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Forward This is the truth about an imaginary journalist and the imaginary framework within which I exist. For all intents and purposes I am Solomon Strangelove, and these are my stories. I come from a world with two continents. One peaked and waning, the other static and unrelenting. This is a tale about people who don't want to change. I am a reporter for a newspaper called, “The Daily.” It is only important because it is the only one. “The Daily” is not owned or operated by the government, but it might as well be. We print what they want you to read. I live in the capitol city of a nation known as the United Utopian Provinces (UUP), which controls the entirety of the first continent I mentioned. In this world gone mad, the UUP is far from utopian. Imagine the worst parts of every liberal conspiracy. We have good healthcare, giant corporations and big government. The government is larger than life, micromanaging minute details is commonplace. Its fingers in almost every pot, taxes are high but so is the quality of life. The UUP is a land of incredible technology, but for all our knowledge we have never ventured into space. There are no satellites in my world. No one ever went to the moon. We have explored more of our world and destroyed more of its natural beauty than you have. We have paved over forests and jungles. We are adept at moving mountains and rivers. Industry has consumed the once endless resources of our vast continent. We need an injection. As industry crumbled in lieu of dire predictions, the people organized themselves into collectives known as “Communities.” Through a system of indictments and propaganda the government slowly dismantled this new way of life by imprisoning the leadership and selling off the land to its pet corporations. The government's plan keeps the rich and powerful in their trenches, and sends the youth off to war. On the other side of the world lies a dark continent. An undiscovered country where diplomacy quickly meets mysterious, violent ends. Government scientists call it The Promised Land but in reality it is a vast and uncompromising desert. The promised land is run by religion, there is little to no discernible government. Hardly even a theocracy, life in The Promised Land seems more like holy anarchy. The people's technology is just beyond medieval. The country has limited infrastructure. It is a war that seems too easy to win over an unconquerable land. *** These essays represent a collection of original drafts, unpublished stories and my own notes. As an artist has studies, a journalist has his notes. This is the story that wasn't told.


The Lost Documents Solomon Strangelove of

By Samuel R. Osborne


ONE: A Pillar of The Communities Some pictures are more vivid without being seen. The doors slid shut behind me, a metallic swish culminating with a sudden, echoing clack. But I've done nothing wrong... and I wonder how many times those words have shared this same echo. There is a clash here, a clash of spirit and concrete as much as any clash of class, or race, or belief. That which cannot be contained or controlled is kept in these rooms, and whatever is put to a halt by removing that element from society, is happening in full in here. I have not been incarcerated, but I am in prison none the less. I am in prison because Dr. Karen Messier is in prison. I've been told to get an interview with the good doctor. I am in prison because I do what I'm told. Dr. Messier is in prison because she would not. “You are from the government press?” Her hair was dark and cropped close to her face. Chances are she wasn't allowed a brush or even a mirror for that matter. A mere shadow of her reputation, though this touch of humanity only seems to add to her mystique. Her limbs are long and she wields her eyes like a predator. Like a wild mother, she may be caged but she appears far from tame. I told her that I was from the Daily, but that I wrote for the weekly magazine. She asked for my questions. I pointed to my temple and tapped three times. I explained that I was allowed to bring nothing from the outside world into your prison world, not even paper or pen. I was told you were dangerous and manipulative. I explained that I was here to interview an enemy of the state. And she placed me with her muttering: “My enemy's enemy...” and trailed off. She looked up and her eyes pierced me; I felt she knew my every weakness. I was still crippled by her glance when she continued, “I have never thought of myself as an enemy of the state. Though I admit that I may not have always kept it as the best of friends.” And we began. I said: You were arrested for what is described as “the repeated exchange of valued goods created within the borders of the country, for valued goods of comparable value without regard for the rate of taxation on such exchanges.” So basically, you were arrested for not paying sales tax? “I was arrested because I was more powerful than the highest members of our government. We both knew it. I was charged with this bizarre idea of tax evasion because that was all I'd done wrong. Or at least wrong enough for prison. My beliefs, my loud mouth, and my refusal to cooperate got me a few bruises, and more than a few nights in uncomfortable places, but my unintentional refusal to pay tribute to a power that places itself above me and that I have no confidence in results in my being kept here by threat of violence and isolation. But they can't take away who I am or change what I believe.” Her tone was stern and almost commanding, even now. “The Communities changed the face of our country. As long as our country is remembered, our movement will be, at the very least, a footnote of its history. The warden here is actually quite 1


interested in implementing some of our old ideas. I'm trying to turn the prison into a community, and in turn, the whole prison system. This movement can't be stopped; we proved that there are better ways.” The pace of her speech was metered and deliberate, as though she was interpreting her own thoughts. “The Communities were easy to believe in. “It was meaningful. What we were doing mattered. Even in the beginning, we were improving the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people, and in the process we'd started to disprove the previously understood necessities of greed and government. The effects were unintentional, but we were definitely creating a power vacuum. We had done nothing to acquire power, but our defection had changed the nature of the struggle.” I asked her to explain. She continued, “Scarcity creates value. Our land is running out of resources, which is making them more valuable. Value is sewn up by the entrenched power structure into a single form, money – which is in turn used to acquire resources, either through their purchase, or as payment for their retrieval. The struggle is between the people who have anything of value, and those who have less. Know how is valuable. Education is valuable. Experience is valuable; money, resources, time. They are all valuable. We all want something that the other has, nothing is free, some take more than they need, and there's not always enough to go around." She stopped and winced as though pausing was physically painful, "What happened in the communities introduced a new variable to the system. We'd shifted our focus, and it started shifting the entire spectrum. When we started the first community, it was like it skimmed the cream of the crop from every spectrum. Highly educated minds and philanthropist investors joined hearts and minds with the hard working, under-privileged and under-respected. Haves with Have-nots, the majority blended with the minorities to create a whole new idea of what freedom and accountability might really mean.” "Drop-Out culture," I said. She scoffed audibly before explaining, “I know that's what it's called in the vernacular, but I wouldn't call what any of us did dropping-out. We were just adapting to what felt like a more natural way of life. In my years of education and lecturing, in my years of economic analysis, I never felt fulfilled. I never found value in my fee. I've found that there is seldom a unique individual experience, so with billions of people, it's no surprise that many of us could agree about this and more. Once we knew we had each other's support we knew what we had to do. We felt that our country was falling apart around us, and finding a new way of life seemed like a real logical choice. I don't think we expected anything like what our little movement turned into. From the simple to the complex, our ideas grew as we gained more and more defectors from the norm. I never said, 'quit your jobs and give up on the advancements of modern society.’ That was never our message, and it's not even half true when held up to the record of what we did. Our message was one of balance between desire and necessity, and of seeing family and community contribution as accomplishments worthy of higher praise than economic 2


