knew where the world was headed and what the costs would be.

Like his father and grandfather, Arthur styled himself (incorrectly, but not grossly so) a modern Knight Templar, a warrior for Christ. The Templars had been destroyed but not all their values and ideals had died with them. Where the Templars had had a public existence, what Arthur was becoming, was something secret. Few were to know, and perhaps there would in the end be no knowledge of them historically. But as the old hereditary aristocracies went into decline and the merchant princes rose to power, something came to be along side this change, something new among that group who made of their lives the service of the rich.

Butlers, housemen, maids, whatever the names, just as wealth passed from generation to generation, so did service. Yet, a few generations back, someone in the line of service added something new. Among just a few houses and families of service a certain way of thinking came to be, a way of thinking which could see how the merchant princes were repeating, in the worst ways, the mistakes of their predecessors - the old aristocracies of blood.

The question then came, what to do about the crisis that could be seen coming. So it came to pass that more and more certain sons and daughters were educated and then brought back into service. Relationships among families in service were cultivated, marriages encouraged, alliances created. It was a work of generations, but a work with a purpose. At the moment of crisis action could be taken, action which might produce results quite beyond the imagination.

Now the time, the cusp, had come and Arthur was ready as were the others. Over the next few days, as the wealthy gathered among themselves in response to the deepening crisis, certain individuals would come forward and act, and power and wealth would move from the hands of the merchant princes into the hands of their servants. No one would notice, no public outcry would arise. On the surface things would remain the same, although a few would have to die. But the result would be delicious. The wealthy would retain the appearance of privilege and power, but it would be the former servants calling the shots behind the scenes.

What Arthur did not know, what he couldn't know, was that even with all the foresight that had been applied, matters would not go the way his family had hoped. Crisis and chaos would rule, had to rule for a time. One civilization was dying and another would take its place. But no one would be able to ride the crest of the wave and come out on top. Arthur was just another individual struggling in a sea of change. Only after the crisis was past would it be possible to organize new forms of order. All Arthur and his friends were doing was participating in the creation of more disorder. They may have thought they could surf this wave, but that was not to be, especially if one was hoping to ride it out at the top.

The only safe place was at the bottom, holding hands with others, waiting it out, cooperating in survival. Trying to dominate, to win, that was the path to destruction.

*

C.J. looked at the major, who was clearly waiting for something to be said.

"Okay", C.J. said, finally, "You ever hear of the Greenville Millennium Gazette?"

The major nodded. Most folks had. It stirred up a lot of trouble in the year 2000 elections. Not by itself of course, but a lot of people got the point quickly and started imitating it, started making their own local news sheets. Didn't get any of the political parties out of office, but they did change the dialog, that's for sure. People were talking about things now they never talked about before, even in the military.

C.J. continued.

"About a year ago, at a Ranger reunion. Some of the brothers got to talking about things, about coming changes. Everyone can see things still getting worse at home. Everyone's got some family in trouble, in jail, on drugs, whatever. So it came up, and its been talked about before. What if it gets bad and the politicians want the Army to go in and fix it? No one wants to be shooting up our old neighborhoods. No one wants to be thinking these folks is an enemy. We're trained to kill enemies, not our families and neighbors. There was a lot of anger and some real fear.

"Then this one guy says: 'solve the problem'. So we start talking. Well one thing leads to another and soon we are going back to our units, but there's something different. We're talking, we've got our own kind of renewal meeting going. Doesn't take long before we see that we've got to make our own newspaper, just like everyone else.

"Somewhere the Chicanos hear about it, and for awhile it seems like they might have their own paper, but it gets worked out, one voice for all of us, and so the Soldier's Heart gets born.

"You know how it is. NCO's run everything. Officers decide, but we get things done. It was easy. We found some good writers, some real thinkers, and it was written. Then the question was timing, when, and how. But we run everything, so it wasn't hard. You know I can call all over the world on my phones, any Army base anywhere. Talk to certain people, use obscure language - double meanings and stuff. It was easy.

"Then the units start getting orders for urban warfare training and we can see what's coming next. Doesn't take a brain surgeon. So we decide, and the papers get made, usually off base at copy shops and stuff. Everyone knows everyone. We all have been transferred many times and many places over the years. We're used to getting stuff done outside the chain of command anyway. You know about the midnight requisition economy. I tell you, it was easy, natural, and necessary."

The major listened. It was expectable. No real surprises. But for him a serious problem. His command obligations were clear. Already there were orders out to find those who made the paper and distributed it. To find them, arrest them, and lock them up forever.

All the same it didn't make much sense. Closing the barn door afterwards kind of thing. Plus, if we started putting these guys in the stockade, many of them no doubt very senior NCOs, then unit effectiveness would go in the toilet, as well as morale. After a couple of minutes thinking, Major Augustus made his decision.

*

Jason sat back and looked over the e-mail. He was about to take a very big step and he knew he wanted to think about it carefully. This didn't seem like a time to forget he was only sixteen.

There had been a lot of activity on the hacker bulletin board he usually frequented. Everyone was concerned about the collapse. Some people were bragging about all kinds of destructive things they were doing or planning to do, all kinds of cracking. But Jason wanted only to be a true hacker. His ideal was free information, not playing games with other peoples computer systems.

But with this e-mail he was going to commit himself, to join a group, a renewal group with very specific agendas about electronic freedom.  It was weird to think of the dreadlords of cyberspace as a renewal group, but that was how they thought of themselves.  They had principles, and you committed yourself to these principles if you joined. Plus, if you joined, they would know who you are. Among themselves they shared information, no hiding behind handles and anonymous e-mailers.  With the Solitaire encryption system no one would know anything, not even the infamous NSA, the National Security Agency.

Now he was going to participate, to post something in dozens of places.  Along with the other dreadlords he would be invading systems and web pages and posting a statement, a statement about a new kind of law - an information bill of rights.  He was fascinated with the bill of information rights, especially.  Something about this touched a place inside him that felt deeply. He could almost see it, that on the other side of the collapse, this addition to the bill of rights was crucial to the future. It stated:

"It is the right of every citizen to sufficient information to be able to make informed decisions.

