Saturday, January 31, 2015

The One that Got Away

(Author's note: All names have been changed!)

Since my third-shift work schedule begins on a Sunday night my weekend starts on Friday mornings. It's not an ideal situation, since I pick up my daughter from school in the afternoon I'm pretty much restricted to the house all day, something that at times drives me crazy. On the other hand I do have the house to myself and can get a jump on various chores, read or write without interruption, or simply watch Netflix all day.

Truthfully, it can be rather boring at times especially when some honey-do task absolutely has to be tackled, like cleaning a bathroom where the mold is showing signs of not only rapid evolution but development of an industrial civilization. Despite the fact that pondering the philosophical implications that maybe humans are just a strange form of mold clinging to an otherwise pleasant rock orbiting an yellow-dwarf star I'd rather be doing something else entirely. However, there are occasions when chance interjects itself and makes things far more lively.

Just yesterday I was mopping the kitchen floor while taking care of my daughter, who had come down with a minor stomach bug when the telephone rang. No big deal, I figured it was my wife calling, yet again, to ask about our daughter, Darth Wiggles.

“She's fine babe, there has been no change since you called thirty-minutes ago,”I said feeling slightly irritated.

“Hello, Mr. Johnson?” the pleasant sounding female on the other side of the call said sounding perplexed.

“Oh yeah, sorry, I assumed my wife was calling. What can I do for you?” At this point I automatically figured this was some sort of business call concerning an upcoming doctor or dentist appointment.

“No problem, I'm Mindy Blake,” this unknown female said with enough perkiness to power a small city, “and I'm calling on behalf of the Southeastern Breast Cancer Medical Institute.

The mental image I constructed of this Mindy was of a late teen or early twenty-something college student working at a call center so she could earn her degree in education and become the kindergarten teacher she dreamed about since childhood.

“Okay,” I said with every intention to cut her off but she didn't give me the chance.

“We're in the middle of a fund raising drive and I'd like to know if you could contribute something to our organization...”

From there this Mindy Blake launched into what was clearly a well thought out and rehearsed speech that bordered on being hypnotic with its cadence and her voice that had the verbal texture of a soft fluffy pillow. For several minutes this Mindy explained all the remarkable and wonderful good works the organization she represented did in the fight against breast cancer, so much in fact, I half expected her to say it had branches dedicated to world peace, ending hunger, and stopping climate change.

“So Mr. Johnson can you support us and our vital work?”

You might be wondering why I continued to entertain such a call? See my wife and I regularly give to several charities and on occasion give to new ones that catch our attention. For example my wife is big on a local charity that helps battered women along with an international one that helps orphan kids in Asia. My favorites are the Sea Shepard Conservation Society and Smile Train.

“Yeah,” I said absentmindedly, “I figure I can handle twenty dollars.” That being the standard amount my wife and I have agreed upon before we consulted each other.

“Oh Mr. Johnson,” Blake said clearly disappointed, “ you can do better than that. How about I write you down for fifty.” She said with her voice leaving the realm of fluffy pillow and moving toward rough wool blanket.

“No, sorry,” I responded, “that's going to be the maximum amount.” At that point the tone of my voice began showing that my friendly, laid back demeanor was clearly being frayed. So Mindy easily backtracked and agreed, thanking me for my generosity and assuring me that my contribution would be put to good use.

“So now Mr. Johnson,” Mindy began trying to set the hook, “you can give me your most convenient credit or debit card number and I'll stop taking up your valuable time.”

Truthfully, I really didn't smell anything wrong with Mindy and her organization until that moment. I personally have had more charity and business solicitations where they ask for me directly by name than I can count. As I have already said, my wife and I regularly give because we both feel its important to give back in some way. But the one thing neither of us have ever fallen for was a blatant scam.

“No Mindy, I will not give you a credit or debit card number over the phone.” I said laughing slightly, clearly indicating both disappointment and derision. “You can send me some information in the mail and that's when I'll send you a check.”

I'll give this Mindy credit, she had lead me along this far and was not going to lose a potential sucker this close to hitting pay dirt. “But Mr. Johnson,” she said beginning to plead, “to cut down on administrative costs and do more for our patients we don't send out printed fliers anymore. We handle everything strictly over the internet or the phone.”