success. We may have left jobs, and shied away from destructive technology, but we were not without work or purpose.” I pushed on, "Before you were made an icon of The Communities movement, you were an economist. What brought you to the decision to split from the fundamental ideas of commerce and finance that had brought you and our country such economic success?" “The idea of a destructive economy is just one small step away from the idea of a consumption economy." Messier seemed to be boiling inside. Her eyes lit up like fire and her once simple hand gestures quickly turned complex. "I remember seeing this strip-mine off the freeway. It was on the ride to my elementary school. My father explained that they tore down the mountains to build the skyscrapers in the cities, and make the roads. Even then I thought there had to be a better way. The disharmony of this event stays with me today, and it was with me when I walked away from the give and take. I couldn't participate in a way of life that was sucking the marrow from the future to nourish out of control, present day desire. That sentiment gave birth to an idea, and The Communities were born. “As the resources dwindled, it seemed the only logical choice. We knew we had to adapt. We knew the resources associated with the creation and use of our technologies had basically been used up. Slowing and stopping the use of these harmful technologies became more important than the benefits gained from their use, so we stopped using them, and started trying to spread that message." And with that, something visibly shifted in her demeanor and her voice took on a lilting quality. "I mean, I really think I've been given too much credit for all of this. The Community brought together like minds, but its ideas spread like wildfire. More and more, different communities were springing up all across the country. We all just came together under an umbrella of hope and change. In the early days, we were excited just to adapt; so many of our acts felt like discovering lost secrets to happiness, and our efforts were fruitful. Too fruitful. The Community's barter markets and farmers markets became the envy of the cities, and as they gained popularity, some even started within the city limits. It really felt like we were winning when the government subsidy farms started falling apart and parceling out their land, that's when the full size grow-ops really got started, and the cities slowly became surrounded by multiple, interlaced communities of varying size. Like a network of new ideas slowly consuming an old way of life. As The Communities were known to be filled with the highly educated and intelligent, 'free', 'alternative' Community schools became more desirable than the standardized education found public schools. The shift continued until the government started pushing for war.” The lilt was gone. "My next question is about 'The Communities' governing body and public voice, The Review. The Review condemned the government's call for an 'expeditionary force' to be drafted from the population and sent around the globe to search out and evaluate the possibility of extracting resources from a continent of unmeasured and untapped wealth.

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Dubbed The Promised Land by both the scientific and financial communities, The Review dissented, calling the expedition an 'unnecessary act of war.'" Messier was quick to respond to this. “Yes. It's already started one here, fortunately one with little blood-shed or violence, but the war they're starting on the other side of the world isn't going to be so kind. The terrain is unforgiving, and we know nothing of the language or the people. It's not an expeditionary force, it's an invasion. Landing armed troops in what must be assumed is a sovereign nation, without warning, can only be perceived as an act of war, and will no doubt be received as such. And then what? We're going to steal their future to fuel our own destruction? And at what cost? In The Communities, we'd started a new way of life, and with the rhetoric of war being whipped up around us, we started feeling as threatened as we were apparently threatening.” The Review's statement was released as a unified voice from the people, a massive petition consisting of over four million signatures stating “that they did not wish to form, fund, or participate in an expeditionary militia of any type, for any purpose, to any degree, other than to defend the country from an immediate, exterior threat.” Her statement started with a palpable disdain. “A voice that fell on deaf ears, the petition was overlooked by the blind eyes of an entrenched and failing power structure. Regardless of the will of The Communities, and much of what remained of the cities, a suddenly despotic republic took hold of the reigns, as both the branches of the council passed measures instituting a draft to proceed ahead with the forming of the expeditionary force. The letters went out, but nobody showed up. Within the thirty day deadline, less than ten percent of the draftees had arrived at the processing stations. More importantly, only about a fifth of the processing stations had even been set up.” With this statement, Dr. Messier seemed to fill with pride, and she smiled when she said this. I saw a glimmer of hope and happiness that had been absent from her face. It quickly faded in the fluorescent lights. “It became a matter of us and them. The consensus in The Community was that we didn't agree therefore, we were not compelled to participate. That was what brought us together in the first place. That was what initially brought about my involvement with the community project. Now, we just had a little extra motivation. We didn't understand why they had ignored the voice of the people, why they wouldn't want the people to take responsibility for creating a healthy future. Shouldn't the burden fall on those who are prepared to bear it? On those who want it, and call out for it? We were organized, coordinated and we were not only taking care of ourselves, but we were feeding the cities, and making every attempt to repair the human condition. We were making the very idea of government, as we know it, obsolete. I think that unnerved a lot of people who were very used to their particular variety, accustomed to their certain measure of power. The Communities were changing how money was valued. How their money was valued. Our existence was a question of its very validity. So they started by trying to take down 4


