Sunday, February 18, 2018
Entering the Lion's Den - Part Two of Handmaid's Tale Fan Fiction
After the briefing Amanda and I were rushed off to another building where the details of the rescue operation were being planned. The person we were being sent to retrieve was Dr. Jennifer Burgess, probably the top mind in the world on human reproduction. Before everything went sideways she had been picked by the United States government to lead the team researching the causes of the fertility crash and to come up with a way to counteract it.
But things did go sideways starting with the Mayday Attacks, which lead to martial law being declared, that in turn became the “Transition” and finally the five-month civil war between loyalists and the new regime. During the chaos, Dr. Burgess fell off the map with everyone figuring she was just another intellectual the new regime murdered and then cremated with the ashes being dumped in a landfill. Once I was settled in New Zealand ignoring the outside world, especially what was happening in North America, became a bit of an obsession for me. But I still couldn't avoid the pictures that were somehow smuggled out of Gilead showing the bodies of intellectuals ranging from college professors to scientists stacked on rolling pallets heading to a crematorium. In a fit of gallows humor, one of the Hawaiian shirt wearing CIA spooks organizing the mission called the elimination of all the smart people the first instance of a brain flush instead of a drain.
Elements of the resistance inside the country had turned up intel that Burgess was being kept in a glorified whorehouse run by the Gilead government and called Jezebels. Despite the founders of Gilead claiming they had the inside track on God's idea for righteous living on earth, for various reasons they had established numerous Jezebels all over the former-U.S. These establishments catered to the sinful carnal needs of the Gilead elites and people they wanted to impress. If the information was correct, Dr. Burgess had been sentenced to work the sheets of whomever her overseers wanted to impress. Which for the Charleston Jezebel facility meant international tourists that the Gilead regime eagerly milked for foreign currency. Having Dr. Burgess in Charleston was fortuitous for Amanda and myself since it actually made entering what was now an extremely totalitarian country somewhat easy.
Eight days after arriving on Johnston Atoll, Amanda and I are on a Lufthansa Airlines flight from Berlin heading to the exotic destination of Charleston. To everyone on the plane we were an adventurous German couple with a penchant for vacationing in bizarre locations. Being out of the spycraft trade for five years, I tried not to the think about the twenty-something American kid a few decades back that decided a vacation in North Korea was a good idea. He stole a poster off the wall of the motel, was arrested, sentenced to hard labor, and was beat to death a few months later by prison guards.
What was really strange on a personal level was the blue dye job done on Amanda's hair and the cosmetic device used to hide the scar running down the right side of her face. It was more than enough to change her overall appearance, which meant unless someone was looking directed for her she would be just another European on the tour group. For me, all I could do was shave my head and wear contact lenses that changed the color of my eyes. The one high tech disguise we left Johnston Atoll with were the synthetic skin gloves glued on our hands. They completely changed our fingerprints and even left DNA samples that were linked to a German database should the Eyes of God, the Gilead secret police, decide to check us out.
Luckily, after the flight landed we received only the most minimal of hassle from customs. That came from the basic fact that Gilead wanted foreign currency and to annoy the rich tourists was counterproductive. Both Amanda and I did a lot of smiling at the skinny kid looking over our passports and asked a lot of questions about his life. It's always good to try and connect with the locals but what really sealed the deal was the low cut of Amanda's blouse and her touching his hand several times. He quickly cleared us for entry with only the extreme blush on his face confirming that the guy had never gotten laid. While leaving the airport was easy, the drive to the hotel in downtown Charleston was a different matter.
The armed muscle of the Gilead regime was called the Guardians of the Faith. It was the result of a merger of the old United States Army National Guard and numerous right-wing militias. Their presence was everywhere with roadblocks and watch stations located every couple of miles. Heavily armed squads of six appeared to be the usual that often included armored Humvees with .50 caliber machine guns mounted to the roof and I even saw a couple with automatic grenade launchers. The icing on the totalitarian cake though were the billboards and sides of buildings displaying propaganda messages.
Most were images of happy, white, families either going to church or sitting at a formal dining room table overflowing with food. These messages declared that Gilead had the favor of God and that prosperity was around the corner for the truly faithful. Others showed dark-skinned monsters wearing the uniforms of American Armed Forces, which meant the Remnant U.S., threatening young, white, babies but who were being protected by a glowing Jesus welding a massive sword.
Both the armed thugs and propaganda disappeared when we entered the lower peninsula of Charleston around the Battery. There a surreal normalcy dominated with the stately mansions looking excellently kept with residents strolling along the sidewalks. Hell, even the horse drawn carriages were still prowling the streets and old black women could be found in Battery Park weaving sweet grass baskets.
Our hosts stopped the bus at Battery Park several blocks away from our hotel and let us disembark. Our guide, a guy in his thirties who seemed stiffer than a telephone pole, worked hard to keep us organized and on a particular track. It was obvious he wanted us to interact with as many of the basket weavers, casual artists painting pleasant scenes, and food vendors as possible. The intention was clear, happy and entertained tourists go home to tell friends and family that nasty Gilead wasn't the nightmare it seemed.
While munching on a hot dog, I admired an old man sitting by himself painting a scene of a sailboat on the ocean. Our conversation was cordial with me saying in my best German accented English how much I liked his work. His response was exceedingly polite but his eyes darted around like he was expecting a rabid bear to come charging out of nowhere. His fear was so palatable I wanted to say something reassuring, but the danger that he was just a well trained Eye agent looking for foreign troublemakers was real.
