Friday, September 28, 2012

Dying Echoes of Who We Were (the conclusion)


 (Author's note: Its very late, the rest of this story is crap and full of typos, but I give up on it.)



Chapter Three

Killing came easy to Andrew upon arriving in Vietnam. In fact, those in his chain of command saw he had a talent for it as someone might have for art or music. With nothing and no one to anchor his soul, the skills he began to discover during his initial training as a soldier were further honed and expanded remorselessly while on patrols in the jungle. Still though, during the moments he had to himself his thoughts would always drift back to Emily and the events in her family’s beach house.

During mail calls as Andrew and the rest of his unit would gather to receive letters from home he would silently pray for something as small as a postcard from Emily saying she had forgiven him. Except for the occasional package or letter from his mom, he received nothing. What small hope that he struggled to keep alive was finally killed the day he received the newspaper clipping sent by his mother.

It showed a picture of Emily embracing a guy with the article below stating his name was Gregg Morris. While examining the couple in the photograph Andrew recognized the ancient oak tree they were standing underneath, it occupied a far corner of her father's property and was a convenient place they had used to meet secretly while in high school.

Andrew was no fool, the situation smelled of arranged marriage but what puzzled him was the expression of happiness on Emily’s face in the picture. It was the same look of love he remembered seeing on her during their moments together. A seemingly clear statement that she had cast him aside for someone else, especially galling was the fact that her father must have approved of this new love interest. As a sign of acceptance that she had moved on, Andrew tossed the clipping and every other item associated with Emily he had with him into the nearest trash container.

Finding out about Emily's engagement to another guy was an intense body blow to Andrew but given the stress and uncertainty he was forced to live under it was not something he could dwell on and hope to survive. After two months Andrew found the hurt beginning to heal until he returned to his remote camp after a seven day pass to Saigon with his buddies. His infantry company's First Sergeant had called an evening formation to announce several changes in the upcoming schedule along with passing out the mail to the soldiers returning from Saigon. For Andrew it was the usual collection of letters from his mom along with several magazines and books. He did not see the fancy envelope with the name of "Emily Morris" printed above the return address until after he had showered and gotten his gear ready for the next morning.

Sitting on his bunk, he held the unopened letter in his hand for close to an hour trying to decide what to do. In his mind, he felt it was an unbelievable cruel thing for Emily to do to him. By using her new last name on the return address to Andrew, it adding a new insult to an old injury in her declaring she had married someone else. The solution as to what to do with her letter came to Andrew when he saw his best friend over by his bunk lighting a cigarette.

"Hey Barnes you butthole," he yelled while grabbing a nearby steel wastebasket, "throw me your lighter for a second will you?"

"Sure thing dickhead," his best friend said smiling.

After catching the lighter, he ignited it with one hand while holding Emily's letter in the other. Touching the lighter's flame to one corner of the letter Andrew watched as the paper was consumed. At the last second, he dropped it into the wastebasket and watched the remains turn to ashes. Feeling he had finally put the past behind him Andrew went to sleep and did not think of Emily again.

At the start of his last month in Vietnam, Andrew not only earned his sergeant stripes but a trip to his company commander’s office. The reason was no mystery to anyone, least of all to Andrew who upon being told literally dropped everything and ran to the small steel building covered with sand bags that housed his unit’s administrative offices.

“Well now,” Captain Roy Taylor said after returning the salute and giving the command for Andrew to be at ease, “it seems the selection board for the Special Forces has finally scrapped the bottom of the barrel.” Taylor said after looking up at the young soldier with a sly smile of pride showing on his face.

After indulging himself in a few seconds of open admiration at the young man he and his NCO’s helped train Taylor quickly returned to being the military professional. “I have orders here for you to report back to Fort Bragg to begin the assessment and selection phase of the Q-course. I hope you’re ready Wallace because while you have seen a great deal of action here it’s nothing compared to what the instructors are going to throw at you back at Bragg.”

“I’m ready to do whatever is required for my country and the cause of freedom, sir.” Andrew replied evenly.

“That’s all well and good son, as your commanding officer I would expect nothing less but scuttlebutt has it you were involved in a major blowup back home with your girlfriend and her family right before you reported for duty. Sergeant Wallace the army can use all the good men it can get but you can’t go into Special Forces training licking old wounds believing becoming some national hero like Audie Murphy or Alvin York will make you whole again or impress some girl.”

Taylor’s comments unexpectedly touched a nerve in Andrew but he was able to keep his composure. “I fully realize that sir,” he said, “but it was my intention to make a career out of the army the minute I received my draft notice.”

“Yeah, both your platoon leader and platoon sergeant told me as much. They also told me you are the best soldier they have ever seen as well as a natural leader.” Taylor said still judging Andrew. “Well Sergeant I have only one piece of advice, while serving in the army is one of the most honorable things a man can do in his life don’t let it consume you. At some point, and it’s one of the few decisions the army lets you keep for yourself, you will have to make a life outside the service. So, try and keep some piece of your soul, there are times men have to fight but killing can become far too easy. If you have to kill make sure you have an honest and legitimate reason.”

