Sunday, March 3, 2013

Walking in the Shoes of Another


Author note: This is a story set in the universe of Margaret Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale."




The day of Harlan Carter’s mission, he awoke in his cot with the safe house deathly silent. Years of finely honed survival instinct caused him to freeze in place and listen for any sounds suggesting that other sections of the old building had been compromised. The Eyes of the Republic were patient agents and were known to silently swoop into a resistance outpost, take those they found, and then after finding hiding places themselves wait for days for the stray fighter to seek refuge in what had become a trap. For that reason alone, resistance safe houses had become complex mazes with numerous secret sections and even more escape routes.

When convinced the safe house was still secure Harlan calmly got out of his small bed, walked over to the small bathroom and had his last shower on earth. He had long made his peace with a God who at best seemed preoccupied with other concerns or more than likely did not exist.  Still, he said a prayer on the slim chance he might see his lost loved ones on the other side. Harlan still recoiled at seeing various members of his family fall victims to Gilead state security.  

Minutes later Harlan stood in front of the bathroom mirror carefully shaving. To Harlan, it seemed a ridiculous activity given what he had planned. However, the state security apparatus of the Republic of Gilead dwarfed anything Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia had ever created. Even the most mundane discrepancy like personal appearance could draw the attention of an attentive agent of the Eye or even a bored Guardian of the Faith trooper looking for a bump that could make him an Angel allowing him to serve in the army fighting in Canada or Mexico. The mission required Harlan to pose as a member of the new merchant class, a group with no political or spiritual power but a relative freedom of movement on par with that of the Commanders of the Faithful ruling class.

The key that made Harlan’s mission even possible was the special suit worn by the merchant class. At first glance, it looked like any other suit a pre-President’s Day Massacre businessman might wear but embedded into the right sleeve was the holographic seal of the merchant class. The Gilead government claimed it was impossible to counterfeit, which did nothing but make the NATO agent laugh the week before when he delivered it to the safe house along with the special pistol and badge Eye agents carried when they were undercover. All important pieces of the plan to assassinate a high ranking Gileadean government official.  

Harlan carefully dressed in his very specially made and tailored clothes and when the time was right, grabbed the small briefcase he was suppose to carry and slipped out of the safe house merging into the morning pedestrian traffic of Atlanta, Georgia. Given the apparent stature of the merchant class in Gileadean society, the group of low-level civilian men Harlan was walking amongst completely ignored him. He could not tell if it was out of hope or fear, although the latter was much more likely.

After the overthrow of the old regime, the Sons of Jacob spoke about remaking the country into a spiritually clean and godly place. That still did not put food into the bellies of a hungry population. The laws of economics ignored all religious dogma eventually forcing the ruling class to create a special caste of businessmen/bureaucrats to run the foreign owned factories that the new government had actively recruited to keep the population as busy as possible. The workers were paid just enough to buy the slop sold in similarly foreign owned grocery stores despite the fact that what passed as food here was sold overseas to feed livestock. A fact the Mayday Resistance spent great effort in informing a very complaint public that once proudly proclaimed to live in the land of the free.       

These former Americans were indeed a very submissive lot, which angered Harlan greatly. With Hispanics pushed out of the country and blacks forced into toxic waste zones, the government called the Colonies, a little over half of the white population went along with the abomination called the Republic of Gilead out of sheer terror. Their hope was that if they kept quiet and passive the psychopathic Eyes and Guardian thugs would leave them and their families alone. The remaining whites had bought into the nightmarish fantasies the Leader up in what had once been Washington DC told them.

Even fifteen years into the Gilead regime seeing the streets devoid of traffic except heavily armed and armored vehicles parked along the normal routes the workers normally walked still struck Harlan as odd. What was funny to him was that these vehicles were all surplus from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars he himself had fought while serving in the old United States Army. His only real souvenir from those tours, beside bad memories, was a piece of shrapnel in his right leg, a present from an Iraqi suicide bomber. Years and circumstance had long since bled away the rage and resentment Harlan felt toward that long dead Iraqi, and in fact, given the current state of the bizarre area of North America he found himself a citizen he acknowledged a certain ironic humor to how life unfolds for each human being forcing them into actions that once seemed insane.