the community leaders with this tax evasion rap. When the police and soldiers came for us in the beginning, they were turned away by walls of people. They were turned away, coming face to face with their own humanity. � "But that wouldn't last forever," I reviewed the scenario, "The expeditionary force was quietly downgraded to an oversized 'diplomatic envoy of peace,' which consisted of a fraction of the planned expeditionary force, a group of highly regarded linguists and diplomats (including five members of the communities), and a full press corps. The envoy was a widely televised, media event: met on the shores of The Promised Land by reluctant strangers of simple appearance. On the third night, a group of men arrived from the north, and by morning contact with the envoy was replaced with an unnerving silence. By noon on the fourth day, anonymous footage was being received: unrecognizable human burning. Men and women tied to posts, engulfed in flame as far as the camera could capture. The consensus in the country changed almost over-night." “We certainly didn't turn ourselves in, but some turned on each other. Communities started switching sides. The sense of community was quickly being overcome by a strong, violent nationalist movement. Many of us in the communities were still sure of the way we'd found, in the soundness of our ideas, but we lost a lot of our youth to the idea of revenge. Between the indictments against our leadership, and loss of man power, the communities began to fall. People started moving back to the cities, supporting the war meant industry or soldiering, industry meant jobs and money, and things began to return to prior norms. The fear of running out of resources vanished, as the country's sense of entitlement to the resources of The Promised Land grew proportionally to the swelling anger towards the strangers. The military ballooned, the wall of people dwindled, and we were forced to run, or suffer consequences to crimes we didn't feel criminal. Much of the land was seized by the government, and (re)turned to corporate sponsorship; industrial farming. “Most of us were already running or captured when I dissolved The Review. Even in the face of certain imprisonment, we didn't stop. In the end, I dissolved the body only when a member's personal view that was shared by a minority of the council was twisted into representing our public stance. The Daily --your paper -- got hold of a statement. The paper published opinion casting the tragic fate of the diplomatic envoy as a ploy of the business/government/industry people to stir up a nationalist fever, and ultimately get their way. I did not see the logic, or understand the sentiment of equating this loss of life to a toddler's fit. But the damage was done. My statements of sentiment and apology were without audience. Because The Review had stated our apprehension in the months leading up to the diplomatic envoy, believing something very similar to what happened would be the ultimate outcome, association with anything related to what was once The Communities became anathema to the nationalist movement. Community members who went into the cities never returned. Reports of violence culminated in a few massive mobs combing the countryside for famous faces, including my own. I'm probably lucky I

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was found by an official branch of the law, as I was only harassed verbally and lightly beaten for my interrogation. I'd expected much worse.� What lessons do you think can be gleaned from the ultimate failure of The Communities? “I don't think The Communities bear the brunt of this so-called failure. I think the government failed the people when it refused them the right to a contrary opinion by simply not listening. I think the people were blinded by the safety of sameness in the face of atrocity. I see an entrenched structure using every advantage to attempt to slow its fall from grace and power. I see an idea I left behind. I see a country rushing blindly into the unknown, assuming that the right answer is more of the same. I see a violent world, rife with clouded judgment, and a series of quick fixes attempting to solve a slew of long term problems. I see Pandora's box...� She trailed off into the siren. My sentence was up. Was I being released, or was this the beginning of a different sentence? Dr. Messier was escorted out of the room. The sound of her chains faded into the ambient noise of the prison. As her footsteps vanished into the shadows of the corridor, her words continued in my mind. This woman of stature and success left everything behind. She gave it all up for a very different life. A life of conscience, compassionate thought and deliberate action. Her life turned into chains, parallel bars, verbal abuse, and light beatings. And she expected worse.

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TWO: Sacred Prison After a year of being here the only thing I can say without a doubt is that, nothing works right. It's been three hard-fought years since the massacre, and recently, about six months of what is referred to as "peace." Looking back, no one can tell if this expedition was the right choice except the people who never agreed with it. Certainly the budget planning oversight did not expect so much natural resistance: there is no infrastructure here, and even after these years of "co-existence," the indigenous population isn't exactly hospitable. The language barrier is beginning to fall for some, but the scorching heat never stops, and then there's the matter of religion. The people of The Promised Land believe that their land, this whole continent, was given to them by the one true God of the universe. The Promised Land - though ripe with resources - is a long way from home. Stripping a people of their God given (albeit unused) resources and dignity isn't exactly a walk in the park. The people here aren't easily convinced of the necessity behind what we're doing. Within the scope of the limited dialogue that is beginning to take shape, it's becoming very obvious that we're not changing hearts and minds. We wake to a call to prayer every morning before the first light of daybreak mostly because it's impossible not to. The home I know runs on schedules of oil and incorporation. This land keeps a schedule of prayer. The soldiers line up the volunteers just after dawn, they're given a variety of simple tools - mostly shovels and pics - and then they march up the mountain. "Dodge City" is the name the soldiers have given this place, once known as the city of "adDoubeet." This collection of simple mud-brick buildings and thatch roofs is surrounded by almost a mile of tents. It rests in a shadow that gives no shade: the shadow of the holy mountain. The mountain where the people made their covenant with their one true God 2579 of their years ago. The mountain is full of the raw materials of infrastructure, minerals and ores in dense deposits. What started as a drill has become an excavation and the mountain will be gone in a few more years; they can't know. The city below was once the capital of a proud people and it was the goal that the expeditionary force made their rapid push to. By taking "ad-Doubeet" the generals believed we would take the head off the dragon, but these people are no dragons. There's no running water but there's a plentiful system of underground wells. There are no corporations, but there's a bustling market with more variety than any ten back home since the fall of the communities. There's no advanced technology, but there is a surprising level of quality in the living. The people dress without adornment, and work without complaint. There isn't government to tell people what they can and can't do. There is only the law of God, and the priests who enforce it. The priests, who have an almost precognitive sense of where to be and when, have all the power. The same priests are responsible for the massacre; the same priests who now live in hiding; the priests who are being pursued by a group of our "elite" soldiers and refuse to be found, slipping away from patrols like ghosts. "They will never catch them. God is on their side, as is the promised land. The priests know more of this place than your soldiers ever will, five hundred years of tunnels 7