“Sorry, this is a game changer,” I said, “you send me something in the mail assuring me this is not some scam and we can talk again.”

Everything went silent for a second with Mindy whispering something to some unknown person near her. When she returned all the Disney-level perkiness had drained away or gone sour. “Thank you Mr. Johnson, something will be in the mail soon.” She said then breaking the connection on her end.

For the most part I wasn't too happy either, while I hadn't fallen for the scam Mindy had pulled me in far more than I wanted to ever admit to anyone. It was then that I remembered there was a state agency I could report charity fraud with them at least warning others of Mindy and her cohorts. As I pulled up the caller ID off the small screen on the phone it was then that I made unsettling discovery. Not only did the area code say the call was made in the Midlands region of South Carolina but the three-digit prefix was one from the Greater Columbia area.

I called the number back and, not surprisingly, got no answer. I seriously thought about calling the cops but didn't, something in the back of my head said chasing this Mindy down might be more trouble than it was worth. In the end, I let it go and figuring that at least it was a little excitement in an otherwise boring day.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

State of the Union

 A wild ride through the land of mirrors.

Before I get to my main point let me say that yes, I am an Obama supporter but contrary to to the stunted and paranoid imaginations of countless semi-racists I do not worship the man nor do I think his leadership of the country has been flawless. Like all leaders, President Obama is just human being subject to the flaws inherit to the species and what is possible in the current political zeitgeist. Much to the chagrin to most of my family I continue to believe that despite his flaws, he is an exponentially better president than the increasingly senile and warmonger McCain. Yes, the honorable senator from Arizona is an American hero but the man, along with his bizarre REMF buddy Sweet Lindsey Graham, hasn't seen a war he doesn't want us to join since the mid-1990's. No, I won't bring up Sarah Palin, just because she is a symptom of something far worse than just the morally decayed and intellectual bankrupt American political system.

It goes without saying Obama runs rings around the weird privileged mutant Romney who even now spends most of his waking hours in the magical world inside his head where he daily inches closer to some form of divinity. To any impartial bystander it should say a lot when an incumbent president can get re-elected during one of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Simply put, it was clear to the majority of the American public that Romney was nothing but a shallow, self-serving ass who would say or do anything to become president. If this offends anyone please now leave and do not let the proverbial doorknob hit you in the ass on the way out!

With that out of the way, the main thrust of my latest rant deals with several points that President Obama raised during the State of the Union speech earlier this week. I write mainly of his proposals to raise taxes on the rich and his continued support for increasing the federal minimum wage.

Nothing confirms the perception that the majority of right-wingers are a close minded group bordering on xenophobia than their belief that American business is a weak little orchid forever at risk of dying if workers get to uppity and want outlandish things like pay raises and better benefits. If you look outside the United States to such places as Europe the workers there are much better paid, and to the horror of American business, have far more paid vacation time along with paid sick and parental leave. Okay, I've seen the news and yes, the European Union is on the verge of a possible recession. Look a little closer to the details though and you might discover that has a lot to do Germany's, the economic powerhouse of the continent, stubborn adherence to financial austerity measures. But things have reached the point that even now the European central bank is planning for an American-like Quantitative Easing to prime the economic pump.

I've been lucky enough to travel a little bit and have talked with people from several European countries. Frankly except for the fact that they believe America to be an utterly beautiful country they would not in anyway trade places with those of us born in the land of the free. For those who disagree, don't blow a safety value, I realize there are a few other factors involved here including the odd European right-winger attracted the to the idea of empire and that the United States can run roughshod over most of the rest of the world. No, their social-democracies are not perfect, and the Europeans I have talked with will readily tell anyone who asks about the problems of those systems. But each and every time they always return to the fact that if some member of their family falls gravely ill they will not be financially ruined because of it. Think of that the next time there is a segment on the local news about some fundraiser for a person suffering from some disease. The always unstated reasons for such events is that the person gravely ill has insufficient or no health coverage.

I realize such an expanded, European-like social safety net comes with a price in the form of increased taxes. As a blue collar type myself who has spent many an hour working overtime for that little bit extra in the paycheck I've read the section on the stub listing all the deductions. It's a real bitch at times but then I remember that during the vast majority of the the era of trickle down economic American companies have made huge profits. Somehow the trickle Ronny promised would rain down upon the masses never quite came around. Instead the corporate CEO's and the underlings gave themselves raises with the remaining going to the shareholders. I'm sorry, it boggles my imagination that a decent hardworking person can toll for the required forty-hours and still not come away with enough pay to pay the bills and have enough left over to plan for the future.