Harlan was making good time to his destination until he came to an intersection and saw several Handmaids walking down the middle of the street closely escorted by their protective Aunties. If anything could upset his timetable, it was these special captive pets of the ruling class. Of the five Handmaids, three of them were very pregnant to the point all their effort was in use just to walk down the street. Another looked like she was a couple of months along, the mindless but blissful expression on her face all but confirming she was a true believer. The final woman looked both terrified and angry at the same time. It was obvious at how she was constantly looking around that her thoughts were directed towards running away. She was obviously new to the special privilege the ruling class had forced her to take and Harlan hoped the woman could learn some self-control, if she did not her remaining days on earth could be counted in weeks.

Even the thuggish Guardians visibly recoiled at the sight of the Handmaids and Aunties, choosing to look away. The ruling class was so desperate to rebuild their racial numbers one word from an Aunt to his Commander and most anyone could disappear. The seconds dragged on seemingly becoming minutes as the group passed in front of Harlan and the workers he was walking with. When the intersection was finally clear, the group crossed over acting as if what they saw was a normal occurrence, which it was.

Several blocks later and after his silent walking companions had broke off down a different street taking them to their workplace, Harlan’s destination came into view. Unlike most of the buildings and other structures of twenty first century Atlanta, the one Harlan approached was just a few years old and could almost be called artistic, something the government suppressed in all matters almost automatically. The building was really a hotel and stood on the grounds once occupied by the Georgia Aquarium and stretched over into the area of Centennial Park, now called Revolution Commons.

The carefully maintained lawn and classical sculptures on the Commons would have been a credit to any city in the world but no resident of Atlanta would ever dare set foot on the property without proper papers and training. Both the hotel and Commons were a type of Potemkin village designed to give the impression to foreign visitors that the situation in Gilead was not as bad as the refuges and occasional defectors claimed. No fences or uniformed security personnel were visible but in truth they had been replaced with numerous concealed cameras, microphones, and agents of the Eye who could be janitors, desk clerks, or maids just waiting for one of the civilian workers to embarrass the government.

Turning onto the lush path leading to the lobby months of planning were coming to a head for Harlan. This was where he would find out if his training and the suit provided by the NATO/Russian alliance bought him entrance to the hotel and a chance at his target. Walking towards the old-fashioned revolving door Harlan knew sensors were reading his biometrics and the holographic seal on the right sleeve of the suit. Harlan’s resistance team leader had assured him the night before that hackers had penetrated hotel security and that the proper cover identity would appear on the doorman’s computer tablet.

“Hello Mr. Turner,” the elaborately dressed and very young doorman said. “What brings you to the Global Exchange Hotel today sir?”

“I’m here to meet with the Thai delegation about business opportunities. The meeting is scheduled in the Red room for ten o’clock.” Harlan said while opening his briefcase and looking for the required papers.

The Doorman’s fingers danced over the tablet. A second of so later a confused look appeared on his face. “Sir, I have no record of a Thai delegation staying here at this time, in fact the only foreigners I have here at the moment are the Chinese who the Leader-Designate is suppose to see in an hour.”

Harlan carefully smiled with all the malevolence he could muster, and carefully leaned in towards the Doorman while unbuttoning his coat to show off both the pistol and badge of an undercover Eye agent. “You idiot,” he whispered, “You think you and the staff in this unholy place are the only security for the Leader-Designate? I don’t care what the computer says, I’m here to  make sure nothing goes wrong, we have information a resistance agent will try to penetrate the perimeter.”

Striking just the right tone had scared the rookie Eye agent to the point his fingers again danced on the tablet. “Yes Mr. Turner,” he said, “Please go right in.”

Harlan walked directly to the lobby entrance facing the driveway and took a seat as close to the large doors as he could find. A few seconds later, a waitress approached him asking if he wanted anything and Harlan ordered a beer. A bizarre twist in an already crazy reality was that once inside the hotel all security fell away to the point it was easy to think that the Republic of Gilead, Sons of Jacobs, Commanders of the Faith, Eye intelligence agents, Handmaids, and all the other insanity was something from a science fiction movie.

The hour went quick with Harlan savoring every sip of the beer. As the time of the Leader-Designate's arrival drew close everything seemed to slow down for him to point a feeling of peace and serenity took over every cell in his body. During this quiet moment, Harlan found himself thinking about the Iraqi suicide bomber that had nearly ended his life. He never understood what could motivate a person to do such a thing until now. Seated in a comfortable chair watching the coming and going of the hotel staff a thought drifted into Harlan’s mind at all the damage he could do to the Gilead state security apparatus if he just pulled out the pistol and began firing. He asked himself if the Leader-Designate was actually worth the thirty of so dead agents he could take out and did the Iraqi suicide bomber run a similar math in his head.

