Friday, January 2, 2015

When Johnny Comes Marching Home--The Conclusion



 (Author's note: This is the final part of the crappy fan fiction based on the S.M. Stirling's Draka series. Have fun, excuse the typos, I'm going out for pizza and beer.)



From the journal of Richard Douglas
Captain, United States Aerospace Force
Original Timeline

Leaving the quarters I share with my wife for the last time I step out into the morning sun and see the lines of refugees streaming onto the massive Atlas cargo planes sitting on the tarmac with their engines idling like thoroughbreds waiting to be lead out to the starting gates. The lines of scared and despairing humanity seemed to stretch forever, most carry small bags like precious relics knowing their lives were over. Going completely against standing orders and common sense I stopped and watch as they patiently await orders to board the planes.

So far the skeleton crew of army soldiers and aerospace force security police were managing to keep the civilians under control but it was clear everyone would soon reach their breaking point. Especially when word leaked out that this was the last day the Atlases would be ferrying civilians to the hidden sanctuaries. Not only were the Draka marshaling forces for a major push deeper into East Tennessee, which barring some god-like miracle the airbase would certainly be overrun. The other reason for the coming cessation of flights was more practical but no less depressing, simply put fuel supplies were running low as were everything else for the United States and the Alliance as a whole.

Once the Atlas transports reached maximum capacity the military troopers forced the crowd back a safe distance allowing the cargo planes to use their vertical takeoff engines to liftoff and then head off to the various redoubts in the Rocky Mountains. Once the lumbering giants reached five-hundred meters in the air, laser stations and air defense batteries began defending them against the barrage of Draka missiles and drones that were stationed just behind their lines.

Each time the Atlases began to accelerate for their relatively short flight to the Rocky Mountains I couldn't help but remember that they were originally designed back in the late 1960's for a possible Alliance invasion of Draka dominated western Europe. Why the Alliance just didn't go after the Draka at the close of the Eurasian War I'll never understand, we could have driven them out of Europe and a huge chunk of Asia completely changing the geopolitical makeup of the world. But that was back before Alliance Command and even the political leadership became enamored with the idea of seeding computer viruses into Draka electronic hardware. The computer plague did seem like a cleaner, smarter, and more civilized solution than throwing nuclear warheads.

At the time the Draka were stealing every damn electronic thing made in the Alliance but yet had little real idea how the stuff worked. They would steal an improved chip design, learn the basic working principles, then in blind rush incorporate their version into the Draka infrastructure, including weapon and command-and-control systems. All the while totally oblivious to the viruses incorporate into the very equations that allowed the chips to work in the first place.

The grand plan was supposed to have the Alliance sit back and wait until the right time, then throw a switch and watch as the Draka war machine literally fell apart. It wasn't that neat and clean, the nukes were used anyway with the Alliance being blindsided by a similar plan, not based on electronics but genetic engineering, the one field the Draka had a significant lead versus the Alliance. Truthfully, it all seemed like the ultimate in cosmic jokes to me, nothing but children playing a more dangerous vesion of some child's computer game. Of course, Fate in its sick and deluded sense of humor seems to have selected me as Western Civilization's one chance to reboot the system for a different outcome.

My destination was the Hercules gunship at the far end of the tarmac, essentially a smaller version of the Atlas transports it sported an array of gun ports on both sides of the fuselage designed to devastate enemy ground forces. Instead of being up in the air supporting the beleaguered American forces and the increasing number of civilians turned guerrilla fighters, it had been confiscated by Black Projects Command to transport primarily me and what seemed to be an insane theoretical physicist in ridiculous last ditch attempt to stop the Draka before they were even born.

“What the hell are you doing Captain Douglas?” General Connor Powell asks when he sees me walking towards the hangar where Black Projects has stored their equipment since arriving. “Where the hell is your security escort? Have you forgotten what I told you about operational security. What if there's a Draka recon team just outside the base perimeter or a group of ghouls waiting to pounce?”

General Powell, the single surviving member of Black Project Command, was obviously dealing with a crushing load of stress. I realized that comes with the job of running the only possible operation that could save everything we hold dear but in the last few days a particular, very nonmilitary attitude had overwhelmed me. “Sorry general,” I said throwing my backpack on the ground, “but I just spent what will in all likelihood be the last moment I have with my wife. As far as a Draka recon team is concerned, their first target would be the Atlases and the ghouls, they would head straight for the civilians.”