and caves..." he trailed off. Marcus was a scribe in "ad-Doubeet" before we came, and he's the closest thing I have to a friend here. I was sent here to start a newspaper, but really it's a glorified relay station. The soldiers want news from home, and home wants news from here. I translate analog to digital, and digital to analog; I take what happens here, and put it into words. I take those words and I send them back home. I take words from home and try to give them a new life here. I try to take life here and make sense of it. Marcus translates that into the native tongue. We call it "The Outland Express." Some of our articles are hacked up and printed in "The Daily" back home. Knowledge is power, but this is virtual reality. The enemies back home are enemies of the state, crime isn't talked about. The news is filled with more important fare, stories of triumph here and breakthroughs there, stories of the war and stories of science or progress. The stance here is that we have no enemies. The stance here is that these people are our friends in a mutual future. But still there is killing and death from an enemy with an untellable face. This enemy is capable of striking terror at any moment and raining death upon the unsuspecting. We face an indiscriminate enemy that seems to kill without conscience. We try to keep it light, to humanize both sides, but sometimes we just have to report the news. The first real death threat came today. It was nailed to our door when I arrived, it was written in what appears to be dried, brown blood. I didn't know what it said, so at first I assumed we'd been closed by some sort of local authority, and then I see the word I recognize as death next to some holy symbols. Maybe we've been contaminated. I waited for Marcus, it's his building. I don't have keys, I wait. As people pass they look at me, they look at the door, and their eyes dart back to me. My fear betrays me, and I see malice in their evil eyes. I begin to feel the need for vigilance. I start to think about the other death threats we've received. "Non-official death threats are like ‘cease and desist’ letters around here," Marcus always laughs them off. He says, "If it's not official it doesn't matter." But with its neatly articulated script scrawled in what appears to be blood and the giant wax seal, this one looks official. I check my watch. He's running late, and I'm stuck out here. I never should have moved out of the basement. *** After seventeen hours in the air, I stepped foot off the plane and the first thing that hit me was the heat. "Best part about this," my guide is wearing sand camouflage and a light brown scarf that looks long enough to wrap his entire head and face with room to spare, he lifts my luggage into the back seat of the jeep, and clues me in. "From here we have a seven hour ride." The luggage thuds against the exposed gas-tank. I am not dressed for this. I was expecting hot, but not like this. The sun and the heat went straight through my thin white suit. My liaison tossed me some robes and tied a scarf around my head, "these are the covers of a woman," he said with a smile that didn't betray his jest, "so no one will think anything but." The next seven hours made less and less sense. I was here to start what my editor calls a paper. "Be glad you're not actually a woman," he laughs, 8


"No one talks to women here." And we drove into the desert. He was silent for the remainder of the drive, and I slipped into my thoughts. This is what my editor said less than 30 hours ago: "The soldiers want news from home, and the Generals need a vessel to win hearts and minds. You're going to The Promised Land. You've been asking for more 'freedom' in your reporting. Here's your chance. It's your show, just understand, you've got to give these soldiers something to remember. Get them remembering what they're fighting for. Why they're on the other side of the world." Pausing, "And try to make some human beings out of the natives. In ten years it's going to be a different world for them." He handed me a ticket. The official opinion in the UUP is that the natives would see our way of life and fall in love with it, and our soldiers would get their stories of patriotism and remember how incredibly, mind-blowlingly awesome it is back "home." After six months here, that's truer than I'd like to admit. The dust gets in everything, it's always hot, inside smells likes sweat and people and the violence strikes without warning. "Here, violence is vaguely sanctioned by both sides, and it is not uncommon to see your soldiers rounding up "trouble-makers" in the streets, and unfortunately not uncommon enough to hear about a suicide fire bombing. If you're close enough to see it, you don't have much of a chance of seeing anything else again." That was how Marcus described it the day we met. Marcus met me at my fatigued best. He met me at the jeep at the end of my 23 hour journey. We walked the crowded, twisting streets from the edge of the city to 44 "ab-Bait," and he opened the door. My first experience with shade here was disappointing, as even without the sun beating down on me it was still hot enough to wick sweat from my skin. He took me up the stairs to show me the relay station. The second story was even hotter. "Fortunately, we work mostly in the basement where it is much cooler," Marcus gave me the first good news I'd heard. When we got to basement, I knew without a doubt that my definition of "much cooler" was not the same as Marcus', but it was better. Marcus poured some warm drink into cups, it was almost cool. We started talking about what we could do with this paper, and he gave me my first short lesson in his language. I slept in the basement for the first week. Money is pretty much worthless over here, but Marcus was sympathetic. He offered up his building and his skills to help get the paper started. From a family of scribes, he picked up on our language much easier than I'm picking up on his. A natural linguist, he was sufficiently speaking our language quickly enough that he worked with the soldiers as they secured the city - though there are rumors that he helped the clergy escape. He got death threats then too, but laughed them off. Marcus is a believer, but he's also somewhat of a reformer in the natural religion here. He's well respected by both sides of the disagreement, and by the soldiers here. And by me, but he does have plenty of enemies in the fringes. Marcus explains the disagreement like this: "The conservatives believe that we should be ignorant cave-men who pray. Others do not agree. Both sides are willing to kill and die for their beliefs." *** 9


I was finally able to cool off when we interviewed a reconnaissance crew from the cabin of a temperature controlled aircraft. It was easy to get Marcus on the plane. I really don't think he understood exactly what he was in for. The desert stretched out beneath us as we gained more and more altitude. Mountains looked like scars amongst the sand. "I have seen the land of my country as it is seen from the sky... I wonder if I have seen the land as God sees it. I am sure that this is forbidden, but I cannot believe that God would not want us to know - and I wonder why, are we being taught that God only loves ignorance?" It was like he couldn't finish a thought. He kept shaking his head. On the plane Marcus couldn't stop shivering and I was actually a little cold. Marcus looked at me very strangely as we were landing. My knuckles were white, grasping the arms of the chair I sat in. Marcus broke the silence, "What do you call these things Solomon?" Planes. "Why were you so scared as we come back to the ground? Your people fly these planes all over the land and the sea." I told him landing is like crashing. "Crashing? Your planes fall from the sky Solomon?" His voice was filled with concern, for me and my people. He was not scared. I told him that sometimes things go wrong. "If it is the will of God can it be wrong? Do not fear Solomon, God has told me that I will not die from falling from the sky." And the landing gear touched down, the plane lurched, bounced and slowed. We were on the ground. Marcus was smiling, "See, I tell you everything will be fine." *** My pocket buzzed. I hadn't received a personal message since I arrived, and my communicator's sudden life startled me. After the first death threat, I ordered a communicator from home for Marcus. A few weeks later, when it arrived, I gave it to him. "What am I to do with this Solomon?" He held it in his hand, moving it around cautiously like a weapon. I tell him that it will keep us in touch, allow us to cover more news, and if anything goes wrong... He cut me off, "If anything goes wrong?" Yeah, like these death threats. If we're ever cut off from each other for one reason or another, like,” I paused. “In case we’re captured.” “Yours are the people that capture.” His tone was incredulous. "My people would not give you time to use this," and he held it out to me. I shook my head and did not extend my hand. He shook it again, staring at it. Pausing. "Alright. I will keep this. Though it is not of my people, I will respect your wishes." He never used it. Not once. Not when the jeep ran out of gas 15 kilometers out of town. Not when he was mobbed by a gaggle of mourners and almost trampled to death. Not even to tell me when he caught the fever (his cousin told me). 10