"It is the right of every citizen to a sphere of informational privacy, inviolate from the intrusions of the state or commercial and employment interests. This sphere is to be defined by the individual citizen themselves. Citizens who widely construct their sphere of privacy rights must expect the normal consequences that flow from such an act (such as limitations on possible forms of employment).

"No government or private institution may withhold information needed by a free citizenry for the exercise of its duties. The Congress shall pass laws mandating appropriate and severe punishment for the violation of this right. Likewise, the Congress shall make laws mandating appropriate and severe punishment for violations of the right of privacy.

"When any citizen believes his or her information rights have been violated, the Courts must make inquiry, without cost to the citizen. In order to not overburden the Courts, the Office of Informational Ombudsman will be created by the Congress, which will mediate all preliminary inquires into requests, and violations, that arise from the exercise of these rights.

"Where a conflict arises between the right of privacy and the right to information, the Courts will seek the balancing principle in the Platonic ideal of the Good. For the purposes of this bill of information rights no non-living entity, such as a corporation, or other institution or organization, shall be deemed a person or a citizen."

So Jason hit the enter button, giving the command that sent the e-mail, and then waited for his assignments to come in, which websites he was to hack.

*

Emma stood and then helped Ace to his feet. They each shook off the dust and debris of the night. Their shopping cart was nearby, and they put their hold inside with the other stuff. They both needed to walk around a little, to get the stiffness out. She looked up between the buildings at the sky. It was about 6:30 in the morning. She could tell between the amount of light and the street sounds, the traffic. She liked this.

It was one of the neat things the shadow warrior meetings did. Made you feel like an Indian kind of - in a good way. You used your senses, you noticed things, you thought about the movement of people and cars and trucks, what buildings had warm spots, what had little alcoves to hide from the wind in. The shadow warriors talked about a new kind of urban man, a new human being, whose jungle was concrete and steel, and who could either submit to this warped form of world, or master it. Most important was to work together, to be tribal.

Some homeless (oops, she still couldn't stop thinking that way), some shadow warriors had taken to wearing colors, like the gangs, only smaller, less conspicuous. Vietnam vets had a little thing on their boots, made out of aluminum cans. They didn't use the shiny side, but the side with the printing on it, so that it didn't reflect too much light. It was a small cut out of a sword, maybe tied to a lace.

There were other groups forming. She'd been in nurses training when her kids died in the accident, and she started drinking and began her own slide toward oblivion. She, and others, who could do some medical things, had taken to making an aluminum cross out of coke cans, so as to have a red color - a red cross. They wore it up by the neck, with part of the cut out bent around the clothes to hold it on.

Then there were the newest ones, the travelers. They had a little cut out of a fire, or a flame, somewhere on their clothes. They were always moving from city to city, passing on ideas and stuff about what was going on elsewhere. Some of them told stories, not just for entertainment, but the stories made you think about things, understand things. When the stories were done folks went off talking about what it meant.

*

more strange weather: tornadoes struck in Utah yesterday, far outside the usual tornado belt.  as usual, trailer parks got wreaked, and some sociologist published a report suggesting there seemed to be some kind of occult or magic law involved in why it was mostly trailer parks.  no one took him seriously.

*

Finally, General Archer, Chief of Staff of the Army, ventured to speak to answer the President's questions.

"We're close to knowing who did this. Several arrests have been made. Sergeant Morrison here (nodding toward the NCO trying to disappear into the wall) knows some of how this was done. Our more difficult problem is evaluating what's going to happen next. Our psych people tell us this is possibly a real disaster. Continental U.S. units are clearly confused over the moral issue, and unit morale is already falling. Worse, overseas units, who won't be directly effected are suffering the same problems. We've looked at whether a foreign government did this as some kind of psychological warfare, but there is no evidence of this. (He looked at the CIA and NSA chiefs while saying this and they nodded).

"The officer core seems mostly unaffected, but there are indications that this is a problem for them as well. Not so much following the chain of command, and going into the cities, but with regard to handling their troops. The feedback they are getting is that following orders will be a problem. Some whole units may be sent in and then desert, taking their material and weapons with them. My best people don't think this is organized in an effort to take over anything. Rather it is just what it appears to be. The army doesn't want to fight against its own people, plain and simple.

*

Margret finished washing the dishes and then moved a load of clothes from the washer into the dryer. She sipped at her cup of coffee and moved quietly around her kitchen. The radio played in the background, one of those rabid talk shows. She didn't pay a lot of attention unless it somehow reached out and grabbed her. She feed the dog and cats, changed their water and litter boxes, all the usual morning chores.

But it wasn't really a usual morning. Joyce was coming over, with Gail and a couple of others. They'd been meeting as a renewal group for a couple of years now. Nothing serious, just girl talk with some politics and self education thrown in. Yet lately it was different. You couldn't drive into downtown anymore to shop. Across the street, the Wilsons had taken in her brother and his family of six children, because of an eviction. On her side, there was already one boarded up and empty house. When she drove to the Mall it was the same. Boarded up houses and stores. She'd seen some homeless people hanging out, and some blacks. These people didn't belong here, and she was frightened and not sleeping well.

George, her husband, was drinking more. There had been more layoffs at the bank, and she could see the stress he was under. The doctor had increased his blood pressure medication again. She was stressed too. She'd caught herself again this morning looking at the Prozac bottle in the bathroom cabinet. She'd stopped taking it, but now it keep calling to her.

The baby cried in the next room, so she went in to look at her granddaughter and see to her needs. Her daughter Alice, divorced now three years was living with them, and waiting tables at the Coffee shop in the Mall. Alice wouldn't say who the father was, just that, even though she had gotten pregnant, she wasn't going to get married again.

Margret was glad to keep busy. It helped her not think about things.

*

Estes put his pipe away. He was being more careful now about smoking. He'd developed a small cough and the doctor suggested he should cut back. He remained standing at the French doors in his library, looking out across the expanse of lawn, down toward the river. It always gave him a great deal of satisfaction, this view. His great grandfather had built this place, calling it the Retreat, as if this forty-five room mansion was some kind of cabin in the woods. In a way it was. The house downtown was much larger, even though the family had later sold it for the Commonwealth Club to use. It had had twenty-five live-in servants.