Powell was an unknown to me until very recently, but my initial impression he was a scientist who circumstance had forced into far more of a military role than he found normal or actually wanted. Given the wartime situation another general would have probably shot me between the eyes because it was clear I wasn't totally committed to the plan. I thought it crazy, but Powell couldn't escape the fact that I was even more important to its success that Doctor Bernard Randal Lewis, the man who had developed a working time machine. My master's degree in Colonial American history essentially meant I was the only person left who could even begin to understand the world of that time.

“Is that our history major whose going to save the world?” I heard the bizarre Doctor Lewis say from inside the Hercules defusing the tension. Lewis came out of the aircraft wearing his usual shockingly colorful Hawaiian shirt and to my surprise an old west-like double cowboy leather gun holster over his blue jeans. Resting comfortably in the holster were two .44 magnum revolvers, which I was sure were loaded. Throw in the amber colored sunglasses he was wearing and the unlit pipe projecting form his clenched teeth and he seemed like a character from a surreal nightmare.

“General Powell,” Lewis said after walking several feet to the edge of the tarmac, “my gear is loaded and we need to leave as soon as possible.”

Powell seemed to take Lewis' behavior in stride, “Fine,” he said, “Douglas I've heard your wife is staying back.”

“Yes sir,” I said going over in my mind what Aileen and I had discussed the night before, “she refuses to leave the hospital. Too many patients and not enough doctors, we've said our goodbyes.” My wife, along with the other doctors had made plans when the base was overran, they weren't about to let anyone be taken alive.

Both Powell and Dr. Lewis silently nod, understanding the implications. “All right then,” Powell said to everyone, “let's be airborne in five minutes.”

***

The only thing that turned out spookier than the mostly undamaged but abandoned city of Colorado Springs, Colorado were the vast underground chambers of Black Project Command's Cheyenne Mountain research facility. Like most everyone else, outside Black Projects, I was lead to believe it was just one of the many redundant command-and-control stations scattered all through North America from the Canadian states down to the ones carved out of Old Mexico. Once we landed the Hercules gunship and rode down the hidden cargo elevator it was clear this place had been a science nerd's paradise. Most everything was locked up behind huge armored doors but the reams of classified paper work scattered about like fallen leaves more than strongly suggested that had the Alliance had as little as ten more years it would have been the Domination of the Draka going down for the count.

“Where are all the bodies?” I ask assuming the Cheyenne Mountain facility was hit with the same biological weapon that had decapitated the Alliance political and military leadership at the start of the war.

“The Draka,” one of the technicians on the Black Project's team began to answer, “seeded their bio-weapon all through the Alliance about fifteen years ago. Somehow they developed a way to activate it with an ultra-low wave radio signal. insidious really, but I admit damned clever. The granite of the mountain shielded us from the effects, but we knew what was going on in Colorado Springs. It was some type of virus whose effects drove everyone infected insane. General Powell had us on lock down until some unknown Alliance intelligence operative found out the details on the weapon and got on what was left of the worldnet to warn us and explain how to counter it. By that time Powell knew the situation was hopeless and sent everyone out to either find Dr. Lewis or the other members of the project.”

It took several hours for Dr. Lewis and the surviving members of his support staff to gain access to the level where research into his time displacement equipment was stored including all the items the purposed teams of time engineers would need to safely destroy the Draka without damaging the Alliance and the United States beyond recognition.

“Holy shit,” I said looking at all the carefully reproduced articles from the late colonial-era America once we gain access. It ranged from formal clothing for both males and females, weapons, coins, to such trivial items as wire framed bifocals.

“Yeah,” one of the female members of Lewis' staff said, “we had already assembled teams and were training them in every aspect of normal life and customs back in those times. Then some bright boy or girl high up in the Alliance killed the project and made sure everything was locked down. They even confiscated the data from the probes we sent back in time to test the procedure.”