Never until today. The text said, "Come to the sun's side of the mountain -- Marcus." I looked over my shoulder. As the evil eyes continued in my direction, I began to see the flash of the clergy's black hemmed robes beneath the plain attire of every passerby and behind every corner. It was time to move on. Could be a trap, my thoughts wandered, but Marcus used the communicator some part of me knew, it must be beyond serious (like death threat serious) and I struck out down the road. I knew I had to find some safety and some sort of cover. Civilians weren't allowed anywhere near the mountain without purpose. I started looking for a work detail, and I found one. I've got a good report with about 70% of the soldiers, but a few of the higher ups remember my pro-community articles and wish I wasn't here. They think I'm here because I've been sent away from the public eye, and they are probably right. The leader of a detail noticed me mulling about without my translator (Marcus), and called me over. "Strangelove, what are you doing up my way this morning. You're lookin' pretty sick, are you looking for a story? I'm sure my Ma would love to hear about me, you wanna help me make the paper?" Shrugging, I lied, "Why not? I'm doing a story about the mountain, can I piggyback up there with your crew... Sergeant...?" "Peters. Sgt. Peters. I'm from just outside the metropolis capitol back home. My parents were a part of the communities, I love your work. We'll be on the mountain until about an hour before sunset. There's lunch at midday and there's a dozen other crews up there cross the course of the day." I took that as a yes, and we started talking. I sent Marcus a message back, "On my way." Trap or not, I was headed to the far side of the mountain. At least I'd have some back up, I was lost in thought. I walked beside the crew, while Peters talked my ear off. I looked up at the mountains rugged terrain. Dirt and rocks; sage grass and self guarding vegetation looked back. *** Marcus was sitting on a flat rock when I came up on his right side. "They'll be here very soon." He said without looking in my direction. He was holding a blood scrawled sheaf much like the one nailed to the door of the office. "We may not live through the day Solomon." His tone was dry, but he turned his face in my direction and smiled, "But we will see about this death order!" I asked him to clarify who they were. "Father David, and His Holiness, Titus of the Sacred Flame." He unfolded the sheaf and pointed, explaining, "The signatures of our death order." I must have made a face, as he then clarified, "What? you would be safer on the streets? The bombs are not discriminate - you taught me that phrase! No here, we will find out the truth!" Or more accurately, here he would find out the truth. I wouldn't be able to follow more than five words of what they were saying. Still, I fondled my recorder in my pocket. I thought to

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myself, it could always be translated later. If there was a later‌ *** The priests didn't keep us waiting long. Two black robed men, one large the other not, appeared within minutes from around rocks to Marcus' left. The three men began to argue, growing more and more heated. Translated from the tape: "Father David: I see you have turned your back on the mountain of God, and you force us to approach from the side of Satan. Why do you insult his holiness? Surely you are of the corrupted. Marcus: My life has been ordered forfeit for reasons unknown to me, surely this is the work of Satan. Father David: You are a collaborator and a corruptor! You help this outlander spread his filth to the Lord's people! HH Titus: You translate his lies into the Lord's tongue, and you the Holy Text into the language of lies. You are as the snake. Your faith is poisoned by the language of the heathens. Marcus: "...and when I led you through the shadow of night, and showed you to the mouth of the caves, did I not sustain you and yours with my compassion?" HH Titus: Blaspheme! Blasphemer, how dare you use your mouth to pervert the verses of the Holy Text? Marcus: "...and those who would take my voice from your lips, surely they are among those who will be punished most severely." [at this point, both Father David and HH Titus interrupt, but I can't make out what they are saying, I catch a few words, more blasphemy and the devil but nothing coherent] Marcus: "...and when you break my creeds, I will destroy the generation that breaks, and supply a new life to those who follow." CAN YOU NOT SEE? YOU ARE THE GENERATION THAT BREAKS! The priests have grown full of themselves, and empty of faith! Show me in the texts the right of man to declare death on another! This is the will of God?!? That we should destroy ourselves? "Where two or more are gathered..." that is what the Text says, the text says nothing good about following the decrees of fools, or the leadership of priests! You do not know what you..." That was when the stun guns went off. I was sure I was dead as I hit the ground. At the foot of the God's mountain, we'd been had. More soldiers than I could count 12


seemed to materialize from behind every rock and streamed from the mountain's crevasses. Their jack-boots crunching on the sand, the tape continues: "Soldier 1: Whoo! Fuck yeah! Soldier 2: Get some bonds on those priests! Soldier 1: Yes Sir, Matthews, Johns, let's get some ties down on... [trails off] Soldier 3: [quietly] What's this here? [loud] Sir, we've got an unnatural here! [the soldiers call UUP civilians in PLZ "unnaturals" because their sensitivity training trains them to call the indigenous people 'naturals'] Soldier 1: Well I'll be. Looks like we've got a collaborator. Let's get these swine in the truck! Zip him up too." [Presumably referring to the zip-ties I was bound with and not the body bag that I assumed I would be quickly tucked into.] I wasn’t dead after all. At some point in the process of being transferred to the truck the recorder turned off. *** Most of the details of what happened immediately after our capture have been lost to a sort of post-traumatic amnesia. In my quest for truth, I'd love to know what happened, but something tells me it might be better this way. I do remember waking in a dark place, and the white teeth of Marcus's smile, his voice saying, "Ah, you wake now! We are in prison, but they will release you soon." The ground was cool. The air was cool. I was underground. "I have told them the truth. I have told them of how I aided members of the clergy in escape from the invasion of "Ad-Doubeet. And I have told them that you were not a collaborator, but instead you were doing your job as fair press. They found us by the device you gave me, though I know that you did not betray me." I whimpered at this point. Marcus continued, "As I do not know where the priests hide, I cannot give our captors what they want. They are sure that I am lying to them about this, though I tell them the truth about everything." I remember a bright light, and questions - so many questions, and water and drowning, but not dying. I remember a name plate, "Kharod," and a fist connecting with my face. I remember Marcus dabbing my forehead with a moist cloth, "Why do your people not believe one who is required to tell the truth as his profession?" It's not about truth, Marcus. We've got to get out of here. What's happening with the paper? *** 13