Before he could decide on an answer, a long black limousine stopped in front of the main hotel door. The first ones out of the vehicle were the Leader-Designate’s personal security detail, which took up positions inside the lobby. Seconds later the Leader-Designate himself jumped out and walked inside waving at everyone he saw almost as if he was campaigning. A former senator from Pennsylvania in the old regime he still possessed much of the boyish charm from that lost era despite his hair having turned completely grey.

Like those around him, Harlan stood out of respect careful not to make any move that might draw the attention of the protection detail. With his right hand he did slowly begin to brush the left sleeve of his coat as if he wanted to remove some lent or dust. Harlan then with his right index finger and thumb began to squeeze one of the buttons on the cuff of his left sleeve. A small battery in the button sent a tiny surge of voltage to every fiber of the suit that happened to be made of a high-yield enhanced chemical explosive.

The resulting blast turned everyone in the lobby into an organic mist. What the explosion did not completely destroy was the pistol and badge Harlan had carried. Forensic teams would later find the pieces and because burn marks eliminated any possible evidence of them being counterfeit it spawned a wave of purges and disappearances unparalleled in Gilead history.

***

A month later the chief Russian intelligence agent in North America entered a secret bunker deep under the streets of Toronto. His NATO counterpart, a German was sitting at a computer station reviewing the images and data from Atlanta.

“The hit was a total success?” He asked taking a seat beside him.

“We’re still gathering a bunch of secondary facts but it is confirmed the Leader-Designate is dead. It is also confirmed that the Leader has ordered a purge of the Eye and all the Commanders of the Faith in the Atlanta area fearing some faction in the government was attempting a coup. Radio and data intercepts between several of the more powerful Commanders of the Faithful suggest a power struggle is underway with each wanting to be the next Leader-Designate. And finally, Mayday Resistance groups have already started attacks of opportunity throughout the entire country.”

"Supply subs off the coast of Oregon," the Russian said, "began offloading weapons, ammunition, and food for them two weeks ago. My contacts say the resistance groups of the northwest feel they can take and hold both Oregon and the former Washington State."

"Maybe, as long as the antiaircraft missiles hold out." The German said reaching over to find his pack of cigarettes.

“What do we know of the suicide bomber?” The Russian asked absently offering his friend a lighter.

“Not much, he is a non-entity as far as we are concerned.” The German answered. “But I cannot imagine what could make him volunteer for such a mission.”

9 comments:

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Oh how I hope such a reality does not come to be in our lifetime, which is very selfish of me, I know. By the way, thank you for leaving the Kindle review of The Crackerhead Chronicles.

Pixel Peeper said...

All this preparation, dedication, and details leading up to the end, and then this, “... he is a non-entity as far as we are concerned.”

Beach Bum said...

Jerry: No problem! It was a great read.

Pixel: I'm not happy with the way I wrote the ending, my free time was very quickly running out and I had to put something down.

My intention was to shed light on how people can end up in places and situations that at one time was totally outside their understanding.

As for what got me writing this story in teh first place was some of the crap I've heard republicans talk about these last couple of years.

When I first read "Handmaid's Tale" and saw the movie in the early 1990's it seemed a farce on certain levels. These days right-wingers ain't far from many of the principles of the fictional Gilead.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I haven't read any Atwood books, but it didn't take me long to get the gist of the society you were describing. Scary. (Atlanta without traffic? That in itself is pretty eerie.)

Great job.

Marja said...

Hi Beach Good to read your thrillers again. One of my best friends is from Atlanta. I couldn't imagen her world like that. Great write

goatman said...

Didn't know you were an Atwood fan.

I really liked "The Blind Assassin" by her.

Red Nomad OZ said...

'The Handmaid's Tale' is one of my favourite books and you have captured the world of Gilead perfectly. Did you ever see the movie?? Not so good as the book, but I usually find that ...

Ranch Chimp said...

Nice piece of work Bum!

lime said...

it is strange how circumstances and desperation can lead us to a place we never imagined or if we did, found it utterly repugnant.