Caught in a moment of candor Andrew could not help but ask the question that popped in his head. “Sir, how will I be able to decide if my reasons to kill another human being are justified?”

Taylor laughed, “Well sergeant that question is ultimately what separates us Americans from the bad guys like the Nazis, but if you are not careful the lines can become easily blurred, even for us.”

“Thank you sir,” I’ll do my best to remember that.”

Taylor then dismissed Andrew and after the required military protocol was satisfied, he watched the young man walk out of his small office, still unsure if the boy truly understood what he was trying to tell him.

Chapter Four

The old man was sitting in the sand with his legs crossed while resting his head in his hands. While not asleep, the sound of the surf and the salt air lulled his mind into a deep, restful state allowing him to visit memories he had long buried.   

The sound of sand being disturbed immediately brought him back. He stayed perfectly still sensing a person approaching him from behind. In hundreds of previous circumstances all over the world, others had paid with their lives attempting such maneuver. The old man at least had presence of mind to realize he was in no danger permitting him to control instincts that had saved his life many times.

“Hey mister,” a young male voice said, “you can’t sleep on the beach. Even if you’re staying in one of the rental houses, if someone sees you laying out on the sand they will call the sheriff.”

The old man looked up to see a teenage boy wearing a wetsuit and holding a surfboard. Enough time had passed since the old man sat on the beach to relive his memories that the sky had gone from black to blood red with the rising sun seemly sitting on the horizon. A brief second of irritation about being disturbed was replaced with the slightly humorous realization that he did not want another stay in the county jail with so little time left to live. “I’m sorry son,” he said while standing up and dusting the sand off his pants, “I didn’t realize that, the last time I was here people would occasionally lay a blanket out and sleep under the stars.”

“Damn sir, the boy said. “When was that?”

“May of 1969,” the old man said, “right before I left for Vietnam.”

“Did you see any combat?” The boy asked, clearly fascinated over the possibility.

“Yeah, you could say that,” the old man chuckled wearily, “not just in Vietnam but lots of other Godforsaken places all over the globe.” He said then immediately puzzled as to why he would share that information.

“What were you, Ranger, Green Beret, Force Recon, Delta Force, or navy Seal?” The boy asked overly eager.

It was absurd but the old man saw something uncomfortably familiar in the boy and wanted to test his knowledge. “I can say yes to three out of five of those and even more.” He said while raising his arm and pulling up the sleeve of his shirt on his right arm. On his exposed forearm was the tattoo of a Grim Reaper holding a flaming sword while riding a white stallion.

“Oh my God,” the boy said in awe, “you were a Deathwatcher.”

The old man took little satisfaction in the boy recognizing the semi-secret unit. Hollywood had long since blown their reputation far out of proportion, and then on the other hand, the old man told himself, there were many times in his career fact was far more strange and dangerous than fiction.

“Guilty as charged, please tell me you’ve read the official history and not that crappy adventure novel by Mantio or that damn movie with those fucktards, Norris and Stallone.”

The kid’s awkward silence was answer enough so the old man took a different tact. “What got you so interested in the mythical exploits of a CIA counterintelligence team?” The old man asked.

“I want to pursue a career in the military; in fact I want to attend West Point then go into special operations.”

The old man groaned inwardly. “What makes you think you have what it takes? I’ve seen men twice as smart as me and far more physically able run crying from the training let alone being able to function in combat.”

The boy was clearly hurt by the question. “I want to serve my country and protect the freedom we all enjoy. My high school history teacher served in the military and likes to say during his lectures freedom isn’t free and I want to do my part.”

The old man let out an uncontrolled laugh, then sat back down in the sand. “What’s your name son?”

“David Blake.” He answered wondering if he should runaway.

“Well David, sit down and let me tell you some stories about fighting for freedom. Since your teacher likes to regurgitate flippant slogans suitable only for morons I am going to assume that only combat he saw involved fighting his barracks buddies over the last slice of pizza on a lonely Friday night.”

David silently sat down beside the strange man careful to maneuver his surfboard so it was positioned between the two. The old man then began telling him stories about the slaughter of innocents in dirty little villages across the world while politicians wearing thousand dollar suits who never served in the military spoke of grand battles against some evil horde out to corrupt all that is good and holy. He then told David about wars involving ancient feuds still being fought because it was based on some religious or ethnic wrong committed so long ago that it was more myth than actual history. The old man told David how no matter where he went from Southeast Asia, to Central America, to the Middle East nearly all wars were a fraud helpful only to those who sold the bullets.

“What about those wars that are not a sham, what about those where freedom or simply survival is on the line?” David asked the old man.