But Estes was not a man to let nostalgia rule his moods. There was a meeting today, a serious meeting. Friends from Europe were coming, and some from Asia as well. There was a war going on, a war which directly threatened all that his family had earned over many generations. So it was time for serious thought.

Estes knew he had to make some choices and put in place some plans. Matters were evolving too fast and if not checked might soon get out of control. He'd had to double security here, and one of his bank's branches had been ruined in a riot. His calls to Washington were not being as quickly answered as before. Pressure was going to have to be applied, real pressure.

He moved to his desk and picked up the phone, touching the autodial for Charlie Corlis's number. Charlie would have to come to the meeting. He and his agents would have work to do, if the day went as Estes planned it to go. Washington belonged to him and his kind, and if those fools were starting to forget it, then it was time to drop the hammer and remind them who was really in charge.

*

Rachael moved the eighteen wheeler over into the fast lane and accelerated down hill. She wanted to get some momentum up, so the next rise wouldn't make her drop the box down too many gears. She was only two hours out from Nick's Truck Stop, and after eleven hours it was time to take a big break Get a shower, nap, eat a couple of good meals. Mostly she wanted to sit in a booth and talk with other drivers.

Using the CB didn't work anymore. Word was the spooks could pick it up with their satellites. Truckers were a tribe, most anyway. More and more folks knew that decisions would have to be made. Not just self preserving, like not taking certain inner city routes anymore, because of the highjacks, but tougher decisions. Banks were foreclosing on rigs, drivers were not working and trucks were idle. Stuff wasn't getting moved to where it needed to be. Truckers were the blood stream of the real economy.  Most everything moved down the concrete and asphalt corridors they drove, perhaps ruled, if they were willing to be tough enough.

She'd never carried a gun before, but now she did. Two in fact. A nice nine millimeter automatic in a pocket by her seat, and up in the back of the cab, where she slept, a shotgun. She practiced with them too. Before her husband's heart attack and bypass surgery she'd only run the rig a few times, but now he had to stay home and she was gone most the week. She didn't want any surprises.

They were still up on their bills - the house and the rig, the major ones. Being owner-drivers was an advantage in some ways, and a disadvantage in others. Plus, they had good contracts. Louisville to Denver, with booze, and then electronics on the return. Not having to run near Chicago and Detroit, near the northern majors was a help. But, still the stuff was valuable and highjacks were on the increase.

But this wasn't the core of her immediate fears. Rumor was the Army was going to take over intrastate shipping. Everyone's rigs would be "drafted" as would the drivers. Some kind of control out of Washington was going to be exerted, because "food and necessaries weren't arriving on time". Most drivers didn't believe it, unless it was because of the rigs idled due to the foreclosures. Even so, the mood was to resist, if someone really tried to take things over.

They'd talked about a strike, shut down the whole country like in France. But that would hurt the ordinary folks the most. So, as an idea, it didn't go far. Diesel prices were rising, and that was a real threat. That one seemed out of everyone's control, but others, those that drove the tankers, thought that there might be a way.

The fantasies, if that is what they were, went like this. Trucks would run in groups. No fewer than a dozen, and sometimes three times that. There would be outriders, like in that silly movie. Good fast personal cars, running ahead and behind, using encrypted cell phones instead of CBs for contact. For certain products, like food and medical necessaries, deliveries would be directed to where they were needed, and buyers and sellers told it was a "tax". Truckers would themselves determine that food got to those in need first. Truth was folks wanted to act, to be in charge somehow, and not just take orders. Solve the problem, don't Consent.

But it was hard getting the normally independent minded truckers to act together. They were talking, but acting was something different. The main problem was information, knowing where things were, and where they needed to go, and then having a way to decide what was right to do. One thing was clear though. No one trusted the government or the corporations anymore. No one.

*

President McHenry visibly slumped. This could not be happening to him. A life time spent kissing babies and asses and now this. The whole country going down the tubes, the markets crashing, the banks failing, the cities burning, and the American army is now refusing to follow orders. The most powerful man in the world was almost there, almost ready to see how little power he really had. But not quite, as this next angry outburst showed.

"I want these people shot!", he yelled, trying to shake off his medication induced mood swings.

"This is treason, this is mutiny, this is wartime. I'll sign the executive order. If soldiers won't follow orders, I want them tried and shot."

The room got very silent. No one could think of what to say. When the President's breathing slowed and the flush started to recede from his face, General Archer went on.

"During our investigations, this man appeared one day. You can see how nervous he is. He wasn't expecting to end up here in this room. He is on leave and came to the Pentagon and sought out our investigating teams by name. He had some inside source and said the right words and knew the right names. He also says he is expendable. He is ready to die. But that's not the strange part. I'll let him speak for himself. You are not going to believe this. Sergeant! Front and center, and lay it out for everyone."

Archer smiled. He wanted to see the faces while this low ranking idiot tried his spiel on real players.

Chief Master Sergeant Eric Morrison whipped the sweat off his palms on to his uniform trousers. He was nervous all right, but not so much from fear of consequences. This was a crucial moment and one that might make or break everything. These guys would either laugh out loud, as Archer seemed to expect, or they just might realize what real hope there might be. He didn't know, and he didn't like so much depending on this. It was crazy, and it was his idea, and the group said, okay, its your idea, you do it.

He moved toward the table, near a corner, facing the President, and took an at ease kind of brace, feet 18 inches apart, hands behind his back, as if he was delivering some messages to officers he was familiar with. He even tried the old trick of imagining everyone was naked, but in a room with this much power in it, it just didn't work. He tried to concentrate, for he was close to throwing up because of his nerves. Even in combat, he'd never been this frightened.

*

"F* this sh*", Guyon Anton shouted at the couple hiding behind the counter. Up came the glock, and Anton started spraying bullets. There was screaming and the smell of gun smoke, and bottles exploding. When the clip was empty he didn't even look over to see what had happened. He just turned and stomped out the door, kicking over displays on the way out.

