Hours later as Amanda and I enter the Charleston Jezebels, the Gilead government run brothel, my mind still couldn't quite come to terms with what I learned about my spy partner's ex-husband. That Andrew Maddox was bisexual and had been while Amanda and he were married. I couldn't help but figure that explained our affair back before America fell. She asked me what I thought of Andrew after meeting him the first time and my response was less than positive. I thought the guy was a major dick and that his only real talent was being born into a well established and wealthy family with huge connections in D.C.
But the real icing on the lets-screw-with-Andrew cake is that his current boyfriend was an aide to none other than the Reverend President of Gilead. One of the absolute worst crimes in Gilead was something called “Gender Treachery.” The penalty being the convicted having their skulls impaled with a meat hook mounted to a wall. Having knowledge that a senior official had hidden a sexual life was information any respectable spy agency milked until that cow was a crusty corpse. Amanda didn't need to tell me that pressure on Andrew was how the scientist we were sent to rescue, Jennifer Burgess, ended up in the now Potemkin village of Charleston.
The building itself was a new construction situated on the grounds of what was once the South Carolina Aquarium. The place essentially looked like a six story rectangular warehouse with the main entrance located at the southwest corner. Needless to say, in a country that was supposedly established to be God's kingdom on earth there wasn't any signage proclaiming what was going on in the place. While less than six years had passed since Gilead was proclaimed, good citizens had long learned that asking any questions was a quick way to earn a ticket to the toxic wastelands of the Colonies.
Once inside the building, the décor seemed intent on making up for the outside anonymity. It was a mashup of 20th century New Orleans and 19th century Antebellum south. Red velvet wallpaper covered the walls on which hung portrait paintings of ancient plantation owners. Their expressions a curious combination of approval or amusement, which given that the dead bastards all thought nothing of keeping fellow humans in bondage seemed appropriate. The worst thing though were the huge stuffed hunting trophies, elephant tusks, and rhino horns on display. All clearly recent kills given their condition. Lighting came from wrought iron fixtures hanging from the ceiling which gave the place a subdued atmosphere. Scattered about the lobby floor were numerous overstuffed chairs and ornate couches where the upper tier of Gilead society and foreign tourists could be found relaxing while waiting their turn with the talent upstairs.
One of the concierges approached Amanda and myself as we stood at the threshold of the lobby. After we gave him our German cover names he checked a notebook sitting on a small podium and then guided us to the bar in back of the lobby. As we made our way through, the concierge did a nearly imperceptible hand gesture as he brushed some imaginary lint off his right sleeve. A sign that he was part of the Mayday Resistance.
While Amanda was the senior of our team and made operational decisions, my general task was to imagine creative ways to escape. Especially if our best laid plans went sideways and we ended up being hunted like rats. Standing at the bar while Amanda ordered us some drinks my best guess at the moment was to kill as many of the clientele and in the confusion slip back outside and jump into the harbor which was just a short distance away. From there we would simply swim for our lives hoping the scores of small gunboats the authorities use to keep people from escaping by sea were taking the night off.
If everything went as planned, Amanda and I would be escorted up to the room Dr. Burgess was waiting. From there things got weird, I had to get us all back down to the first floor quietly as possible, through several storage rooms and out a rear door. If that was successful, Andrew Maddox would be outside with his vehicle and driver who would take us out of the city. Once over the bridge connecting Charleston with Mount Pleasant, we would be dropped off near the abandoned village of Awendaw. After ditching Maddox, we would make our way through the forest and link up with a Marine Recon Unit who would get us out of the country.
Twenty minutes later Amanda and I enter the bedroom suite where Dr, Burgess had been placed. Jezebel management had one of their security thugs guide us to the suite, probably to make sure Amanda and I didn't do anything stupid and to remind people like Burgess to behave.
Walking directly behind the thug with Amanda bringing up the rear, I was able to get the guy to talk a little with me learning his name was Hank and that he loved his job. As Hank used a card key to open the door to the bedroom suite, I caught sight of Dr. Burgess standing inside. Dressed in slinky, low cut dress it took less than a second for me to realize that Hank and Dr. Burgess were about the same height.
“Hank my man,” I said in clear American English, “this isn't your day.”