“Son,” I was once just like you.” The old man said. "And, like I am doing now someone once tried to tell me there was something more to life than fighting like some animal. I ignored him and became the very thing he tried to warn me not to become. What I will tell you is that sometimes you have to fight, but a huge part of the problems we face today is because there are far too many people like me in the world. We need far more doctors, engineers, and scientists that can solve problems instead of making things even worse. Even better, you need to find a purpose for your life that allows you to have one.”

Feeling exhausted and mystified why he would go to such trouble for a total stranger the old man stared out at the ocean for several minutes. David did not move and looked down at the sand going over what was said. “My grandmother is totally against me going into the military,” David said suddenly.

“Smart lady,” the old man said, “is she a local? I might have known her back in my younger days.”

“Yeah she’s a local. Her name is Emily Richardson, although her maiden name was Howard.”

Epilogue

Emily Richardson was awaken by the sounds of her grandson rambling through the old beach house getting ready to go surfing. While lying in her old bed she looked at the pictures of her family sitting on the bedside table. The one in the rear was of her first husband, Gregg Morris. While their marriage had been a quick and desperate act to conceal their socially unacceptable failings the two had protected each other’s secrets to the day he died of AIDS in the fall of 1985. Gregg had even given Emily a child after she miscarried six months into her pregnancy with Andrew's baby. Beside him was the picture of her second husband, Bob Richardson, a doctor who died in a car crash on a rainy night in 2005. Bob had tried his best but she never could love him the way he wanted. She missed them both but neither could replace her first and true love.

The thought of that lost love caused her to look at the picture of her daughter, Liza. Although Emily had failed at love, at least her daughter was happily married and had given her a remarkable grandson. Emily wanted so much more for her grandson David but he was so much like his long lost grandfather. Stubborn and quick to act without really thinking she worried David would run into similar trouble.

Unable to sleep Emily got out of bed and went downstairs to make some breakfast. Several minutes later, she was on the screened in porch sipping her coffee watching David walking back towards the house.

“What happened big boy, you look like you lost your best friend, “she said. I thought you were eager to surf this morning?”

“Granny,” David said, “it was the weirdest thing but I met an old man on the beach. We talked and he convinced stay out of the military and do something more productive with my life. But the strange thing is that when I told him your name he got really sad and left but he asked me to give you something.” David then dropped the old silver switchblade into his grandmother’s outreached hand.

Speechless for several seconds Emily eventually asked where the old man went. David told her that he had seen him drive off about the same time he came inside the house. “He said one last thing Granny, he wanted me to tell you he was sorry and hoped you might forgive him one day.”

Emily quickly got up and ran to the backdoor of the house that faced the island’s only road. She made it outside to stand on the porch only to see Andrew’s car disappearing off into the distance. “I did long ago Andrew,” she said hoping he might one day find some peace.


 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Dying Echoes of Who We Were




 Chapter One


The old man stepped off the wooden boardwalk that ran above the dunes ringing the gravel parking lot and onto the soft white sand of the beach making up the south end of Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Despite the early morning darkness and the fact sunrise was still over an hour away he instinctively knew he was completely alone. The solitude and isolation suited his needs. The old man had come home one last time to indulge the cruel ironies that made up his adult life.

Without any ceremony, he sat down in the sand and closed his eyes soaking up the sensations that surrounded him. While much had changed in him, his home town of Georgetown, and this small island over the decades, the sound of the surf, the smell of the salty air, and the softness of the sand connected him to memories that had plagued him remorselessly since he learned cancer was eating alive.

"Why did I come back here?" He asked himself aloud. Some part of the old man's mind agreed with the question. There was nothing and no one to greet him as he drove down Front Street in the car he rented back in Charleston after getting off the plane. His parents had died decades earlier and if he still had any high school friends living in Georgetown it was a certainty they would not recognize him. Still, he felt some deep need to return to the place that had set him on his lonely path through life.

"You know why you came to this spot you coward," he said to himself paradoxically several seconds later. Still a part of the old man refused to acknowledge the truth even to himself. With just weeks left to live, his last desire was to see the only woman he ever truly loved. The reason why he denied himself that fact had less to do with the years that had taken or scattered everyone he knew and cared about but the circumstances in which they parted. Somehow the old man drew enough courage and began to walk down the beach towards the house here everything went wrong.‎

***‎

The young couple had spent the night making love in the dunes on the other side of the creek separating Pawleys from the mainland. With daybreak approaching their time together was coming to an end, one would soon be a student at Clemson University while the other was heading off to Fort Bragg a few days later with the ultimate destination being Vietnam. In the darkness they walked in silence through the sand holding hands both happy and sad at the same time.‎

Even with the idea of going to war, and possibly dying in a faraway jungle Andrew Wallace felt true joy for the first time in his life. He pulled his girlfriend Emily Howard close wrapping his right arm around her waist. In turn, she rested her head on his shoulder.‎

"My father will have to accept you in the family now Andy," She said happily. "In his eyes you have soiled me sir and he will demand you do the right thing."‎

"He better," Andrew said in a menacing tone that surprised ever him. "I will soon be fighting for my country in Vietnam and working to become an army officer. That's got to make me something more in your banker father’s eyes than just the son of a poor mill worker."‎

"My father is an idiot at times,” Emily said noticing the anger in Andrew’s voice. “When we see him today I will tell him we will be married when you return from Vietnam even if he disowns me like he threatened.” ‎

The two lovers then lapsed into silence as they continued walking back towards the beach house they had shared for the last week. It belonged to one of Emily’s uncles and she and her siblings had free use of the place since he had moved to Atlanta. With Emily’s family caught up in their own affairs, it had proven to be a safe sanctuary for the two during the week.