The light of day was so bright, and the heat... sand. I was in the middle of the desert, had I been sleeping? Drugged? - Everything dark or cool or drowning felt like a dream, including Marcus. My feet sunk into the sand as I walked, so dry. Too dry to even scream, I collapsed, clawing at the dunes. The wind was picking up, my body slowly being covered in sand when I heard the sound of a vehicle. With every ounce of my energy I was trying to get away. "We've got one over here," a voice called out. Hands picked me up from both sides, I was in the back seat of an army jeep, too week to need bonds. Was I their prisoner? The soldier in the passenger seat had careened his head about to face me. He was talking up a storm. He seemed so far away, "You're going to be Ok Strangelove, I thought we lost you for sure out there - nobody survives more than a couple days in the desert. You were gone almost two weeks. I can't believe we found you. Now I know my mom's gonna hear about me." His sleeve said he was a sergeant. It was Peters. Something in my heart leapt, and something else sank. Marcus. What had happened? Where was my only friend? *** I tried talking to the Military Police about a prison for dissidents in the deep desert, but I didn't get any answers. I talked to talk to intelligence, and found only a stone wall. I even got another recon flight, but from the stratosphere I still found nothing. I'm sure a body can disappear in the desert without a trace, and I'm sure the military can hide an underground complex. In fact? It’s hard not to sound like a kook talking about this. If I didn't have the tape, I wouldn't believe it happened at all. After a week in tent city, I saw it: a copy of "The Outland Express," a copy that I hadn't finalized, with articles that I didn't write. So I made my way to 44 "ab-Bait" without any preconceptions, and plenty of hope. I hadn't even once thought to come back into the city now that I had my own death threat. Until now I was far more concerned with staying alive than returning to the city. There was no death order tacked to the door, so I walked in. The sound of news, rapid conversations, the simple press being pushed past its recommended level of production, and a room full of faces I didn't recognize. The faces of young men and women filled with life and joy - something I didn't know existed here - all of them working on something. "Marcus? Is Marcus here?" Most of the commotion in the room stopped. Smiling faces were turned to blank stares and leveled at me, one young man rose. "Marcus was well respected in the community of scribes. When the death order came through for him, we all refused. We are reformers, moderates like Marcus. We do not follow the desert clergy. We prefer to make a new life. We came here to look for you, but you were not here. The paper was silent for a week, and rumors were circulating that your death order had been followed through. We began the paper again to honor you, and to free our people, I apologize if we are offending. We want to make peace between our people, and share the Lord's bounty with you." If only they knew what we were really doing here. Marcus was gone. He’d vanished without a trace. Though none of these scribes 14


could replace him as my friend, it was certainly going to get a little easier to cover the news. I hoped inside, what Marcus would call a prayer, that we would find some common ground of truth between us and them. Somewhere we could stand together, against secret prisons, baseless decrees, jackboots and bigotry, to create a new world beneficial for all of us. There was still a death order on me, and I'm sure that means there's some sort of guilt by association on these scribes, but the 'Naturals' are beginning to open up to "The Outland Express." Still, this is a long road and we're a long way from cooperation. With division in the fringes of both sides, we may never know peace. One foot in front of the other, here I was. And I cried. *** That night I dreamt about the holy mountain. Marcus was standing at its highest point staring down at me. "You are tearing down our covenant. You are using the holy mountain's gifts to pollute the land. You have the power to move mountains but you will have no peace." I woke in a cold sweat. The sun was up. Somehow I'd slept through the prayer. There was a commotion in the streets. A bell was ringing. I smelled smoke and climbed to the roof. The mountain was on fire. The next headline we printed was: "Over 300 Die in Mountain Top Fire Bombing." According to the twelve survivors the work crews had been infiltrated. When the workers got to the top of the mountain they found their equipment sabotaged. The bombs went off one after another (seven of them) in the confusion. This act of suicidal terrorism has been claimed by a group of radical conservatives issuing death threats to any who work for (a blanket which includes "or with") the outlanders. They claim the right to retribution for the capture of holy men. Marcus was right. There is no peace here.

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THREE: The Cave With new responsibility comes new equipment. We've been given the task of creating identification cards, and we've been given a camera. Having a camera might not seem like a big deal back home in the normal world, but here on the frontier it's brought a rare smile. Too bad I'm standing on sand that stretches as far as the eye can see. Too bad the camera is broken. It was gone this morning when I arrived and Michael (one of the more passionate scribes working with us at the paper) was kind enough to leave us a note: "Took camera to photograph secret prisons - Michael." So I borrowed a jeep for official press business and set out in pursuit. My chances of finding anything out here are slim but the possibility of finding the camera amongst the sea of dunes was unfathomable. I held it up and pushed its buttons: nothing. I wasn't sure what was wrong with it, but I hoped it was fixable. The radio sprang to life, squawking out a weather report. There was a storm coming and fast. I looked at the jeeps topographical map. Fortune, God, smiled on me. I was mere miles from the location where I'd been pulled from the desert but two months ago. I felt like I could smell the secret prison beneath my feet. I found a rocky outcropping on the map, and wheeled the jeep in its direction. I could see the sandstorm on the horizon, the wind was already picking up I wedged the jeep between what looked like the toes of this rocky adjunct, and grabbed the shotgun from the back seat. "God Willing," I muttered. As the sand began to take flight around me, I started the arduous task of climbing, looking for any sort of decent cover, and trying to maintain my balance. I found a dark stone corridor. It seemed natural in construction, with some primitive modification. I wandered into its darkness, and found myself surprised not just at the length of the cavern, but also in regard to how deep I had to wander to get away from the growing storm. The howling winds lulled me to sleep, and I thought I was dreaming when I was startled awake by voices. These voices were speaking my language. My heart leapt and sank in my chest. My stomach turned itself into a few knots. The light was bobbing down the rocky corridor, by their footsteps there were two of them. "I mean, I don't see the point of us patrolling these corridors. We're the only people looking for these priests. Besides, we've got most of them down here already. I don't know why we aren't telling everybody we've got'em, seems like we're giving them false hope..." The other voice replied, "Terrorists. They're suicidal and blood hungry out there you saw what they did, how they responded when we've announced the capture in the past. It's not false hope, its pacification strategy. It's not like they know what goes on down here, or even that we're here, underground." As their footsteps passed me, I thought about the jeep and fondled the shot-gun. They'd walked right past me, but would they see the jeep? I entertained the idea of a surprise attack, but thought my chances against two trained soldiers were slim and opted against it. Besides, I'm no killer and someone might hear me. Their footsteps and voices faded, and I retreated deeper into the cave, deeper from retreat. Even if not in the situation I wanted, I was exactly where I wanted to be. "...twice? You mean again? Not today‌" and laughter trailed off down the hall, 16