Hank shrugged in surprise from my change in accent but before he had a chance to turn around I quickly grabbed his head and shoulders and snapped his neck. He fell to the floor like a puppet whose strings had been cut.
“Dr. Jennifer Burgess,” I said looking her straight in the eyes and taking her hands in mine. “I don't have time to explain but you're going to have to trust us. We're here to get you out of the country.” As inspiring opening speeches went it didn't have the effect I wanted. Burgess was in shock and my worry was that the Gilead regime and her Jezebel masters had broken her. As the intelligence reports suggested, the women who end up in Jezebel facilities were the ones who refused to go along with the regime but were too good looking just to send to the colonies or kill. That didn't mean women like Burgess weren't mentally tortured to the point they couldn't be sure if it was raining even if they saw their persecutors come into a building soaking wet.
Just to make things more difficult, Amanda chose that moment to get picky on how I handled our escape. “Really Ryan, you couldn't wait for us to see if Dr. Burgess was going to be difficult. You had to kill the guard, they're expecting him back in a few minutes.” She said after making sure no one was behind us and closing the door.
“I improvised, Burgess can wear his uniform.” I said beginning to strip Hank of his equipment belt and boots.” How about less nagging and more getting Burgess ready to move.”
Amanda was able to get the female-to-female connection going with Burgess and in less than ten minutes we had her wearing Hank's uniform after making some adaptations. It was more than a little loose, but with the dim lighting of the hallways and us moving extremely quickly it would work. Better yet, as we left the room I discovered Hank's card key opened every door we passed.
Hank's card key allowed us access to the stairwell, which thankfully was empty as we made our way down to the first floor. Our luck ran out just as soon as I opened the stairwell door, two women sentenced to the “Martha” underclass pushing room service carts spotted me and made too much noise for another security thug to ignore.
“Hi,” I said to the guard as he approached abandoning the German accent. “I'm a bit lost, can you help me find the bathroom.”
It was either the easy duty in Jezebel facilities or the fact that the guy wasn't that smart to begin with, but my statement caused the thug a moment of confusion allowing me to remove him from the escape equation. It wasn't a clean solution, there was enough noise to attract attention and I was sure the Marthas were spilling the beans to the first person in authority they saw. At least this guy had a pistol, three extra magazines of ammo, and a radio which I gladly took. After hesitating for a second, I pulled the man's knife out of the back of his skull wiping the blade on his shirt.
“Dammit Ryan,” Amanda said stepping out of the stairwell as I dumped the body inside, “you were never this messy.”
That comment irritated me to my core. “Well you know Ms. Carter, less than two weeks ago I was a happy retired spy living a quiet peaceful life. Then you appeared and crapped all over everything.”
“We don't have time for you guys to get a room.” Dr. Burgess said looking around the corner down another hallway. “This way leads to the storage room you mentioned, Amanda.”
Amanda and I glanced at each other not because of our bickering but because Dr. Burgess was shaking off her captivity. The way towards the storage rooms looked clear and that was the moment I decided to once again improvise. “Here,” I said to Amanda giving her the pistol and the extra magazines. “Get Burgess outside and in Andrew's vehicle, I'll head towards the kitchen hopefully drawing the security with me.”
Amanda didn't argue and the two were running before the sound of my words faded. I in turn readied the knife I had taken from the second security thug and headed towards the kitchen. One of the things a spy has to learn to stay mentally healthy that he or she may be forced to kill people in the line of duty, they must never think of themselves as killers. It's a small distinction that only works for a short time but as I plowed through the kitchen there was no time for me to decide who might be a friend or who was more than likely a foe.
I made it outside just as Amanda and Dr. Burgess were getting in Andrew's vehicle. By that time all hell appeared to be breaking loose with sirens going off all over. It didn't take a rocket scientists to figure out the Charleston Jezebels was about to be ground zero. That pretty much left me one choice.
“Amanda,” I yelled out, “get Burgess out of here. I'll run interference for you two. And don't wait for me, I won't make it to the site in time.”
Got to give Amanda points on being consistent, she wasn't sentimental in the least. She must have told Andrew's driver to hit it because they were out of sight in seconds. That left me to run towards the nearest Guardians of the Faith checkpoint playing the scared German tourist.