He was pissed and hungry. His limo was outside, motor running. He'd left his condo forgetting to bring cash and didn't want to go back. Jumbo, his driver and body guard, only had a gas card, no cash either. So Anton thought he would just make a withdrawal at the mom and pop on the corner, but they didn't have anything in the till and said there wasn't anything anywhere else, and so he just smoked um. Served their chink asses right.

Jumbo opened the door, his face behind the dark glasses its usual impassive expression. Anton grinned, the shooting had fed something inside him, lifted him up. He'd just sign for sh*, he didn't need cash to flash, at least not always.

The limo started up and joined the small bit of traffic. This was a closed off area. Cops didn't come here anymore. The national guard had been withdraw when it was thought the army would be sent in. More and more people were moving out, especially the Asian f*ks, but Anton didn't care. People still wanted drugs and he supplied them all their happiness needs, for just the right price.

He settled back into his seat and hardly paid attention when they crossed over into Cop controlled South side areas. Sure his car was known, but nobody made a move on him. His homies were everywhere, inside the area and outside. Nobody was going to screw with him. His grin grew wider and light flashed off the two gold front teeth.

In about twenty-five minutes they were at the club. For a week night the crowd was lite. Only fifty or so hanging outside, waiting and hoping for the bouncers to let them in. Anton went in, Jumbo at this side. Someone was at his table. For a second he frowned and then he recognized Hex man, his accountant, hacker, electronics wiz. It was cool. Hex man was cool. The night was cool. A couple chicks caught his eye and he gave them a sign. Later, it said, have to do some biz first.

The grin disappeared when the Hex man told Anton about the meeting coming up with the shadow warriors. They were starting to flex some muscle, to make some demands. Anton might have to put some people in their place. His grin came back. It might be fun.

Two hours later, after some quick sex in the back of the limo, Anton made the meeting. It was inside the area, in an old warehouse. He'd called in some support. About two dozen of his men were around, some outside the building, some inside. All were armed, Uzi's or Mac 10's. A couple of shotguns.

There were a lot of homeless about. But they didn't bother him. They had few, if any, weapons. They were dependent upon him. He didn't care for this shadow warrior crap anyway. He'd prepped his lieutenants. If needed they were prepared to waste the whole lot. People needed to know who was in charge. It was a different world and he was the king.

There was a fire with real wood of all things. Some nice chairs around it. One clearly for him. He saw some ice coolers too. One of the homeless shits stood up and offered him a brew. Why not, thought Anton. This is hospitality. This is nice. Maybe I won't need to do anything tonight. Inside him the hungry thing was not happy, but there would come another time.

Anton sat and sipped the beer. The fire was nice. Made the cool fall night warm and the light it gave off was pleasant to the eyes.

All of a sudden Anton felt this pain in his stomach. Terrible pain, hot, spreading out all over the inside of his gut. He started to choke and cough. He tried to sit up, his legs wouldn't work. He couldn't speak. As his lights went out for the final time he could see Jumbo and Hex man looking into his face. He didn't understand. He was too stupid and self centered to understand how some necessities naturally lead to betrayal.

While the body was being removed, Hex-man, Jumbo and one of the warriors, a vet, watched. Jumbo spoke, one of the few times anyone had ever heard him say anything.

"That solved the mutha'f*kn problem".

Hex-man and the vet looked at each other and laughed quietly. It certainly did, they both were thinking.

After the body was removed Hex-man had the other gang members opened the trunks of their cars. Small arms and high tech electronics were handed out to the shadow warriors. Encrypted communication devices, cell phones and walkie-talkies, were now out on the streets. Everyone who could think two thoughts in a row understood that the violence had to tone down, otherwise the gains made would be lost. Territory existed that could be kept. Negotiations with the city were in process. A cease fire was possible. Women and children (for Hex and Jumbo where both married and fathers) would be safer. It was better for everyone.

*

Margaret opened the door, her usual social smile not quite making it to her face. The others, having arrived in a group, in Gail's huge van, could see her mood as they entered, and easily become caught up in it. It was time for serious considerations, even though no one had a clue what to do.

In spite of herself, Margaret had spent the rest of the morning thinking. She'd put together lunch, finished the laundry, but none of this commanded her mind. It was the radio that started her off. The talk show host had some Christian fundamentalist psychologist on, and the discussion, if that was what you could call the yelling and shouting, had gotten heated. People were suggesting suburbs put up walls, the niggers were coming. Others were talking about Jesus saving everyone if they would just pray and be saved. The dialog was all over the place, it had no center. But somehow it touched something in Margaret. A kind of stubborn place. She wasn't going to passive anymore. It was time to do something.

She had done more than set her usual good table. Every place had a legal pad and several sharpened pencils. She'd made a lot of coffee. If asked for liquor, she wasn't going to give it. The other women picked up the mood. They hung their coats and stored their handbags in an almost silence, just looking at her and at each other.

Finally Gail got everyone to laugh, by unbuttoning the sleeves on her dress, even though it wasn't really made that way, and rolling them up before sitting down. It was a help, it took the edge off the underlying tensions.

These women didn't have the lives they had by being passive. In fact they were, in their way, very active in their communities and schools. Nothing got done without them. But the larger world they had ignored, and now it was coming at them like a flood. They would change or they would break. They knew this without even having to talk about it. If any group of human beings knew about bending and not breaking, it was women.

*

Estes waited in the large drawing room, while Arthur met the guests at the door, took care of the coats and ushered them in, one by one. Each one he greeted, while another servant, coached by Arthur's patient and impeccable style, mixed each one their favorite beverage and brought it to them. They all made a bit of small talk.

The ones who had never been to the Retreat before admired the view from the drawing room, which overlooked the glass enclosed pool below. Estes would point to his grandchildren at play there, identifying one or another, as to age and lineage, and school. Some of the parents, some of his children, could also be seen, near the bar at one end of the pool complex. For a moment, his heart stalled, as the thought of a certain once favorite child slipped into his mind unbidden. He refused to indulge himself, and to engage in self recrimination for having disinherited him. He turned his mind to other matters.