In the weeks before we left the base in East Tennessee I had talked to many of Dr. Lewis' staff in an attempt to get more information on my Hail Mary mission but they were under orders from General Powell to keep silent. Now that we were in the mountain they were opening up but something else deiced to get in the way. “All right Captain Douglas,” General Powell said after running into the storage room, “Lewis has the machine operational and I want you in it before another disaster hits us.”

***

“Alright,” Lewis said to me while his hands danced over the controls, “you understand the objective?”

“Yeah, your machine will throw me back in both space and time to around February of 1782, hopefully in the area that should become Columbia, South Carolina. From there my primary objective is to kill the American loyalists attending a meeting at the Conrad family plantation that takes place on April second of that year. The place where it was first decided to leave the newly independent America for southern Africa. After that I will hit the secondary targets, all of which have descendants who become important leaders in the early Draka settlements.”

Unlike the original idea, there was no time to try and engineer events to fundamentally change the monster, the only option was to kill it before it even exists. While never big in theoretical science, I knew enough to understand that very learned men and women thought time was static, that no matter our location in the stream of events humans called history nothing could be changed.

“Good,” Lewis said, “just remember every proto-Draka you put down increases the odds the timeline will be altered to the point they will cease to exist. It also means the Alliance and the United States will be changed in ways we cannot fathom, maybe to the point they never develop either. The computer tablet I gave you should have all the information you need to complete the mission, plus a few surprises.”

Despite it all I felt ridiculous standing on a pad that looked like something from a Star Voyager television episode while dressed in clothes that should allow me to go unnoticed among the general public of colonial America. Throw in all the shots the doctor had given me to ward off diseases common to that era along with the thin but high-tech winter long johns to keep me warm I actually felt feverish as well, but I wasn't about to say anything to Lewis or Powell about that. I wanted to be on my way, and get this mission started.

“One last thing,” Lewis said, “if you survive the mission itself you can return to your starting point in both space and time in whatever reality that is created. During the research phase with the probes we got hints at several new forms of radiation we had no idea existed, that in all likelihood will kill you outright if you expose yourself to a second temporal trip. All I can suggest is make a life for yourself there and let fate proceed on no matter if you fail or succeed.”

“Understood,” was all I said while clutching the bag on my shoulder that held the computer tablet, some ration bars, a pistol designed to look like those common to the era, gold coins that could used to purchase items, and three explosive devices. I also felt for the strange little box that would fling me back to the future wondering if I would live long enough to use it.

Lewis then punched a few buttons on his console causing a low level whine that I found unpleasant but which only grew in volume to the point I thought my head would explode. The next sensation was one of both falling through eternity and being crushed as if I had fallen into a black hole. I guess I passed out because the next thing I remember was waking up in the middle of a pasture.


PART FIVE

My first sensation was the cold wind blowing across my exposed face. Other than breathing and a few involuntary twitches, every part of my body utterly refused to move. Somehow my head ended up turned to the left allowing me to see the pasture that stretched off a tree line about four or five kilometers away. Above the trees the color of the sky and the low sun suggested it was mid-morning.

Laying there in the field I began to shiver, it actually occurred to me that after surviving the crash of my jet, killing a genetically engineered ghoul, having a Homo drakensis kick my ass, then jump through time that I might die of simple exposure.

“Hello good sir,” I heard someone say off to my right. “Are you all right,” this unknown person asked a few seconds later. From the change in the pitch of his voice I knew he was walking closer to my spot on the glass.

A moment later, the man who saw me laying in the middle of the pasture knelt beside me and turned my head. “Can you speak sir?” he asked seeing that my eyes were open and that I was breathing. My possible rescuer was huge, a real hardworking farm type but dressed like a gentlemen. From the looks of his clothes, I made a quick guess that he was possibly a landowner, and I thought I heard hints of a southern drawl in the way he speaks.

“Do not worry sir,” the guy said, “I will take you with me to my home and call for a doctor.” With that he turned his head and yelled, “Joesph, come here now and help me put this fellow in the back of the wagon.”

Seconds later a black man dressed in dirty but seemingly serviceable work clothes assisted the other man to gently lift me off the ground and place in the back of a wooden, horse drawn wagon. At least my unknown benefactor was honest enough not to take advantage of my situation and look into my satchel and see all the goodies I brought from the twenty-first century. The black man, Joesph, took a spot in the back of the wagon with me. He said nothing but watched me with eyes that spoke volumes. It didn't take a degree in history to know I was looking at a slave.