The German tourist thing worked and soon after that I had a slightly bloody Guardian uniform to wear and an armored Humvee with one of those nifty automatic grenade launchers mounted to the roof. I played absolute hell that night shooting up anything that would cause increased confusion. What also helped was the total lack of training on the part of the Guardians who at one point were broadcasting in the clear on their radio net. They thought the Remnant U.S. had launched an amphibious invasion on Charleston like the overland one they pulled on Chicago.
I dumped the Humvee around Goose Creek and went into the shadows living off the land and moving at night. It was a total pain in the ass and I cursed Amanda more times that I could count for dragging me back to this shit hole. One aspect of my guerrilla campaign was getting an idea of the mindset of the people trapped in Gilead. I didn't have much time to dwell on it though since survival was my chief concern.
Months ticked by and I eventually made it to the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and into rebel territory. The Gilead regime had overall control of the country but they had pissed off many of the religious evangelicals that initially supported them. Their relationship went to shit after the regime declared their brand of Christianity the one true faith. Those who didn't convert to the new state-approved religion pretty much ended up on the same shit list as the secular intellectuals before them. Some obeyed the conversion order while others hauled ass to the mountains eventually forming alliances with those already fighting the regime.
Word of my exploits had long since reached the rebels who sent word to the Remnant U.S. leadership in Anchorage. So when a rebel patrol discovered me in the ruins of Cherokee, North Carolina I was fast tracked for extraction back to civilization. That itself took about a month but I eventually crossed over into Canada. I did provoke a bit of an international incident when the I made the Canadian Army lieutenant escorting me to the nearest U.S. military post stop at the first McDonalds we passed. After a Big Mac and Coke, my tired butt was on a military transport for Anchorage.
The debriefing by numerous military intelligence types was almost as painful as my solitary guerrilla campaign through South Carolina. But at least I learned that Amanda and Dr, Burgess made it out of Gilead safely. Adding to the intelligence coup, the Marine Recon Unit that got the ladies to the stealth submarine waiting for them didn't feel obliged to honor the deal with Andrew. As soon as Amanda identified him to the Marine captain in charge of the group, they hog tied his ass and stuffed him in the second stealth sub that carried them out. Maddox has apparently answered a lot of questions concerning the nature of the Gilead leadership.
General Okamoto showed up a week later for what he said would be a personal chat. By that time I was rested and finally getting sick of fast food. All I wanted by that point was safe passage back to my cabin in New Zealand, something that Okamoto promised me back at Johnston Atoll.
“What we'd like to know Ryan is the attitude of the American population trapped inside the country.” Okamoto asked as we relaxed in his office.
I'd had already spent the last hours recounting my exploits while he had gone on about how they were going to liberate the country and restore the Republic. It was actually a little sad that I was going to have to burst the man's bubble.
“General, I truly hate to be the one telling you this but there isn't any America any more. I won't get into a sociopolitical debate about when the country fell but for shits and giggles I'd say it was already dead by the time of the 9/11 attacks. Apathy and ignorance had long since infected the population and when you threw in the climate of fear and paranoia those attacks created it was probably game over by then. The fear fed on itself and when you have a population already wondering why their share of the American Dream hadn't materialized as promised, well human nature takes over. Since they didn't have an outside enemy, they turned on themselves and the most insane faction came out the winner of the bloodbath.
“The people who I encountered are fully wrapped into the same fears they've been nursing since the 1990's. The Remnant U.S. leadership can't liberate these people and restore democracy. They wouldn't know how to manage a rational, civil debate on issues if their sorry lives depended on it. It's probably different in some areas, like the west coast, but that's where the Gilead regime has most of its effective forces on brutal occupation duty. Gilead will fall, but that's going to happen because it bases its existence on terror. The best the Remnant U.S. can do is figure out ways to nudge it along to its eventual doom. I don't envy the people that will have to pick up the pieces.”
My talk with Okamoto didn't go over well, they had me on a flight to New Zealand a couple of days later. Much to my surprise the Kiwi government didn't hassle me on arrival. Even more surprising was that my cabin was in excellent shape when I finally returned home. The answer to how such things were possible became apparent as I stepped inside.
“Hello Ryan,” Amanda Carter said sitting at my kitchen table again.