Everyone was now present, and had had a few minutes to get comfortable, to enjoy a drink or tea, as was their preference. Estes nodded to Arthur who stood by the door, indicating that Arthur should leave and close the door behind him. Arthur gave a small nod in return, a slight bow, and closed the doors but did not leave.

It took a moment for this to register on Estes's face, and the others, noting his surprise turned toward the door as well, looking at the servant who seemed to have something unusual on his mind. Arthur stepped quietly forward a few paces and spoke in that same gentle, yet precise manner that was his usual form of address.

"Gentleman, if you don't mind taking a seat, there is something important you all should know. Master Estes, you too, if you don't mind. It will only take a moment."

Estes was so nonplussed that he did as asked. His mind could not take hold of this unusual behavior, so unexpected it was. When they were all seated, some feigning a relaxed manner that none of them truly felt, Arthur began to speak again.

"If you don't mind a bit of history, it will help make things easier." He paused, making sure they were not going to interrupt him.

"Centuries ago, in the middle East, a cult of assassins lived, who, having taken years in its development and organizing, managed to have members placed as servants in every royal household. Any ruler could be killed at will, usually with poison or blade"

There was a gasp, as each man looked at his drink. Several rose, and there began some angry shouting. One or two took out cell phones and placed calls to body guards waiting with the limousines. Estes stood up feeling a deep rage, and started to walk toward Arthur, wanting to kill this man whose foolishness was ruining this meeting before it had even begun. He stopped when Arthur removed a small silenced handgun from underneath his suit coat and behind his back

Gunfire could be heard from in front of the house. These men were all suspicious of each other, and the panic calls had made for its own kind of chaos. Arthur stood silently, watching each man carefully. In a moment the outside gunfire died down, and shortly thereafter three slow raps sounded against the doors, clearly some kind of signal to Arthur.

"Please gentlemen, be seated. You are wasting your time, and perhaps your very lives. If you would be so kind as to quiet down, I haven't finished explaining reality to you, yet."

But these men were not used to taking orders. They were order givers, and one of them pushed forward toward Arthur, saying that he (Arthur) would pay for this with his life. When Arthur calmly shot the man in the thigh, it became instantly much quieter.

At Arthur's instructions a tie was turned into a tourniquet, or perhaps better said, a pressure bandage. The shot had been well placed and was only a flesh wound. Arthur continued to be impeccable.

"I wish I could say that there was such a modern organization, but there isn't. There are a few of us, yes, but our means are small, as are our numbers. You have been poisoned, but, if you will listen carefully, you will not die, nor will your children and grandchildren.

This last brought another collective gasp, but it was clear Arthur, at least for the moment, held all the cards.

*

a once secret corporate memo, force published by the dreadlords on the Playboy website, explained how a large pharmaceutical company had been diluting its medicines for several years, in order to save money and increase profits, and how they had paid the FDA to not notice the increased deaths because some of the medicines were not working anymore in this diluted state.

*

Rachel put down her coffee cup. Arnie and Tim had quit making jokes. Throughout Nick's eatery voices quieted as well. There was a mood in the air, and in this mostly trucker cafe people were angry and fearful and tired of watching things happen over which they had no control. When Rachel had pulled in there was a bunch outside watching some State Troopers cover a tow truck that was repo-ing someone's rig. The crowd was angry, and rocks had been thrown at the smoky's cars as the whole group drove off. Now everyone was inside, eating, drinking beer and coffee, and arguing.

But there was no center. No way to link everything together so they could cooperate at something, in spite of how much they knew they needed to work together in some kind of way. Everyone was kind of surprised then, when this seemingly homeless hitchhiker climbed on a table and asked for everyone's attention.

*

another interlude and weather report:  Researchers in the North Atlantic reported today that water temperatures, both at sea level and on the ocean floor, fell again in apparent response to further melting of the Northern Hemisphere ice caps.  This was assumed to be caused by global warming.

*

Before the Sergeant began to speak, President McHenry noticed something. He thought he recognized the man.

"Do I know you?", he said.

Owen Manning III, NSA chief, sighed behind his hand, and looked away. He had hoped this wouldn't happen, that no one in the room would notice that among the fruit salad on Morrison's uniform was one very special medal.

"Yes sir, Mr. President. We've met before."

"Well, don't just stand there," McHenry said, displayed his temper again, "Explain yourself."

Quietly Morrison raised his hand to his chest and pointed to small blue and white bar, nestled among a couple dozen others. Everyone could see it was a Medal of Honor.

"You gave me this, sir, about six years ago. For the Gulf War sir."

The room grew even more silent than before, except everyone could hear Archer say "shit" under his breath. The whole situation changed now. In this room of powerful men, their authority, their power, had just been topped by a kind of moral authority that usually these men could ignore. Morrison had earned the right to speak here as an equal, and no one would be able to deny it.

A slight smile spread over Morrison's face. He'd never even thought about this happening, it wasn't in his nature. The nervousness fell away as if by the act of some kind of heavenly grace.

*

Sheriff Richard J. Commings pulled up in front of his home. It was after midnight, a night of more stress then he'd had in years. He was tired. But there were lights on in his house, his wife was up, which was unusual, and there was a car in the driveway he thought he recognized.

He sat in his cruiser quietly, a hand on the call button. Did he need back up to go into his own home? It didn't make sense. If someone dangerous was waiting for him, the house would be dark, and there would be no car that he could see. Then he remembered whose car it was. Ethan James, head of the local militia. A good man, but quiet, self contained. You didn't know what he was thinking, if he didn't want you to know. Whatever this was about, it would sure be a topper on the day.

A few moments later, the two men were sitting in the kitchen. James had a cup of coffee in front of him, the Sheriff had a stiff drink. They'd skipped the small talk, and the ball was in James' court now.

"Sheriff, I'll come straight to the point. Over the next few days militia leaders all over this country are going to be talking to local law enforcement, just like I'm talking to you."

James paused, letting the significance of that sink in. Both men sipped at their respective drinks.

"We're in basic agreement on something. We want the evictions stopped. No more people thrown out of their homes, or their businesses shut down."

He paused again. The two stared at each other. Measuring the man they saw. Deciding whether they wanted the other as an enemy.

"Why", said the Sheriff. He wanted more, he wanted the whole justification for this.