Now this is where the Fox News crowd is going to growl like nauseated trolls and say that is only because of some fault of those people. Yeah, I admit it happens, but I personally know a honest, church going lady who works two full-time jobs to makes ends meet. No, not because she was a drug or alcohol abuser or ran up huge bill with ill gotten credit cards she couldn't afford. No, what essentially made her a slave to a flawed system is that her now deceased mother got cancer but had no health insurance because of a preexisting conditions. Don't know about anyone else but I still remember the raging Alaskan trailer trash worried over “government death panels” deciding who lived or died. Sorry folks, they already exist but they are the corporate type worried over the bottom line.

It's amazing to listen to the economic news and hear that American companies are making record profits along with Wall Street almost daily breaking new records but yet the average worker is told just be damn glad you have a job. Wages remain stagnant and health benefits are constantly trimmed because some bean counter is worried the “next quarter might be sluggish.” And god help the poor, foolish soul that even begins to suggest that workers should be able to organize and bargain with their employers. Business types scream about their precious monetary capital, to suggest the labor and time of a worker shouldn't be just as protected says a lot about how far this country has degenerated.

No, last week President Obama purposed rather meek reforms to address the growing inequality of our society. The squealing and gnashing of teeth since suggests that the precious “job creators” are both an untouchable aristocracy and the hothouse orchid I mentioned earlier. Don't know about anyone else but didn't Americans have a revolution to overthrow the tired notion of a privileged class, and didn't we write it down someplace that “all men are created equal?” On the other point, countless business pundits spout outright propaganda that the free enterprise system is the best thing since sliced bread, until someone mentions sharing the wealth, then we are told that things have suddenly become shaky and that those of us on the bottom have to work harder.

 No, since the 80's we've been told that's it patriotic to give the rich special consideration and breaks and that sometime later the benefits will trickle down to those below. Sorry folks, the only thing trickling down to us is a golden colored liquid, the funny thing is that many are just too damn stupid to realize the true nature of that substance.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The King of Nowhere-Part One

“Here Sugar,” Maggie the waitress says as she slides my bowl of grits in front of me. Little wisps of steam rises up from the bowl and dance in front of my face flooding my nose with the wonderful aroma of ground corn. As usual. I add several pats of butter and watch them melt on the surface until there is a creamy yellow layer covering everything.

“My god Aaron,” Maggie says as she walks by tending to another customer, “you're going to eventually give yourself a heart attack right here and I'm going to be forced to give you mouth to mouth until the paramedics arrive.”

“You can only wish,” I respond back as I begin stirring all the coronary disease inducing saturated fat into my breakfast and contemplate my existence.

No one willingly walks into Ollie's Carolina Waffle House much less eats there. Some, like me, are lost souls looking for a place to hide from any number of bad decisions, while for others it's a place of calm outside the rush of normal life. And yes, the fact it's the only operating diner in a very rural area is an important factor as well even though the coffee often looks like some evil, thick tar dredged straight up from the bowels of hell.

Ollie's is a strange place occupying a spot just on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River lost somewhere in the desolate swampy area between the small one-street light towns of Hardeeville and Bluffton. You could say its almost purposely hidden from the upper crust folks who frequent posh country clubs of the Hilton Head area, not that any of them would ever set an expensive Italian loafer in the place.

The way Maggie explains it, The story of Ollie's began back in the mid-90's when South Carolina was almost taken over by evil video poker establishments that seemingly popped up overnight. Imagine old fashioned arcades, but instead of kids playing pinball machines, Skee ball, and Pac Man think adults staring hypnotically at colorful machines all the while pouring coins and dollar bills into them in a vain effort to win at an electronic version of five card stud.

The very idea of video poker gambling was enough to give all the good Christian folks of South Carolina a severe case of the vapors and stalwart opposition soon formed determined to kill it outright. Unfortunately, the industry did an end run around the self-appointed guardians of moral values by promptly buying enough state politicians to make it difficult to kill. Still though, both sides lawyers up, filed numerous legal papers, and began the long litigious conflict where the only true victors where the attorneys, much in the same way cockroaches would be the actual winners of a nuclear war.