Ensnared in their own emotions and thoughts the couple did not notice the different set of lights on in the house until they walked into the living room. There to greet them was Emily’s older brother and his best friend, neither sympathetic to the feelings Andrew and Emily felt for each other.

“Well look at this Roger,” Clark Howard said to his friend sitting at the table in the adjoining kitchen, “seems like we caught little sister and her white trash boyfriend by surprise. Father will be terribly disappointed in you Emily,” he said in a condescending tone, “he had such high hopes to marry you off to that Thompson boy from Charleston.”

Caught by surprise their mere presence and Clark's words of ridicule Andrew hated the wave of intimidation that sweep through his mind. All during high school Clark had lead a life of privilege because his father owned the largest bank in three counties. Given the nature of social climbing in a small southern town that reason alone made him one of the biggest fish in a small pond insuring in an automatic popularity. But add his large size, sense of privilege, and innate cruelty and the result was a borderline sociopathic bully all too eager to verbally or physically strike someone down. More than a few times during high school Clark's attention had focused on Andrew and the small collection of friends he hung out with while a student.

Deep down inside Andrew felt things had changed, after finishing basic and advanced infantry training he knew himself to be far more than some scared kid willing to accept abuse at the hands of a bully. Unconsciously at first, he edged away from Emily and towards the table next the couch holding a heavy stone coffee mug and another item of special importance in this situation. During those crucial seconds as Clark continued with his diatribe, Andrew watched Roger standing in the doorway that connected the kitchen with the hallway leading towards the bedrooms. Always the reliable sidekick, Roger's attention was focused exclusively on his powerful benefactor while Clark continued his string of threats and insults at Andrew and Emily who by this time was nearly paralyzed with fear of her older brother.

When Andrew finally reached the coffee mug Roger did not see him quickly pick it up and throw it at him. However, Roger did feel the impact of the mug as it hit dead center on his face, after that he collapsed and would not awaken until after surgery to fix his nose and jaw. Clark on the other hand did see Andrew come at him but not before he grabbed the other item off the table, a silver switchblade knife that he had purchased while at small store just outside of Fort Benning. After years of dishing out abuse to victims unable to fight back, Clark was unprepared for the onslaught of blows Andrew laid on him. Within a minute, the large man was on the floor with several broken and bruised ribs but the worst was yet to come.

Overcome with rage Andrew sat on top of Clark's chest enjoying the agony he was inflicting by bouncing on the man's body. At the same time, Andrew had opened the switchblade and positioned the end of the stainless steel blade a hair's breadth away from Clark's right eye.

"Please give me an excuse to blind you. I have so wanted to try out a few tricks my drill sergeants taught me and you are the perfect person to practice on," Andrew whispered. Clark could not respond verbally, abject fear was a new and novel thing for him, so much that he felt the crotch of his pants becoming soaked with a warm liquid.

Emily, who was still standing at the entrance to the living room, had watched the proceeding events in stunned silence until she saw the look of utter rage on Andrew's face. The creature sitting on her brother's chest about to cut one of his eyes out was not the kind and loving man she wanted to marry. Confused and scared Emily let out scream that shook Andrew out of his insane stupor.

Seeing his opportunity, Clark, even with his injuries, attempted to counter attack but Andrew was already on a hair trigger and instinctively jerked the knife into his eye then down his face leaving a long and bloody gash all the way to the jaw.

Seeing the fear on Emily's face and Clark writhe in pain from what he had done Andrew climbed off the injured man in time to see his girlfriend run out the door screaming for the police. After that, everything became a confusing blur for Andrew to the point his mind shut down.

Chapter Two

Within a few hours of the incident, Andrew found himself alone occupying a small cell in the county jail. Still dealing with the shock of what he did and how Emily ran off calling for the police Andrew spent the next two days feeling utterly lost with the realization his life was now ruined. Not only had Emily abandoned him but in two more days he would be AWOL and eventually declared a deserter. Making matters worse, during a visit by his parents the day before he learned that the county judge had denied him bail.

Laying on the small bunk in his cell, Andrew found himself contemplating suicide. Even that final solution to his problems was denied to him because he had nothing assist him to that end. Just when Andrew thought he might go insane with despair a strange and unexpected avenue of escape opened up to him.