James sighed. He looked around the room.

"Put yourself in their place, Dick," he said, leaning closer in toward the Sheriff, making the matter as personal as possible.

"You lose your home in this time of chaos and there is nowhere to go. All the service agencies are overwhelmed. If you're lucky, you have relatives, but taking on more people strains their means. And, what's the point. The house isn't going to be sold at auction to anyone that will use it. There is no housing market anymore. People are losing where they live, but once they are empty the houses never get filled again. You drive around here. You've seen the boarded up houses and commercial buildings, that is if squatters haven't moved in.

"The only reason there is pressure on you to evict is because people with money are trying to take advantage, trying to get more for themselves at the cheapest cost."

The Sheriff nodded at this. He'd been at a luncheon of the Rotary Club today, and afterwards had been invited to have a drink with two bankers, a lawyer and two developers. They had wanted to know if he needed more men to process the evictions. They wanted to help him out, see that the Town provided more funds for more deputies.

"I'll put it to you straight, Dick. Everybody's got to make choices. Its basically property rights versus human needs. The militias are backing human needs over property rights. We don't Consent anymore."

Finally the Sheriff responded.

"It isn't as easy as you seem to think, Ethan. Not at all. I'm the law here, and if I start picking and choosing which laws I'll enforce then where do we go then, huh? The property people control the Board of Supervisors. They can fire me and find someone else to do their dirty work, if that's what it really is."

"You're right, Dick, absolutely right. But it isn't that simple is it? I can see it in your face. You don't like the evictions. I understand one of your deputies is not making his house payment. What are you going to do then?"

James reached out an poured himself some more coffee and the Sheriff some more bourbon.

"Look. I'm not here to make demands. I'm here to tell you that the militias are united on this. It's a place we are willing to make a stand. If you go with us, then we are with you. Do you understand that? We will back you up. We used to have only eighty men in this town, now we have two hundred and eighty. Not all of them are well trained, but they are coming to us all the time. They're taking sides and getting ready.

"Think about it a minute. You're a member of the American Association of County Sheriffs, right? Use your contacts. Check out which way the wind is blowing. The more of us that act together, the less confrontational it will be. Plus, we aren't trying to decide property rights, we're just after getting the evictions to stop, keeping people in their homes and in their communities, until things settle down again. When they do we can use legal means, new elections, new laws, whatever, to solve the problem."

He paused and then his face grew very serious, very grim and determined.

"Dick, I don't want violence in our community like in the cities. But you have to understand. We don't Consent anymore, we don't Consent."

*

Sergeant Morrison began to speak. His voice was quiet, but firm. The nervousness was completely gone. An American soldier stood there, telling these men what lived in the hearts of his fellows.

"Sometimes the rules have to be set aside. Sometimes the rules are wrong. No American soldier should ever be asked to turn a gun on his fellow countrymen, ever. An order to do that is immoral, whether it is illegal or not. We won't do it. We don't Consent.

"Now you gentlemen have a problem. Solve the problem. Don't look for blame, don't make excuses. The cities are in chaos, the economy is collapsing. Foreign powers look at us with feral hunger. Order needs to be restored. You want the Army to act. Well, I'll tell you this, the Army is willing to act, but not to go to war against our own.

"I can give you a computer generated list today of all the enlisted men and women and NCO's that are from every neighborhood in America that is in trouble, a list that has names, ranks, availability, and where their home is.

"Give us leave and send us home, in as many numbers as can be managed. We'll go in uniform and unarmed. We'll go back to these places and we'll make peace. Think about it. Think about two hundred soldiers, men and women, showing up south of the stockyards in Chicago, driving trucks with food and water, with tents and shelters, with medicines and most important of all, with hope. Men and women known to the community.

"Not strange faces with guns and orders and demands and agendas. Just ordinary soldiers, coming home to help.

"Face it gentlemen. You don't have our Consent anymore. This country isn't yours to rule or pass out favors over. Its ours, it belongs to the People, and the People are taking it back."

Then Morrison did something very surprising, terrifying even. He reached up and dismantled his medal cluster and placed it on the table. He looked at the bar representing the Medal of Honor kind of wistfully for a moment and then, with a tear in his eye (not for himself, but for the men and women that awful day he couldn't save), he tossed it toward the President, and looked him straight in the eye.

"Be a man, Mr. President. Be an American. Stop being a politician for once. But if you can't, if this room represents America, then I don't want any part of it."

With that he turned and, with a great deal of quiet dignity, left the room.

*

Arthur looked carefully at each of the now very frightened men. He had no sympathy for them. They were used to being order givers, they could order a death, and probably had, without a second thought. They thought nothing of using violence if they could get away with it, and it served their purposes. Now the shoe was on the other foot. They knew now that their private gardens had come to harbor very deadly snakes. Now was the time to close the door and let them see who the real order givers would be.

"I am no altruist", he began. "I am someone basically more dangerous, more terrible in purpose than any of you every have been.

"I will have power you have yet to dream of."

He paused, to let that idea sink in. They were fools all of them, easily manipulated by someone stronger and more intelligent. They had come to their powers, most of them, by good fortune and family ties, not by raw effort. They were ruthless in maintaining their status, but they did not yet think far enough ahead. The plan Arthur was carrying out was a work of generations. A work patient beyond imagination, waiting for a particular moment of crisis, and then this work would steal the power from the order givers and something new would emerge from the chaos.

He could see by their faces, even the Asians, who prided themselves on their ability to conceal emotions, that they were ready for the final shock. He called over his shoulder to the door:

"Bring in the box."

The door opened, and the servant who had mixed the drinks walked in, carrying in two hands a tray on which was a large box covered by a black opaque cloth. At a gesture from Arthur the man set the tray and box on the coffee table in front of Estes, and then stood nearby.

"Well, my former master, did you not summon someone, a certain Charlie Corlis? Do you not, even now, perhaps harbor a secret hope that he will appear and rescue you from your own stupidity? I am sorry to say that he is not going to be any help to you at all, but if you wish you may tell him of your disappointment."

With those words Arthur's companion reached down and suddenly pulled back the cloth, revealing a bloody severed head.