lost in the wind. *** If I were to summarize Michael in one word, that word would be ambitious. If you gave me two words, they would be ambitious, and honest; a combination you rarely see back home. Since my reappearance, Michael has followed my every word, collecting his own detailed description of my experience with rapt attention. He's helped me with maps, and planning. He's such a lively young journalist, he craves justice and his compass points towards truth. "Solomon, my people have been starved of the truth. Though God forbids some things, truth is not one of them. I know that God does not wish my people to starve." He was the only member of my "team" that has a pet story: the disappeared. From young to old, prominent to reclusive, people have disappeared. Rumors abound of terrorists taking collaborators, and of soldiers taking anyone who would not collaborate. Following these leads is his passion. He's drilled me time and time again about my mostly forgotten time in that dungeon. I can tell he’s never completely satisfied with my answers, but he doesn't push me. If you gave me three words, I'd add "polite" to the list. Michael was the first to my office about the camera, "I want to take the camera for a story." He said, if we can start putting faces to the stories we're publishing, maybe both sides will start to see each other as human - not just reading about it." I could tell he'd envisioned this. I didn't have the heart to tell him that's the way we do it back in the UUP. I told him it's a great idea, but it would have to wait until our new "business hours" were over. "The camera, works in the dark?" he asked. No. "Then Solomon‌ that is a foolish idea. The ID's can wait, the people who will actually come for them can come back for them." *** It was slow going as I crept deeper into the tunnel system without a light. With every step I was certain I would trigger a trap, or trip an alarm, or trip and fall to my doom, or get lost or find myself confronted by guards. I saw light ahead - fluorescent light - and I went towards it. The reality of what happened down in those depths is hardly believable, but culminates into three points. Number one: I walk into a top-level confidential, high security prison without being noticed. Number two: I find Michael. Number three: I make a tremendous mistake. I was able to walk in undetected because the guards that walked past me were walking out to see the storm. Their post, this back entrance that I'd stumbled upon, was a low traffic area and these two city boys loved watching the sandstorms blow through the high desert; fortuitous.

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I found their computer terminal to be rather user friendly, but I knew I didn't have much time. "Camp David, Military Prison," that's what this place was called. Serving as an underground prison, a scientific testing facility, a refinery, "Camp David" was attempting a wide variety of missions: a vague attempt at terra-forming the desert via underground carbon emissions, refining fossil fuels and, last but not least, human experimentation. Now, I was not allowed access many of these folders. Human experimentation could have meant, "the effects of living underground," but for all I know, it could just have easily been something far more sinister. I thought about the smashed camera back at the jeep, and I thought about perfect worlds... concluding that not only would the camera work, but I wouldn't be here, in a secret prison halfway around the world, in the middle of the desert. Though human experimentation caught my eye, I was here for the prison. I thought about jail breaks, and I thought about Marcus. I scanned prisoner databanks, and found no names; only numbers. And then one sentence stood out from the rest, "Processing, 1 New." According to the map on the wall, processing was just around the corner. My thoughts were locked into a pattern of repetition, I wanted to leave, I wanted to see if "1 New" meant Michael, I wanted to find out what happened to Marcus, I wanted to escape, and I wanted to live. They started picking themselves off. I want to leave, where will I go? I could go to processing - but what would I do? I had no idea how to find Marcus. I had no simple escape, re: leave. I wanted to live, and then I heard the voices coming back down the hall. I looked down at myself as the lights of this small office/post flickered. It reminded me of my cubicle back at "The Daily." I was wearing fatigue pants and a white shirt, except for the length of my hair and my lack of boots, I could probably pass for an off duty soldier (if they had those around here...), I took the key cards off the desk. I picked up the shot-gun. I could go to processing - I certainly couldn't escape the way I came. I ran to the cell, and swiped a key card. Nothing. Again, nothing. Another, something clicked. I pulled open the door, and peeked in. That's how I found Michael, unguarded and praying. "All praise to God." He climbed to his feet. Michael doesn't smile. His lack of smiling always reminds me of Marcus, and how Marcus smiled before and/or after everything he said and did. "There's no time, we've got to find a better place to hide," I say and pull him into the corridor. I remember the map. I remember the shower/locker room, left, right, left. We run stealthily, we're not trained in it or very good at it, but we make it. There are soldiers showering, but the locker room is clear. We take uniforms - I've got a plan. I want to escape, I want to live. We put jackets on. I give the shotgun to Michael. We walk to the guard post, towards the secret exit. Carpe Diem, I'm going to talk those soldiers right off their duty. I walk into the room mouth first, "You fellas are relieved. Management wants you upstairs, something about abandoning your post." I see the scared look in their eyes, and I think it's my ruse. One of them is standing, the other is sitting. I see the standing one go for his gun, and then I hear the explosion from just behind, and to the right of my head. My ear-drum goes numb with noise and I fall down. I am once again sure that I am dead but the world does not go black just yet. The shot impacts the standing soldier's 18