It was during the numerous legal wars that some person filled with entrepreneurial spirit built “Ace's High Video Poker Salon” just a few yards away from the future location of Ollie's Waffle House. To paraphrase two old sayings, once it was built they came in the multitudes to try and snatch an incredibly elusive monetary victory from a near certain defeat. All during Ace's High existence it was a shining example of egalitarian principles in a state that even in modern times so wants to devolve back to a society ruled by a loose aristocracy. Both white and black, rich and poor from both South Carolina and Georgia flocked to Ace's High to pour all their readily available money into the greedy machines, only to be tossed away like some five-dollar hooker once they were broke.

Since nature and business abhors a vacuum Ace's High was soon joined by convenience store, pawn shop, strip club, payday loan office, and finally a small nationally franchised diner specializing in waffles, all establishments looked down upon by the morally high and cultural elite of nearby Hilton Head. However, since nothing good can last forever, the forces of video poker were eventually defeated in the courts and Ace's High was unceremoniously closed the next morning.

With Ace's High now closed, all the associated business soon died, first was the strip club, then the payday loan office and pawn shop, the convenience store lasted a little longer but it too finally passed away. Somehow, the small nationally franchised waffle diner stayed open even though it could go days without more than five customers at one time, but even it eventually had to padlock its doors. Given the location the erstwhile complex of empty and forlorn buildings soon showed the signs of decay and abandonment to the point they could have been used as a set on some post-apocalyptic movie.

Just a month or so after the diner closed, Ollie came along and reopened the place, abet on a severe shoestring budget. His situation was so bad he didn't have the money for a new sign but instead took a couple of pieces of plywood, painted the words “Ollie's Carolina” on them, and then bolted the two above each side of the old one. It was enough that when the busybodies from the national corporate office came by, ready to demand Ollie completely tear down the old sign because such a ragtag operation might hurt their good name they said screw it, and went home figuring he wouldn't last a month given the location.

Somehow though despite the odds, Ollie's Waffle House found a strange little niche in the cluster fuck we call reality and survived. While never overflowing with customers what human refuse that does trickle in keeps the place afloat supplying Maggie and her three other cohorts with something in the way of a paycheck. As for Ollie, with the diner up and running Maggie claims he up and disappeared and only makes his presence known through crypt phone calls and emails.

I found Ollie's place a few months after my divorce. I had once been a decent Charleston lawyer occupying the spongy moral middle area of my profession, neither a slimy ambulance chaser nor a shining knight out to protect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. None of my possible futures included a seat on the Supreme Court but my clients and people in general truly liked and respected me. So much that on several occasions both political parties sent representatives to try and talk me into running for state office.

But like an idiot I went and blew it all away having an affair with a gorgeous blond investment banker who got caught playing funny, and quite illegal, games with the funds entrusted to her. Since my lover, Cynthia Howard, was not one of the big Wall Street Masters of the Universe the Feds had every intention of making an example of her to show the unwashed masses that they weren't beholding to such people. But I was in love and Cynthia had long since maneuvered me into some dangerous positions both legal and erotic.

While not smart enough to avoid trouble in the first place, I was able to marshal what wits I possessed and avoid both jail time and disbarment. The divorce on the other hand was a disaster of apocalyptic proportions, my wife got custody of the kids, house, dog, my balls, and even the city of Charleston itself since my face was the lead story on every local television news broadcast for several weeks.

The self-inflected disaster that my life became had all the seedy aspects of one of those “ripped from the headlines” television movies. Respected family man becomes unknowing pawn for a beautiful femme fatale whose web of lies and manipulations would have made Dick Nixon look like an innocent Boy Scout. The local press descended on me like an enraged school of piranha suffering through a bad acid trip. So even before the dust finally settled I tucked my tail between my legs and slipped out of town to begin my exile in Savannah, Georgia. A nice town, but not as beautiful as my lost Charleston.