Estes recognized the remains of Charlie instantly, then screamed and collapsed to the floor, twitching and spasming as if his heart had suddenly and viciously failed him.

*

interlude and news item: terrorist bombers attacked buses in Boston yesterday.  It was the second attack in recent weeks.  Homeland Security stepped up its demands for a national ID card again, saying this was needed in order to fight the War on Terror.  Local officials explained that only one of the bombs went off, while in the other two incidents alert citizens had shot and killed the bombers.  What local officials did not say, is that on the same day, five innocent people were shot by folks assuming they were terrorists, bringing that national total of suspected terrorist shootings to 78 so far this year.

*

Hex-man and Jumbo, and a few others sat in the back of the former Chinese dinning room. They were waiting for someone the shadow warriors were bringing in. Someone the warriors called a story teller. Over the last couple of years, both these young black men, having risen to a certain degree of success in a very difficult environment, had learned to value what the shadow warriors brought. People who accepted living the way they lived, and had made of it what they had, earned a certain kind of respect. The shadow warriors could have left the streets, instead, they owned them.

Hex-man, who had read more then a few books in his short life, recalled stories of old European cities where beggar kings and gypsys held power that others did not understand, and made a life where others were too dainty to endure it. Hex-man understood that it was the negotiated treaties of the shadow warriors that kept the peace between the gangs, and allowed them to operate as a combined force. It was that combined force the won the main battle, a force that worked together, following the generalship of two Vietnam vets, one black and one white, two men the shadow warriors had put forward when the national guard units were called in to stop the riots.

These men had learned their lessons well, and when the guard realized they were confronting tactics learned from the Viet Cong, they had withdrawn and requested regular Amy help. It was the shadow warriors that had negotiated the cease fire with the city, and who had encouraged the gangs to let people leave the controlled territories. Hex-man knew this alliance was crucial to what happened next and he was not going to follow Anton down a path that would have destroyed it.

While Hex-man was alone with his thoughts, Jumbo too was inwardly contemplative. His view on things would even have surprised Hex-man. Jumbo was deeper then people realized. As a young boy he quickly realized that his enormous size was a tool, and so he used it to survive. But no one knew that it was really his intelligence that had made his life work.

Jumbo saw clearly the dynamics of the life around him. He also loved, first his family, and then Alicia, starting when he was thirteen. Now he had three children and a good life. His family was intact - his grandmother, mother, a sister and her two children, all lived in a good sized apartment Jumbo provided for them. Jumbo could have left the 'hood, could have played NFL football and made a lot of money. But something made him stay, something made him make a place for himself two blocks from where he had been born. He had a lot of respect here, and few understood from where it really came.

Jumbo had used his size to intimidate, while at the same time he used his intelligence to out think everyone around him. No one had ever noticed that in all the years he was a slowly evolving aspect of the gangs, that he never once killed anybody. Never once.

The one time he was asked to, he used his power of threat to make the individual leave forever the area, with the result that it was assumed the deed was done. Jumbo also saw that his best role was as a body guard. Men who used violence were often afraid themselves beneath all the false bravado. They liked it that Jumbo would serve them, never realizing that Jumbo used his position to quietly help others.

But people saw this, and they understood that this huge man was not like those around him. He was someone to trust, someone to bring problems to. So, while those he protected made money and had all the sex and fancy clothes and cars they wanted, Jumbo had respect, was not as feared as it appeared, and often accomplished things that he was asked to do, with just a well placed word.

He was not just a couple steps ahead of those who thought he was their servant, he was in a world they could not imagine existed.

It was from this point of view that he easily saw what the shadow warriors were about, and he used his considerable influence, behind the scenes, to support the alliance. More than this, it was his authority that enabled the two "generals" to work their plans the night of the great battle for the streets.

They too were wise, and, while his own community had many who misread him, these two did not. Together the three of them laid out the strategy, to force the guard down certain streets and to let them discover, without much harm, the dangers each burned out building and blown up car filled street represented. In this way the guard was able to discover what the three of them wanted them to discover, and took away the impression that the three of them wanted them to take away.

In truth it was an illusion. Neither Jumbo, or the shadow warrior generals wanted an all out conflict. So they made it appear that the streets and buildings were mined and tunneled just like the jungles of Vietnam. The guard had vets in its companies and they recognized immediately what they were looking at. The guard then thought that there was a danger that did not really exist. But there was a lesson military forces that had learned there, in that hot and wet jungle. You can't take territory from an indigenous people, without enormous costs. So the guard withdrew, took counsel among themselves and decided that they were not equipped to deal with that level of resistence.

It was thus, that two very intelligent young men waited for this new person the shadow warriors were bringing - waited with very open minds, correctly expecting that what was coming would illuminate in some surprising way, the situation in which they all found themselves.

*

He thought of himself as a singer, not as a politician.  He tried, with what modest gifts he had, to speak somehow for what he thought of as the spirit of America.  He could never claim this however, especially before the media.  Even so, he tried to give voice to something deeper.  What was remarkable to him was that this attitude took his mind to places in the world of thought he otherwise would have believed impossible.

To others he was a very ordinary man, running for President, who gave very unusual political speeches.   That his speeches were extemporaneous just made things even more mysterious.

Today he had just a few minutes, perhaps ten or fifteen at the most, to say a few words to a press club in Los Angeles.  This is what he found himself saying.

"Our Republic has never been in more danger.  This is made all the worse by the fact that we have become used to these most dire circumstances.  They have crept upon us while the majority of us have had our attention else where, and we have more and more become used to them as if these tyrannys and corruptions were an acceptable and normal course of events.

"There are four culprits responsible for our tragedy.  I will speak of them in order of increasing responsibility.

"First in order of responsibility is we ourselves.  The American People sleep, and have so far been far too tolerant of abuses of our way of life.  The current crisis is our reward, a wake up call that must be responded to or all our freedoms will soon be lost.

"The second group most liable is our politicians - a community of thoughtless and morally confused liars.  They have sold their souls to monied powers, for the benefit of their own ambitions.  On such a basis no good can come to our Republic.  The publics business is not dealt with in our legislative and executive hallways.  Only the needs of a few receive the real work and attention.