The clang of heavy keys and the sound of the iron bars that made up his cell being slide open pulled Andrew out of his misery. Standing before him was the county sheriff Woodrow Carter holding his army duffel bag. The sheriff stepped into the cell curiously leaving the door open looking at Andrew with a mixture of sympathy and puzzlement.

“I just want you to know the remains of Clark Howard’s right eye had to be removed and he will in all likelihood be sporting one hell of a scar for the rest of his life.” The sheriff said as he dropped Andrew’s duffel bag to the floor.

“Sheriff Carter,” Andrew began, “not that it will do me any good but I want to say I am sorry to Clark and the Howard family. I do not know what came over me back in their beach house. I realize I will have to pay for my crimes.”

Pulling what amounted to a small stool from underneath Andrew’s bunk the sheriff plopped himself down on it and looked back at him. “Screw Clark and his damned family,” he said. “I never liked any of them. What I will tell you is that Clark Howard senior has been on the phone pulling all sorts of strings to make sure you spend the rest of your life in that hellhole called the Central Correctional Institute up in Columbia.”

“So when can I expect to be sent up there?” Andrew asked resigning himself to something worse than death.

“Well that’s the rub,” the sheriff said chuckling, “by all rights you should spend several years  in prison to pay for your crime but there is the small matter of you being a trained soldier about to go fight in a war while Clark Howard junior somehow skated right through the draft board on a college deferment. The fact that he flunked out of Clemson last year and that his rich daddy sits on that panel surely cannot be connected. But because of that strange circumstance I’m about to make you a deal you cannot refuse.”

Despite it all Andrew leaned forward beginning to see the barest glimmer of hope. Sheriff Carter stared off into space for a moment, as if he had second thoughts, and then took a deep breath. “Right now I have one deputy at the bus station holding the bus bound for Wilmington, North Carolina with a direct connection going to Fort Bragg arriving in time for you not to become AWOL. Another deputy is outside this jail in his car waiting for you to get inside so he can drive you to the bus station. The one condition in all this is that you can never return to Georgetown, not even to see your folks. If you do and are caught, I will be forced to arrest you. The Howard family has very long memories and plenty of powerful friends.”

“What about Emily? Andrew asked. “She and I are in love.”

“Listen son!” Carter said frustrated, “She is the one who ran screaming down Pawleys Island about some crazy man killing her brother. I can’t say what her feelings about you are or were but I am offering you a chance for a life. You have to choose now!” 

There was no other option, twenty minutes later Andrew is on the bus wearing his army class A uniform heading north on U.S. Highway Seventeen. As Andrew’s hometown disappeared behind him he held the silver switchblade tightly in his right hand swearing to God never to return. 

(Author's note: This half-assed attempt at "decent" fiction actually has an ending. Will post chapter three and four no later than Monday.) 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Best of Us





Being an unrepentant space cadet, it is hard to describe my feelings at the recent passing of Neil Armstrong. For several years during the relatively early part of my childhood, I looked forward to the launch of the next Apollo mission the same way kids these days eagerly await the release of a much hyped video game. What can I say? That is just who I was and still am in many respects.

Neil Armstrong was everything in life Americans these days like to delude themselves into believe they are now. In short, he was a true hero on a level comparable with those ancient voyagers who exist more in the realm of myth and legend than real life. Neil and his fellow Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon had the courage and intelligence to travel to place that for vast majority of human history had more in common with mystical Atlantis than any faraway but real location here on Earth. The fact that they used technology that in this era can easily be called extremely primitive only makes their accomplishments that more amazing.

The only thing that surpasses their triumph is the fact that forty-three years later not only can we not return to the moon but as of right now Americans have to buy seats on Russian rockets just to get into low-earth orbit. Although there are several promising commercial ventures that not only look to change this fact but will begin to allow a much wider access to space.

Right after Neil Armstrong’s passing was announced on National Public Radio I heard scores of testimonials as to the effect he had on the lives of other people. One gentleman in his early eighties called in to tell the story of the conversation he had with his elderly aunt the day Neil set foot on the moon. The guy said that in 1969 he was sitting with her watching the pictures being beamed back from the moon. His aunt was in her late eighties herself at the time and he leaned over and asked her did she ever think she would see a man walking on the moon. Her response was awe inspiring.

This lady told her nephew that as a little girl she crossed the continent with her parents and siblings in a covered wagon, saw the creation of a nationwide railroad system, then lived to see the invention of the airplane so no, seeing men walk on the moon did not seem outlandish at all. I pray that I live to see similar achievements in my own life.

Godspeed Neil Armstrong. A thousand years from now your name will be remembered.


Neil Armstrong, 1st to walk on moon, buried at sea 

The first man to walk on the moon has been buried at sea.buried at sea.
 NASA says Neil Armstrong's cremated remains were buried in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday during a ceremony aboard the USS Philippine Sea.
Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot before joining the space program. He died last month in Ohio at age 82. His burial follows a memorial service in Washington on Thursday.
NASA photographs show Armstrong's widow, Carol Armstrong, accepting a folded American flag during the ceremony, which NASA said included a bugler and a rifle salute.
The space agency didn't give the location of the ceremony. The ship's homeport is Mayport, Fla.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Pondering the Tired American Presidential Comedy

...Or we are the People our Parents warned us about.