Now I am a full-fledged ambulance chaser, I even have nifty refrigerator magnets with a picture of me dressed as the Terminator holding an over-sized judge's gavel like an assault weapon promising that I will make the insurance companies pay. It's beyond silly, bordering on stupid, but along with a similar advertisement published in a free weekly newspaper I pull in enough business to pay child support and buy enough food to avoid starvation. I wish I could say my clients are decent, hardworking people but I promised myself I would only lie during business hours. It was during one of my house calls, yes I have sunk that low, to see a man claiming that the new ladder he bought from one of the mega-hardware stores collapsed while climbing onto his roof that I stumbled upon Ollie's. Since then I come here to clear my head and on occasion, meet possible new clients that don't want to be seen in public.

“Listen Aaron,” Maggie said interrupting my mental fugue, “you've been sitting there for over an hour staring at your empty bowl. I'm not a mind reader, if you want another you need to say something.”

“Thanks Maggie,” I say, “just more coffee, please. I'm waiting for a possible new client” Maggie knows me well enough not to ask any further questions, so she fills my cup and walks over to the far end of the counter to talk with the cook.

I didn't have to wait long, as I stared out one of the windows looking at the Savannah skyline I notice a sparkling new and expensive BMW sedan pull into the gravel parking lot. That's the thing about Ollie's, everyone who frequents the place drive something held together with duct tape and good intentions. On the rare occasion a classy automobile does cruise by it almost certainly means one of the uber-rich Hilton Head crowd got lost looking for his or her meth dealer among the countless trailer parks of the area.

“Oh my God,” I whisper to myself once the driver got out of the car. As a cynic of the American political process even before my fall from Charleston grace I had developed a strange theory. See I believe that in some secret location there is an evil cabal developing cloning technology in the efforts increase the numbers of 1950's looking white males. Despite Charleston's beauty and culture the unseemly underbelly of its racist past still exists in that many of the old established families of high society. Deep in many of the ornate houses that sit at the heart of the old city these families gather and talk about how they are scared shitless over the increasing numbers of blacks and Hispanics who actually want to take part in the running of the state.

Think I'm crazy? Maybe. but who would have ever thought such a god fearing state would elect a disgraced former governor to the United States Congress whose claim to fame was not only going AWOL from the office he desperately campaigned for twice to see his mistress. But that he crossed half the planet to bask in the intensity of her South American passion only to return and claim to the people who elected him that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Since this deficit of white males was even noticed by one of South Carolina's senators I began seeing a strange collection of generic white guys aimlessly roaming around the Holy City as if there was a casting call for a new Ward Cleaver for a reboot of “Leave it to Beaver.” Whatever the case this guy fit the description, he was probably five-foot, nine-inches, had black hair combed back in a style that reminded me of Ronny Reagan, and was wearing an expensive conservative black suit with matching tie. The only thing visibly missing from his ensemble was the stick protruding from his butt.

Despite the fact that I wanted to break down and laugh, I set my evil preconceived notions aside because the guy oozed money and an ex-wife upset the alimony and child support checks are late is scarier than being attacked by a rabid dog. Figuring his possible net worth I really couldn't see myself turning the guy away even if he wanted me to kill someone.

“Mr. Aaron Moore,” the guy said shaking my had after coming inside, “I'm Bob White, your nine o'clock appointment, it sure was difficult finding this place,” he said while looking over the late-twentieth century plastic decor of the diner.

“Yeah,” I respond, “but for most of my clients it's ideal since they have a hard time getting into the city. How can I be of service to you Mr. White?

“It's not me actually,” he said, “I represent someone who thinks you have special talents that could be considerably advantageous with a particularly difficult endeavor and is willing to pay whatever it takes to put you on retainer.”

Yeah, every microscopic bit of my common sense was screaming something was wrong with both this guy and whomever he represented but the overstuffed envelope he placed on the worn table obviously filled with cash overrode their protests. “Of course,” I said trying to sound discerning, “I'd have to meet this person and see what I would be required to do before accepting such an offer.”

Mr. White smiled, not a human smile of happiness or basic understanding but the type of grin you might see on a spider after a helpless fly has gotten caught in its web. “Naturally,” he said sliding the envelope towards my hand, “you're a busy man and this is just a small incentive to pay for your valuable time.”

I'll give White credit, he actually uttered those words with only the slightest hint of sarcasm. “Okay Mr. White, despite what curiosity once did to a cat, lets go meet this cryptic client of yours.”