"The third group is the monied powers themselves.  They serve a dark and cold god called profit, and sacrifice countless lives, even the very heart of the planet, on the altar of their greed and short sightedness.  They speak often of freedom, of free markets and free trade, but in the end the only freedom they desire is their own freedom to plunder and abuse.

"One would think that here the causes of our Republic's soon demise has found its root source, but this is not so, for the final culprit is more liable than all the other three put together.  It is our so-called free press which must bear ultimate responsibility.  In the hearts of our founders they were first in mind when our rights were enumerated.  For if those who can speak the truth are guaranteed the highest protection then how can the Republic fall?

"Yet, it is the Press, who, though given the greatest rights, has failed to even begin to carry the corresponding responsibilities.  They have been made custodians and stewards of the word, and of the power of truth speaking, that remarkable force that is mightier than the sword.  But what have they done with this gift?  From them, while the monied powers corrupted our politicians and ruined our way of life, no harsh word was spoken, no warning cry raised high.  Instead we had endless infotainment and happy talk, while the house of our Republic burned to the ground and the ravenous jackals of greed began to devour its very foundations.

"The lowest circle in hell would not be sufficient punishment for this catastrophic failure of the most simple and honorable responsibilities: to speak and write the truth.

"Now you might suspect that your offense was to not be sufficiently aggressive, to not go after the politicians effectively.  But that is not the case.  In fact, the course you did pursue, that of exposing the smallest personal details of those in public life, and of magnifying the most minor character flaws as if politicians were not human beings, this course did much harm.  It focused the publics mind on the least important matters, and distracted our leaders from the real tasks.  It is hard to imagine a greater dis-service.

"But, the fact is you manged to do just that, to commit an even worse crime.

"It was, by the way, basically a crime of omission, although it was not so difficult to know what to do.  I believe that you did know, and choose not to act properly.  I believe you did know and were too lazy, and too greedy, to do what was required of a free press in this age.

"Let me make this as plain as possible, so that there is no confusion.  The Public Good is determined by a dialog about ideas.  Our nation is built upon the ideal.  The whole fabric of its best nature is a matter of heart based thought activity.  And it is ideas that were omitted.  Nowhere in the media over these many decades of the decline of our way of life has there been the needed discussions of the fundamental ideas under assault by the various forces armed against our way of life.  It is as if the press had no mind at all.

"Of course there were the few exceptions, but the main media, those who cry so loudly when their first amendment privileges are questioned, were silent.  Clearly they had no love of our Republic ...

*

another interlude and weather report: the final analysis report of last summer's heat wave in the Southwest was released today.  Deaths due to heat for the summer had been estimated at around 350.   Phoenix continued to break records, having one period where the high temperature was over 110 for 35 days in a row, while the low never got below 93.  Records where broken again in Death Valley, where the highest ever temperature was reported at 133 degrees.

*

Father Carmichael wanted a drink, badly.  Instead he just poured himself another cup of Mrs. Columbine's very strong coffee.  Usually his turns in the confessional were not so bad, at least given the neighborhood he should be used to occasional reports of rape and murder.  But this new parishioner was confessing to things he had not imagined possible.

At first Father Carmichael refused to believe what was being said.  But as time went on, as the weekly confessions continued, he more and more knew what was being said was true.

What made matters worse was that what the individual was confessing said more about Mother Church than it did about the individual.   This individual was participating in an action of Mother Church that was morally abhorrent in the extreme.  Mother Church, for reasons of self-centered political and social power, was suppressing knowledge that humanity deserved to know, in fact absolutely needed to know.

Mother Church was afraid of what the knowledge would do to itself, and not concerned with the benefits to mankind.  And so was Father Carmichael.  Great changes would flow if this knowledge was no longer suppressed.  Not the least of which would be the destruction of the teaching authority of Mother Church itself.  Father Carmichael understood the agony he was hearing in the confessional, an agony made worse by the fact that the individual confessing was thinking about betraying Mother Church, by making public this suppression of knowledge.

Now Father Carmichael was a participant in this agony.  He too had to choose.  If he did nothing, then this individual would go public.  If he violated the confessional and told Mother Church of what might happen, then he knew with certainty Mother Church would act, perhaps even kill this individual or himself, in order to keep this knowledge secret.  It was like some cheap novel with conspiracies and evil deeds being done by the Princes of the Church.  God did he want a drink!

*

    Avery woke with a start.  He tried to get out of his sleeping bag quickly, but there was a hand on his chest, gently but firmly holding him down.  He could hear Hector complaining in the background, as well as some whispering voices.  His fire was out so he couldn't see very well.

    Then a voice said: "Take it easy fella, we just want to talk.  We've found two guns - a pistol under your sleeping bag, and a rifle with your other stuff.  You got any more weapons?  We don't want any surprises here."

    Avery thought a minute.  If they had meant him dead, he'd be dead.  Better just to say.

    "There's a knife and a revolver in the saddle bags on Hector".

    Some more whispering and then a "got it".

    The hand eased off and Avery sat up.  Someone was playing with the coals in the ashes of the fire and soon it was going again.  He could see his coffee gear being used, and with the light he could see a group of men, some young, some not.  Looked like Indians, like Native Americans.  It made sense.  He'd wondered why he hadn't run into them before wandering around these woods.  There'd been talk they were out there, especially since a lot of them had disappeared off of jobs and stuff.  But this was something organized, so he tried to really wake up.  He'd need to pay attention so he could make a good report.

    A lot of silence while coffee was made, and then when everyone had had some, out came a pipe.  It was one of those ceremonial things.  They were all sitting down around the fire, and the pipe came to him and he noticed that the guy passing it made a point of their hands touching during the pass.  He took a quick puff and then passed it on.  As it went to the last couple of guys he could see that they touched hands as well.  It seemed kind of obvious now, but in all his own slim paying attention to things Indian, he never thought about that.

    There was an older man with them and he began to sing or chant a little.  When he was done, the guy who'd had his hand on Avery's chest leaned toward him and said: "we always start with a prayer too".

    Then they were all looking at Avery.  Waiting.


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