Neither time nor circumstance has allowed me this weekend to indulge in my usual pastime of writing incredibly crappy fiction. This really sucks since I finally got around to writing outlines for two stories that actually verge on being decent, at least what can be called decent for me. For those who are wondering I spent the majority of the weekend chained to a wall in my house painting the woodwork and various doors in the hallway all the while pleading for beer as my wife stood over me with a whip and a microscope. After all that fun with the small amount of time I have remaining before I have to go back into third-shift mode I will endeavor to write about this unique and very comedic period of time called the American presidential election cycle.

***     

Living here in the American South there are times I seem to share a bizarre kind of kinship with the great primatologist Jane Goodall. Of course, instead of observing chimpanzees like the illustrious scientist the subjects of my observations are several species of conservatives ranging from the ignorant redneck convinced that the Rapture could occur any second to the narcissistic Randian comfortably secure in life so everyone else can go to Hell. It’s a fairly wide spectrum of individuals with scores of subtypes but the one thing that unites them is their hatred of President Obama.

I truly hate to offend most people, with the clear exception being the followers of Ayn Rand who I do loathe and would not piss on if they were on fire, but frankly I have had oodles of fun watching this collection of fruits and nuts do their best to work up an enthusiasm for Willard Mitt Romney. Even with what I will admit is a poor economy, tons of free flowing corporate money, and a nifty nationwide scheme to rig the election with new laws restricting inconvenient groups from voting Mittens is at best tied with the president.

From my personal observations of those saying they will vote for Mittens their support seems lukewarm at best as if they are resigned to the fact he has patiently stood in line waiting like a good fat cat for his nomination and will allow him his chance. All the while New Jersey’s fat boy, Florida’s boy wonder, and the long-suffering Jeb Bush wait and position themselves for 2016 if conservatives cannot quite convince the nation, and themselves, Obama is the antichrist.

Romney’s conservative credentials are as flawed as a Rolex watch on display in some roadside flea market and as shallow as a plastic kiddie pool bought at Wal Mart. If fact any person with a reasonably open mind could easily discover just how fast he went from the socially freethinking governor of Massachusetts desperate to out liberal the late Teddy Kennedy for his senate seat to being  “severely conservative” for his presidential runs.

Case in point was his instant transition from being for moderate levels of gun control while governor to proudly proclaiming his life time membership in the National Rifle Association when he ran for president in 2008. Little hint for those who do not know, the NRA offers a lifetime membership for the one-time fee of three-hundred dollars. So, while Mittens might have recoiled from them for years after that small check cleared he could then claim kinship with all those rabid Second Amendment types fearful of liberal storm troopers. Romney has changed positions so many times a credible response to senile Clint’s impassioned conversation with an empty chair would have been a Democrat having a chat with a pair of cheap flip-flops.      

***

As for President Obama, it was an absolute certainty-on par with the sun rising every morning-that I will vote for him no matter what. President Obama pretty much represents my attitudes and beliefs on the direction the country needs to take in the twenty-first century. Is he perfect? Hell no! Anyone who ever expects the prefect president probably still believes in Santa and the Easter Bunny.

Once again, I do not mean to offend anyone but just as conservatives wish upon a star for the Second Coming of Ronald Reagan liberals spend far too much time expecting the appearance of some Messiah that will lead the American people to the proverbial land of milk and honey and a social utopia. It is a nice notion but impossible in the thing most of us call the real world. Personally, I would like Senator Bernie Sanders or former congressman Allan Greyson to be elected president but the likelihood of that happening is only slightly better than aliens landing on the White House lawn.

As much as I like Obama I realize he is just a man subject to the same flaws, inconsistencies, and weakness that affect all us mortals. The fact that Obama holds the highest office in the land only makes those issues more problematic.  However, until someone comes up with a better system of government these are issues we will have to deal with. Expecting Obama to change the shape and course of a country as large and complex as the United States in four years is at the very least unrealistic. Throw in the very inconvenient fact forgotten by most liberals that at this point in time the American people are in a center-right frame of mind made worse by a very paranoid minority making any purposed progressive reform very difficult.

More to the point, in my ever-humble opinion liberal/progressives would be far better served to stop whining about the real and imagined faults of Barrack Obama and start working at the grassroots level to elect those types of politicians that they want to see in congress. Why do I even write something so basic and commonsense? Well, because while Progressives have wet dreams about a true man, or woman, of the people being elected unless that socialistic messiah has a duly cooperative congress nothing will be accomplished. Sure, we had our Occupy Movement but someone please explain to me what exactly they accomplished.