Time seemed to move achingly slow in the back of that wagon but as the hours went by I regained the ability to move and speak. Before long I was sitting on the bench at the front of the wagon beside my rescuer. Joesph, the slave, remained in the same place clearly lost in a world of his own thoughts. I would have been doing the same thing if the option was open to me. Because it seems Fate had decided to either make my mission infinitely easier, or play another cosmic practical joke.

“Tell me Mr. Conrad,” I said couching my words carefully, “what do you make of Cornwallis' surrender to the Continental Army at Yorktown?”

It turned out that the person who saw me laying in the pasture was none other Alexander Lucas Conrad, owner of the plantation where in a little over a month thirty-three families would meet and decided to leave North America for Africa and eventually become the Draka. In the hours that I had already spent with Alex Conrad I had found him a genial, good-natured guy, that was about to change.

“General Washington and every member of the Continental Congress should be caught and hanged.” He said with a surprising amount of rage. “My family and I will not live under such a collection of traitorous rebels who proclaim all men are created equal. Such notions go against God and reason and could lead to the mixing of the races.” He continued, motioning his head back towards Joesph in the back of the wagon for the part about the races mixing.

After recovering enough to speak, I told Conrad my name and said I was a merchant who had been living in India since before the start of the conflict. It was a great way to explain away my twenty-first century accent. “I am loyal to the king,” I said lying my ass off. “I imagine I will eventually leave for England and make my home there.”

“Please sir,” Conrad said returning to his gentlemanly disposition, “please stay at my plantation and recover for in less than two months a group of like minded people will be meeting there to discuss our immigration to southern Africa. Such a location much closer to India could be advantageous to you and our possible colony.”

I had explained away him finding me in such a strange condition as the results of an illness I had contracted while in India. To Conrad, I had fallen off my house and staggered around in the pasture before passing out. All that was small potatoes now, because he had just made my mission so easy I was now scared Fate might now really start screwing with me. “Absolutely, Mr. Conrad, “ I said, “ I accept your offer and look forward to meeting everyone.”

****

Mail being the only dependable means of long distance communication the meeting of the loyalist families that would leave America and form the backbone of the Draka was eventually scheduled for the second of April. Just as I was taught in college and backed up by the history outline on the computer tablet Dr. Lewis provided me.

As I expected the Conrad family, Alex, his wife, and twelve children made me feel right at home, and there were times I had to force myself to remember their descendants would go on to destroy everything I held dear. But there were many more days when it was easy to see the Conrad family for the monsters they truly were deep inside. Joesph, the old slave, regularly took the blame and the beatings for supposed infractions done by younger slaves. Alex Conrad made a point of showing no mercy during those times despite the fact he greatly depended on Joesph for many small tasks in the course of a normal working day.

Alex's plantation overseers were brutal thugs who regularly raped young slave girls whenever they felt the urge. Even two of Alex's older sons, boys in their late teens, joined them sometimes. All one had to do was briefly look at a few of the slave kids running around to know Alex was their grandfather.

The actual gathering of families began the last couple of days in March and I spent many nights in the bedroom they provided looking at the computer tablet double checking the list waiting for the others. As the days passed I volunteered to help out around the main house setting extra accommodations for the arriving families, something Alex in his early Southern ways protested. I was a guest, and as far as he was concerned, a fellow believer in the dominance of the white race.

When the last loyalist family arrived at the Conrad plantation a part of my mind basked in a joyous rage. I had long since worked out the details of how I would dispatch not just the families but Alex's overseers who I remembered at some point became important members of the Draka colony.

The gathering of loyalist families did take on the air of a celebration lasting long into the night and only stopped when it began to rain. By that time most of the men had long since drunk themselves into a blind stupor. I used this to my advantage and slipped out the main house disturbing only the dogs, and they had long since gotten use to my presence and quickly went back to sleep in front of the fireplace.

The pistol I clasped walking through the pouring rain towards the cabin the overseers shared, while looking like a primitive flintlock was actually a cleverly engineered semi-automatic. As I approached I could see the glow of a flickering candle through the dirty glass of a small window. Amos, the senior overseer, owned a large dog he had trained to be suspicious and it began barking incessantly as I walked closer. A rope tied to one of the cabin's porch support columns kept the dog restrained and all I had to do was wait for Amos to come to the door.