I paid my bill and then left the diner with Mr. White enjoying the comfort of his high-end BMW. What did this mysterious client want with me? I figured it probably involved insurance fraud with me acting as a snitch to expose one of my professional brothers or sisters who was priming the pump a little too much. It happens, and the insurance companies were well known to go to great lengths to slap down those who had drawn their attention.

I wasn't surprised when Mr. White began obviously heading in the direction of Hilton Head Island. After crossing the bridge connecting it to the mainland I still wasn't surprised when it appeared that we were heading to the extreme end, to the Harbour Town area, an area overflowing with money and the idle rich. What did begin to bother me was arriving at the marina, instead of going to a conference or hotel room.

“It's quite alright Mr. Moore,” White said to me noticing my growing nervousness after getting out of the car.

While Harbour Town is a nice name, the entire area is nothing but the creation of clever developers who had access to a considerable amount of dredging equipment to dig out all the earth to construct the marina. Throw in a few five star restaurants, golf courses, and resorts and you would never know the island itself was once a refuge for escaped slaves during the Civil War. No, what sent cold chills of utter terror coursing through my spine was to begin walking among the collection of yachts docked in the marina. This was no mere insurance sting operation, something else entirely was afoot and I was at least smart enough to know I was much to small a cog in the great machine to figure anyone would ultimately give a damn if I lived or died. People like me were little more than bacteria to those who could afford the yachts dock there, none which were under one-hundred fifty feet long.

It all came to a head as the walkway lead us to one of those futuristic mega-yachts that looked like it could cruise the oceans or the space between stars. After seeing the name painted on the stern I wanted to throw the envelope stuffed with money back at Mr. White and run away a fast as I could, but he was expecting my reaction and pulled out a taser, pressed it against my back, and pulled the trigger. A second later I'm on the ground flopping around like a live fish that just realized he had been dropped onto a sushi table.

Another dude came out of nowhere and along with Mr. White, began carrying me aboard the yacht Cynthia's Revenge. Adding insult to injury right before I passed out my ex-lover, Cynthia Howard, wearing a only a colorful bikini worthy of the beaches of Rio, came up and gave me a passionate kiss. As everything went black I actually found myself hoping I wouldn't wake up. 

(Author's Comment: I have no idea where I can take this, any CONSTRUCTIVE suggestions would be helpful.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

In Praise of the Radical Space Visionary-Elon Musk

 As someone who grew up an enthusiastic supporter of the manned space program and survived the various forms of derision generously shoveled out by those folks beholding to the conventional wisdom that such efforts were silly, I take a great deal of satisfaction in the efforts of Elon Musk. For those who don't know, Elon Musk is damn near a real life Tony (Iron Man ) Stark who has literally built several high tech firms out of nothing and made billions in the process.

His crowning achievement, in the opinion of this humble space cadet, is founding SpaceX. This company has already developed a reliable launch system to send supplies to the International Space Station but it is now competing with the aerospace giant Boeing to develop privately operated vehicles that will send people into low Earth orbit. The very fact that Musk's company SpaceX didn't exist until 2002 and is now on par with Boeing impresses the hell out of this tree hugging, liberal generally suspicious of all things capitalistic. Yeah, go ahead and smirk, I admit capitalism can be a good thing, especially when someone with a curious thing like long range vision uses it for the betterment of humanity. See Mr. Musk not only wants to make a buck but is working diligently to establish a human colony on Mars. 

The great question that continues to puzzles the assorted rabble of manned space program enthusiasts like me is what the hell happened as we entered the 1970's. We had walked on the moon and sent out the first wave of robotic explorers to orbit Venus and Mars and were in the process of building the Pioneer and Voyager probes that would give us our first look at the gas giants of the outer solar system. Sure the space shuttle was going to be built but it was at best an afterthought by a nation that was showing the first signs of a collective nervous breakdown.

Yes, the civil rights movement was still a force rippling through the country trying to overthrow the ninetieth century mentality and, of course, there was the Vietnam War, and a little further down the road the first OPEC-engineered oil crisis. Throw in a persistent Cold War and then Watergate and even a semi-delusional cultural infidel like me can cut the Americans of that era some significant slack.

The problem is that, with a few exceptions, the United States has never really regained its psychological, failure-is-not-an-option, edge. Instead of rationally discussing the issues, we have divided everything along arthritic political lines that have not just devolved beyond simple absurdity but crossed the border into the surreal. All the while the greater mass of the American people happily graze the cable channels in a mind numb state believing their existence is perfectly natural and ordained by God himself and will continue on forever.