Yeah, they scared the living shit out of many reactionary conservatives but the Occupy Movement folded like a cheap suit once things got tough. In the medium to long term none of this stuff matters, the vast majority of elected officials have already sold their souls to the highest bidder just to secure their reelection. At the same time, the world continues to change at a pace that defies explanation. You have to figure that our political mindset mired in partisan bickering and twentieth century thinking will either be changed from the bottom up or overturned by some event. Because while we like to blame the politicians for all our problems they are just a reflection on those who elect them.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Awaken the Serpents of Eden - Chapter Two


 (Author's note: Just having fun here. If interested here is Chapter One.)



Running through the data storage of the communication system it showed nearly fifty years worth of recorded information with all of it being weak static. Apparently, after that the camouflaged antenna array mounted at the top of the mountain the redoubt was under must have collapsed due to decay and weather. The ever-efficient monitoring system ran for another year after that before turning itself off to save power.

As a kid, I use to have a fascination with old science fiction movies dealing with a post-apocalyptic world. I blame my moribund cinematic interest on the fact my parents died in the flu pandemic of 2054 leaving me to be raised in a series of government orphanages. That flu outbreak alone just about brought down civilization leaving one-hundred million dead worldwide, it was not until scientists developed a cure three years later that it was brought under control. The caregivers did their very best but they were overwhelmed with parentless kids and grabbed anything available to keep us occupied. Movies were an easy option as the adults worked night and day to pick up the pieces.   

My favorite was the first Planet of the Apes movie from the twentieth century. The scene that especially sticks in my head as I sit at the control station is the one where the hero sees the ruins of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand of some future beach. In total shock the hero then falls from his horse onto the wet sand and begins cursing the bastards that destroyed the world he knew. Deep down a part of my mind wanted to do the same thing. So much was becoming possible in the latter half of the twenty-first century. With stabilization of the world’s population, major advances in energy technology, along with successful resource and environmental management there finally seemed a real chance for humanity to conquer the worst aspects of their nature. All of this was aided by a growing global awareness that cut across all national and ethnic boundaries.

Of course, being Homo sapiens there had to be a group that desperately wanted to screw things up. In the twentieth century, it was fascism, communism, and then nihilistic terrorist groups. The fly in the twenty-first century ointment were rich oligarchs that sought to establish a neo-feudalistic order in the Western World. Always a problem because of their constant desire for power and control it took the American Occupy Revolution of 2028 in the United States and establishment of the Second Republic to begin to sweep them away in the West.

However, the oligarchic rats refused to die and they quickly skulked off to other parts of the planet to nations that could not resist their money to establish various types of freeholds based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand. From there the Elites used both covert and terroristic means to infiltrate and destabilize every institution and nation across the planet.                

Somehow, instead of falling to the ground and cursing like the hero from Planet of the Apes movie, I found myself beginning to laugh instead. It was well know that the Elites would do anything to protect their selfish interests and regain whatever power they felt belonged to them. When you boiled away all the nationalistic and conflicting global alliances bullshit that had engulfed the world I had no doubt that a major cause of the final war was the oligarchs petulant desire to burn the world if they could not own it.

Realizing my thoughts were counterproductive to the current situation training and instinct took over and I began running through the various computer systems running the redoubt. First on my agenda was finding out why I was only one awake, even though I already had an idea. A minute late I confirmed my suspicions, I had been picked for scout duty.

Way back during the planning stages of the mission the masterminds of the project realized that after an apocalyptic conflict the planet might be unable to support human life at that moment, or even worse, be completely and permanently sterilized. The planners decided to periodically wake up one of the least valuable individuals and have him or her go outside and evaluate the environment. Of course going into stasis was a complicated process requiring whole teams of expert technical support staff, the poor post-apocalyptic scout was going to be very out of luck if the conditions turned out to be less than favorable for the return of humans. Our trainers said scouts had the option of biting down on an Easy Out pill or taking their chances on the outside.

Much to my surprise I learned the first scout was activated five hundred years earlier and the second a mere fifty. Apparently the situation outside was bad for both because neither had radioed any message to the redoubt computer explaining what they found. The first scout was a navy SEAL and the second an army Ranger, whatever situation or condition on the outside that stopped them did not speak well for my own survival. With the last scout woken up just fifty years ago, it was far too early for me to be activated. That question was answered as the master computer brought up a screen a diagnostic overview of the redoubt’s systems.

The redoubt’s main power came from six plutonium-fueled pebble bed nuclear reactors, supposedly able to supply all electrical needs for a small city for close to five thousand years.  After just twenty-seven hundred years two were shut down because of mechanical failures, a third had degraded to the point that at best it could be brought up only to ten percent of design capacity. The other three were operational but the mission plans we had to reignite human civilization required at least four. The power issue was minor compared to the next problem that popped up on the diagnostic screen.