Honed survival skills were vitally important to an aerospace fighter pilot and that included being an expert marksmen. When Amos opened the door, with his own pistol in his hand, I shot him between the eyes before he had time to say anything. I quickly rushed inside and saw his junior cohort, named Adam, struggling to get his clothes on, I fired once hitting him in the chest.

I wasn't surprised to see that both Amos and Adam had taken two very young slave girls to their respective beds that night. Instinctively, I cut the ropes that the overseers had used to tie them down. “Both of you go back to your families and tell them not to come out until morning.” Both young girls, use to the worst forms of brutality, were too scared to move. “Go now!” I yelled at them. That forced them into action and they quickly scrambled out of the cabin and ran off towards the section of the plantation where the slave quarters were located.

All I had to do now was wait, I had set the three explosive charges before going after the overseers and I figured there was just a couple of minutes left before the main house became a raging fireball. When the sound and light of the fireball erupted I felt a nauseating wave of satisfaction. I had just killed almost two-hundred people in cold blood. I was a murderer, the fact that they would have soon gone on to savaged the African continent, then build a empire based on terror and slavery that would conquer the world was only a small solace to my wounded consciousness.

I should have been more alert because it was the sound of someone stepping on a small twig that save my life. “How are you still alive!” I heard Alex Conrad rage at me while swinging a sword.

I jumped back and rolled on the ground, an ungraceful move given the awkward nature of the late eightieth century clothes I was wearing but it worked nonetheless. “Everyone in the house is dead, my wife, children, and all the other families, how did it come for you to survive?” Alex bellowed moving aggressively towards me far faster than it seemed possible for someone his size.

With my primary mission accomplished, I allowed my own hate and loathing of the slaver to come forward and fired off two shots from my pistol. Both went wild but it scared Alex enough to freeze in place. “I killed them Conrad because they, like you, were all monsters. I enjoyed it you bastard because of what you have done and will do to innocent human beings whose only sin was to be born the wrong color!”

“You are insane!” he raged and ran towards me with his sword.

I was able to fire off another shot, luckily knocking the sword from his hand but on my second attempt to shoot, which would have killed him, the pistol jammed and Alex's bulk hit me like a speeding freight train. I wasn't about to die having come this far but the man had lived a far harder life compared to mine and had almost a superhuman level of strength, throw in his rage and a small part of my mind figured I was going to lose.

During the struggle I our eyes locked and somehow I saw everything the Domination of the Draka would become. Call it crazy, the wishful thinking of a desperate man, or some divinely inspired revelation but I just knew that if Alex Conrad died so would the Draka.

But Alex was getting the best of me, each blow he landed felt like a bomb and the stars appearing in my field of vision said I could not take much more. I was on my knees trying to scramble away even for the briefest moment when Alex suddenly stopped. I staggered back and saw that the slave Joesph had struck his master with an ax handle. In stunned surprise, Alex turned only to see other slaves emerge from the darkness carrying an array of farm tools. They fell upon Alex in a rage far greater than that he had focused on me. When they were done there wasn't enough left of Alex Conrad's body for the pigs.

****

The next morning the storm had passed leaving the winter air feeling clean but cold. Spring was still a long away off but I felt renewed in way I could not explain. Joesph had a couple of his people carry me to a cabin and treat my injuries. The remoteness of Conrad plantation ensured it would be weeks if not months before knowledge of what happened became known to the outside world.

The fate of Joesph and the other slaves was unavoidable when the outside world learned of the death of the Conrad family. They would surely be divided up among the other plantations. The only possible course of action I knew for them was to flee south towards Florida and try to find refuge with the Native Americans of the Everglades. Something many escaped slaves did in the ninetieth century but I knew of no reference of it happening in 1782.

Once Joesph and his clan slipped away a few days later I decided on my own course of action. I collected my own belongings and took one of the horses and made my way towards Mount Vernon, Virginia. It was time to meet the father of my country and seek his assistance in my mission. I was also going to ask him about his own practice of owning other human beings.