This is where Mr. Musk comes into the fray offering up his vision saying we need to look beyond the here and now to something incredible. Yeah, the idea of having people living on another planet is still a far out idea generally reserved for kooks and others with nothing better to do with their lives. The exception here is that Elon Musk has played the accepted capitalistic game with the established big boys, always ready to protecting their realms at all costs, and came out of it the winner.

Why in heaven's name would anyone want to live on a cold dead rock that makes Antarctica look like Key West? Great question and the number one reason is to protect the human race from some extinction level event. We're not just talking about a massive comet or asteroid coming out of the abyss to smack the Earth but some power mad political or religious idiot unleashing a nuclear war or genetically-engineered pandemic. There are numerous other Doomsday scenarios but in my book those two seem the most likely. A human colony on Mars would ensure something of the human race would go on, to me a more than worthy endeavor.

Of course I realize both the Jesus freaks and psychotic back to nature crowd will object since the former believes were just seconds away from the Rapture and the latter views Humanity as a ravaging horde of locusts that should go the way of the dinosaurs. I don't debate either group because the former are truly insane with only their large numbers protecting them from being instituted and the latter suffers from unrealistic expectations for a species that barely a geologic second or two ago was living in trees. Homo sapiens are a brutal and barely sentient primate with a strong predisposition to superstition but it is my belief that we can grow and evolve to something better. It would be a damn cosmic shame to allow our collective psychosis or guilt to condemn us all.

The second reason is something I alluded to earlier, we're fifteen years into the twenty-first century and the entire world, not just Americans, have a mindset not too different from our ancestors a hundred or more years ago. We kill each other over petty nationalistic and religious ideals believing that our small spot on the planet or who we believe is God makes us better than everyone else. Those like me have this unreasonable hope that knowing humans live on an entirely different planet might just be the kick we need to wake all of us up from our primitive and irrational urges and grow the hell up. And if that fails, which in all probability it would, we have a species insurance policy on Mars to ensure something can continue. Any fledgling human colony on Mars would be populated by highly educated types determined to survive, which would require a high degree of cooperation and rational thought, not pleas to an uncaring god nor ridiculous observance to stunted and outdated nationalism.  

Colonizing Mars would in no way be easy, the first thing Elon Musk is working hard to overcome is the cost of sending materials and people into space. After that is a whole host of technical issues with some quite daunting, but I would rather try and fail rather than just look on as our primitive and outmoded attitudes and superstitions condemn us all to oblivion.

Okay, just to be fair, here is an opposing viewpoint from another hero of mine, Neil deGrass Tyson.

It's not just Musk who entertains this crazy dream:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

I Stand with Charlie Hebdo

"Free expression is the base of human rights, the root of human nature and the mother of truth. To kill free speech is to insult human rights, to stifle human nature and to suppress truth."
Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese literary critic, writer, professor, and human rights activist who called for political reforms and the end of communist single-party rule. He is currently incarcerated as a political prisoner in Jinzhou, Liaoning

"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."
Salman Rushdie
Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie is a British Indian novelist and essayist.

“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” 
George Orwell

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”  
George Washington

“My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.”
 Christopher Hitchens 

  Christopher Eric Hitchens (April 13, 1949 – December 15, 2011) was an English-born American author, journalist and literary critic.
 One of the reasons I drifted away from religion and became an agnostic was that I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that God, the supreme entity of all creation, would give a damn about arcane human ceremonies. I believe the same holds true for any and all possible insults that send some into a blind rage. If an entity can set forth the underlining principles of all the subatomic particles as well as the laws of physics that govern the development of galaxies, stars, and planets he or she would be incredibly petty to be worried over anything I can verbalized or write. 
 If God does exist. it is my opinion that he or she would be far more concerned that we, tiny insignificant beings living on a small planet lost among all the galaxies would treat one another with respect and understanding. I intend no disrespect to anyone's beliefs but the problem with living in a free society where ideas and opinions can be expressed openly is that eventually someone will insult something you hold dear. Here in South Carolina I regularly have to deal with people who express opinions I consider outrageously stupid or destructive. And to be honest, even though it can irritate the living shit out of me I wouldn't have it any other way.          

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.


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.”