The computer showed me that of the twenty-two hundred people originally put into stasis a little fewer than seventeen hundred left alive. Even worse, a huge percentage of the survivors were in stasis cylinders that were in danger of failing within a decade. With no other choice, I brought the three remaining nuclear reactors up to full power and activated a total system wakeup for those left alive. If the outside was a total wasteland with Operation Rip Van Winkle just delaying the inevitable human extinction the very least we could do was hang out and party until our supplies ran out.

***

I spent the next three days recovering in the redoubt’s spartan living quarters. The empty and silent halls echoed my every footstep in such a way I expected to see a ghost whenever  I turned a corner. Right from the start, I was so unnerved by the situation that I became eager to begin my scouting mission despite the utter and mysterious failure of the two others before me.

On the fourth day, I collected my supplies and moved them to the main access chamber leading to the outside world. It was there the mystery of the second scout was solved in front of the main hatch.

The skeletal remains, still clothed in high-tech fatigues with the name “Garcia” clearly visible over the right cheat pocket, lay slumped to one side directly in front of the huge steel-alloy door. On the bare rock face next the hatch for reasons I could not begin to fathom he had chiseled the words “this is not our world any longer.” I had no idea what he meant but adding to the questions was the pistol clutched in Garcia’s right hand and the missing top of his skull. With so much riding on me getting outside and discovering the condition of the world I felt no qualms about pushing aside what was left of Garcia and getting my supplies into position.

The redoubt computer said it was a little after eight o’clock in the morning on the second day of September in the year 4789 when the hatch unlocked and opened to the surface. Since my sanctuary kept a slight over pressure relative to the outside, it was not until I stepped into the cave that concealed the entrance that I actually began to breathe the fresh air of the wider world. I felt some relief at both not immediately dying from a poisoned atmosphere and seeing blue sky at the mouth of the cave. Setting aside all trepidation, I left the cave behind and stepped out into the sunshine.

When the redoubt was constructed the city of Ashville, North Carolina could be seen off in the distance. The day we entered it to be put into stasis sleep, I clearly remembered the smog that hung over the city framing the skyscrapers and the urban sprawl around them in a brown-grey haze. It was all gone now with a forest stretching as far as I could see interrupted occasionally by serene meadows. It was as if the earth had shrugged off the infection humanity represented and returned to her business of nurturing life. Standing on that rocky plateau looking at all the restored beauty, I felt a small pang of regret for a few seconds at what my appearance and those in the redoubt in the process of being revived meant for this apparently healed planet. 

However, everyone in my group was accepted for this mission because deep down we all had some innate belief that humanity despite its faults had something important to offer. What that justification for our existence might be was both doubtful and debatable but until such time it was disproved I felt I had a mission to perform.

Moving my supplies and equipment from the access chamber into the cave proved to be problematic. So much, that after I was done I decided to wait until the next morning before embarking. It seemed fitting really that I be forced to spend the night in a cave to mark was probably the reappearance of humans on the surface of the earth. I did at least pull out a radiation scanner to check the immediate area. It showed nothing above normal pre-war background levels.

That night I sat on the rocky plateau outside the cave and watched the stars of the Milky Way dance through the heavens. The night was pitch dark due a new moon but I was still astonished at the brilliance of the stars on display until I remembered the blazing artificial lights of humankind were no longer around to dull their spectacle. I spotted Jupiter and Saturn in their eternal wandering through the night oblivious to the missing primates that called the small blue marble home. With my augmented binoculars, I was able to focus in on Jupiter and spotted three of the Galilean moon circling the king of the planets. I could not help but wonder if the American flag the crew of the Discovery planted on Callisto still stood. It along with the Aries landing sites on Mars and the Apollo sites on the moon were fitting memorials to the better angels of human nature.

Despite my best efforts as the hours of darkness passed, I could not find Mars. A quick query to my small handheld computer told me this time of year it was behind the sun and would only be visible for a short time before sunrise. I went to sleep wondering if members of the Pax Consortium ever made it to the Red planet.

***

I spent the next morning readying the biggest and most important piece of my equipment.  Despite extensive training, I was still amazed at the sight of uitralight plane that now rested on the plateau. While it was driven by two very reliable rear facing propellers powered by simple electric motors the electricity for them was generated by the wing made entirely of photovoltaic cells. Besides carrying my weight, it could handle over forty kilograms of supplies. Its one major drawback was that I had to be on the ground before sunset, the onboard batteries were small due to weight limitations. Once the solar cells lost direct input from the sun, I had about thirty minutes to land before I crashed. 

With the weather still very favorable, I saw no reason to stay any longer. I had about two weeks before the medical teams emerged from stasis and immediately begin to revive the others. I wanted to be on the Atlantic coast long before then so I could report possible settlement sites as well as any dangers we might face.

After a final check of the systems, I lifted off the plateau heading toward the southeast. At the time, I thought I understood everything I needed to know about this new earth. Not only did the coming months prove me very wrong but I soon found out my fellow travelers in time and I would still have to settle the old conflicts we thought had died with the old world.