First Epilogue
November 20, 2015
Current Timeline

Colonel Ellen Marcus silently escorted Captain Aileen Perez into the hospital room. The cheap curtains over the large window were drawn leaving the room dark. Colonel Marcus immediately pulled them open flooding the room with bright sunshine fully revealing the man in the bed hooked up to an array of monitors and intravenous lines.

“Captain Douglas,” Marcus said, “it's time to wake up. You've been slacking off for far too long. Plus, I have someone you surely want to see.” Marcus then looked over at the other woman, who even after being briefed on the comatose patient still couldn't fathom everything she'd been told.

“Richard,” Aileen Perez said, “It's me Aileen, I just want you to know you saved everyone. Those monsters don't exist now.” For Captain Perez this was all insane, she was happily married to man who even now was back in Germany taking care of their children. The man in the bed was a complete stranger to her but if Colonel Marcus and General McDonald weren't totally crazy in another reality this man had been her husband, or still was, or had never been. She wasn't a scientist and just couldn't understand the temporal physics. Still though, the patient had apparently challenged and changed the course of history saving the world. That meant he was to be given every consideration short of betraying her family.

“Colonel Marcus,” Aileen said, “you can leave. I'll sit with Captain Douglas.” Ellen Marcus whispered thanks and then left the room.

It took a couple of minutes for Aileen to think of something to say and when an idea came she realized it was the perfect solution. “Let me tell you about my children.”

Two days later Captain Douglas opened his eyes and began the slow process of learning about the world he had changed.

Second Epilogue
July 2015
Paris, France

“One of the things I always wanted to see was the Eiffel Tower,” Richard Douglas said to General Scott McDonald who sat a about a meter away on the same park bench. “After the Eurasian War with the Draka in control of western Europe that was of course impossible. Oh, they allowed a limited amount of tourism but only the really brave or stupid ever took the trip. To big a chance some tourist might piss them off and be taken into custody and disappear into their warm embrace.”

“Yeah,” McDonald said, “I can see how that would be a drawback. Richard, there is a reason I wanted to meet with you. In the after action reports and debriefings you never answered the question as to whether the Draka might still exist. The president would like an answer.”

Douglas thought about it for several seconds while enjoying the feel of the warm sun on his face. “General, my initial answer was that I just didn't know for sure. You'd have to talk with Dr. Lewis but he doesn't exist in this timeline, although your Hunter S. Thompson was a dead ringer for him in both appearance and behavior. But to answer your question now, no, I believe the Draka are gone but instead something even worse has occurred.”

McDonald sat up, now worried what Douglas was going to say.

“Everything the Draka were never left your United States, its diluted and weak but there is a cruel streak in Americans of this timeline that's like a person with multiple personalities. One minute intelligent and compassionate, the next wanting to dominate everyone and willing to use every means to justify that end. Tell your president that, I've done my duty for the Republic and humanity.”

Douglas then got up, threw his backpack over his shoulder and walked away. “Have a good life,” McDonald said watching him, “thank you for everything.”

5 comments:

Pixel Peeper said...

Heartbreaking, that he wasn't back together with his wife. Still, a great story and a great ending.

Beach Bum said...

Pixel: Yeah, I let the character in a previous story find his dead wife's counterpart. Figured I shouldn't cross that line again because it was too sappy back then.

Almost killed off Captain Douglas, but I actually started to like the guy. Crazy ain't it?

Rose L said...

That Dr. Lewis sounds like a character! Oh No! It seems like the wife gets sacrificed a lot. So sad. I often wonder if making a change in the past would really better the future, or just give birth to a new problem.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Good job. I love stories that involve going into the past in an attempt to change the course of history. They always present so many different possible outcomes.

Beach Bum said...

Rose: Yeah, I'm sure changing the past to "solve" one problem would just create another to take its place. Its just in the case of the fictional Draka just about anything else is an improvement.

Plus, Douglas mentioned at the end how the altered United States seemed to have incorporated some of the traits of the Draka.

Susan: This story was mainly just me seeking some closure. The fictional Draka have literally given me nightmares and since there has never been any published story where they are driven to extinction I had to write one myself.

Does this make me crazy? Well to paraphrase the equally Sheldon Cooper my mother had me tested but the results were inconclusive.