The same held for the old black women weaving sweet grass baskets. The Gilead regime was inherently racist, but since it desperately wanted to discredit the Remnant U.S. and be accepted by the rest of the world, it made a minimum effort at playing nice. The sweet grass weavers placidly sat under small shade shelters and did their craft. While no Antebellum task master stood over the ladies with a whip, I noticed that they paid special attention to all the people around them. I couldn't help but feel it was a talent that was connected to America's original sin.
Our hotel was what was once the Calhoun Mansion Museum, appropriated by the Gilead government it was now simply called the Palmetto. The 24,000 square foot structure still looked the same inside from what I remember of a school field trip a lifetime ago. Except for the staff which, like the artist and the sweet grass weavers outside, all clearly understood they were living in a nightmarish Potemkin village. A bellboy, another skinny kid that should have been worrying over college exams instead of being tied down by a mutant society, escorted us to our room while carrying our luggage.
“If there's anything I can do for you sir, just ask.” The boy said standing at the doorway. A wave of pity washed over me seeing him stand there wearing what had to be the most ridiculous uniform ever conceived. Making matters worse, the uniform was about three sizes too big giving it a comic appearance.
“Here's the deal, young man,” I said being careful to keep my fake German accent. “My wife and I have particular tastes in entertainment and we've heard there are activities here in Gilead we can partake.” I said while slipping him a ten euro note.
The boy immediately lost his comic tinted look of innocence. “Yes sir, I know exactly what you mean and that can easily be arranged. What time would you like for someone to pick you and your wife up?”
“You can arrange this for tomorrow evening after dinner.” Amanda answered for us both before disappearing in an adjoining room. I found something in her certainty a little unsettling.
The next morning I woke up on the couch, Amanda's orders, while I heard her in the bathroom. Being summer in the northern hemisphere, I was quickly reminded of Charleston's humidity as I stepped out onto the long second floor porch that looked down upon the gardens. People were already walking around enjoying the statues, fountains, and flowers. For a moment I found myself imagining that Gilead was just some nightmare that I would soon shake off. All that ended when down on the street a large SUV came into view flying a tiny flag of Gilead on the hood with several body guard type Guardians jumping out as soon as it stopped. I almost jumped back inside the room until I remembered I was just a harmless German tourist taking advantage of the morning air.
“We've got to move quickly,” Amanda said coming out onto the patio. “Our contact has arrived early.” She said after turning and reentering our room.
“What's the play, Amanda?” I ask grabbing a fresh shirt then changing into a pair of pants that would be presentable to the public.
“The Jezebels meeting is up in the air. But our contact will be strolling in Battery Park seemingly out to meet and greet the tourists.”
“Can I assume the VIP vehicle that pulled up a minute ago is our contact?” I assume that was a given. What I didn't ask was how Amanda was communicating with this person. She was carrying several electronic devices like a camera and a cheap computer tablet. Tech wizards back on Johnston Atoll could have easily integrated hidden text functions into the circuitry of either device.
Amanda paused giving me a stern look clearly debating on how much I needed to know.
“Listen, I've played the good junior spy.” I said getting upset. “Tell me what this means Amanda because I could easily slip out of this city and disappear leaving you here alone.”
Several second later the expression on her face softens. “Just be prepared for a surprise Ryan, our contact is not helping us out of his desire to overthrow the Gilead regime. I've got the bastard by the balls and your appearance and reaction to seeing him will undermine his already damaged psyche.”
Leaving the Palmetto, Amanda was playing the affectionate wife as we made our way to Battery Park. She even made a point of stopping our stroll several times to give me a passionate kiss. To the local onlookers it was a display of affection that was forbidden in any other place in Gilead. When your a spy, you automatically know such behavior is for the benefit of people watching. She wanted to shock someone, but I didn't have a clue who that person might be.
Oh, I eagerly played along, since she had been nothing but cold to me from the day I found her in my New Zealand cabin. From the corner of my eye, I saw the VIP approaching us and saw that he was wearing the suit of one of the Commanders of the Faithful, it looked like a regular business attire except for a series of patches on the sleeves and other trinkets attached to the lapels. I never was into fashion, especially since formal attire for me consisted of my navy dress whites uniform, so the outfit to me looked ridiculous. But what the guy was wearing was the clothes of Gilead's ruling class.
I'll give the guy credit, when Amanda and I finally got within handshaking distance we recognized each other. The shock that registered across his face was extreme but also brief. Instinctively, his eyes began darting around like the old man the day before looking for that metaphorical rabid bear.
I on the other hand went cold, the man standing before me should have been dead. He was the senior aid to the late Senator Laura Claiborne of California, who while not in the Capitol at the time of the first Mayday Attack was one of several assassinated in their offices. He was also Amanda's husband, Andrew Maddox, the man who upon learning of the affair I had with his wife tried to end my career.
Killing him wouldn't have been an issue. His two bodyguards standing a few feet behind him looked like overweight thugs. My mind played out several scenarios where I killed them, took their handguns, and murdered Andrew before anyone had a clear idea what had happened. But being the good spy I stuck with what I thought was Amanda's script.
“Hello Andrew,” I said pulling his ex-wife close to me. “Good to see you somehow made it through the attacks.”
Andrew was silent, frozen in place, it was Amanda playing the master manipulator that defused the situation. “Now boys, we're here to do business. Andrew, you provide the assistance we need and nothing will bother you again. How about we step over to one of the nice benches, have a seat, and talk.”
End of Part Two