body without much spread, demolishing its matter in a tight pattern. There is blood and chunk sticking to the wall, I see an arm twitch. I feel the second blast more than the first, but I don't hear it so well. "Open all the doors Solomon." Michael is commanding me, "Open all the doors!" He sounds so far away, but he's pulling me to my feet. "Open all the doors," his mouth is open so wide, and he looks so strained, but I can barely hear him. He has a dozen droplets of blood on his face, and some gore in his hair. Everything stops feeling real. I hit some buttons on the keyboard, swipe a card and he looks satisfied. "Open" is written on the screen in green. He drags me down the hall, I touch my ear. There's blood on my fingers, I don't know if it's mine, or where it's from. We spend a long time in the darkness. I remember making a few delirious jokes about being lost as we wandered and describing where I left the jeep. *** It's about two hours back into the city from where we were in the desert. Michael laid me out in the back of the jeep. I was probably in shock. I wake up alone, surrounded by soldiers, covered in dried blood. It feels like dĂŠjĂ vu. Looking up at their faces, I'm suddenly scared. I realize that no one knows about these secret camps, they're muttering about how amazing it is I survived the sandstorm, and drove myself here. I spent two days in the infirmary, and checked myself out. I might hear out of my right ear again the doctor said, but it was unlikely, there was some nerve damage. I was thinking about Michael, and I thought about the camera. I'd have to order another one. I thought, "God, I sure wish I'd had that (more accurately, a) functioning camera..." and I shoved my hands into my coat pocket and came across a paper cylinder that I had not put there. It was a note tied to a film canister. "Solomon, I know this is hard to explain, but when I captured, I had already been inside, taken pictures and escaped. I was pursued but I take the film and hide it in the cave - thinking that if I get away, I could come back for it, but if I get caught, they do not get my pictures. I was taken by patrol, and placed in processing. I pray that you will find me. That we will expose these cowards, and God hears my prayers. You found me, and I found the film. I know you will do what is right. I have done what I must, and will continue to do so. Goodbye, Michael" *** I spent the night developing pictures. Michael had pictures of everything. Somehow he'd managed to sneak all about inside "Camp David," pictures of the prison and prisoners, of the hospital and patients, of the refinery, even the underground carbon deposits. I sent the pictures by wire back home, "Don, you've got to print these. The people have to know what's going on here. The whole world needs to know." We got a press release from high command that morning. There was an official statement, "Elite Guard closes in on Cleric stronghold." It told about the brave soldiers, and their valiant 19


efforts paying off. How they'd finally gotten enough pieces of the puzzle to find the secret lair. They sent pictures of burnt bodies, thousands of them. "In a final, suicidal push, the clerics attempted to make their hide-out a death-trap. Our forces suffered only two casualties, with ten others wounded." *** The daily published our photos that coincided with the military information. Outcry in the UUP was limited. We ran all of Michael's photos, and a description of the prison, side by side with the military's press release and photos, outcry was unlimited. Riots ensued followed by marshal law. I was arrested during a protest and spent six months in the brig. Writing letters for the families of the soldiers for favors and cigarettes made for a fairly comfortable six months. We never got another camera. Open all the doors, but there was no escape. "The cowards," as Michael called them, found a way to slink into the shadows. I wondered if Michael would be there waiting for them.

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FOUR: The Beginning of the End Between invasion and occupation the casualties were beginning to mount on both sides. The Orphan education act was supposed to provide a future for the orphans of war. Making them wards of the state, it was pitched as the first step between uniting nations, but neither nation was interested. Though the program was obviously necessary in the United Utopian Provinces it became an excuse for abduction in The Promised Land. While orphans in the UUP were typically considered street urchins in and out of detention centers, the orphans of The Promised Land live a different life. Orphans are well taken care of here by their extended family and sometimes even the village itself. Still, this difference in care was not taken into account by the voting population of the UUP, or by the soldiers ordered to take these orphans from their care takers and schools. For all intents and purposes, these children are being arrested, detained and shipped to the UUP. This Act, portrayed by The Daily as a “Gesture of Peace and Integration” was -in fact -- the beginning of the end. *** The second wave of integration measures involved the technical education of volunteers. Many soldiers became settlers, and many entrepreneurs began to make the move across the sea. As the economy shifted from barter and trade to the UUP's currency, more and more of the indigenous Promised Landers began to look for work. Without proper training facilities skilled labor was hard to come by and those “natives” that chose to “modernize” would muster what they could and travel to the UUP for education. Most never came home. In the UUP, those seeking integration found an unreceptive new home. Regardless of the years of propaganda, many UUP residents had never given up their disdain for the "Promised Landers." Some still sought revenge for the deaths of the first massacre. Mostly, they faced a stacked deck of prejudice and bigotry. Still, even in the face of this most of those who left The Promised Land stayed. There was much rejoicing in The Daily about the success and the incredible amount of good that was being done regarding these "backward people from across the sea." While The Religion was repressed in the UUP it was practiced none the less. There were even some converts back home. As the language barriers began to slip away many UUP scholars believed that complete integration could be achieved. This period of hope saw the end of Martial Law in The Promised Land, and a new way of life seemed to be taking shape. This period continued for more than five years. We printed headline after headline encouraging soldier and native alike to form councils. We put together "Work Together Workshops," where we covered the basics. Language, differences and similarities were all explored. We were paving over the past. We thought we were building a future, but soon we would find out how the long, arduous task of building can be undone in unnoticed moments. This was the day the static

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started. The day the last plane landed. The day the mail came for the last time. Integration was finished. No one else was coming home. *** I woke in the morning with the call to prayer. Seven years I've been here now. It's just a part of life for me now. The strangeness I felt when I arrived has vanished. Where once I had no-one, or just one, I now have a legion of acquaintances and many who I would call friend. I speak the language fluently. Most people who live in the cities are bilingual. The land itself is changing. There is a fledgling infrastructure, and even some electricity. There are farm communities dotting the countryside. They bear an uncanny resemblance to “The Communities� that briefly dominated public opinion in the UUP. Many involve the same principles, and share the same organizers. Soldiers are coming to the end of their service and retiring here, sending for their families. Everywhere you look people are starting over and starting to get along. It was with these warm thoughts that I flipped on the electronics that morning. Allowing their slight, electronic drone to fill the room as the sun was cresting the horizon. I warmed some of yesterday's coffee, poured a cup and sat down at the terminal. It was time to check in back home. The beginning of my day is the end of theirs, but there was no answer from The Daily. Today, there was only static. It was like they weren't there at all. *** By mid-day the mail plane lands on the coast with a load of parcel and post. They bring news that they lost contact with air traffic control midway through their flight. They refuel and take off. There would not be another plane. About this time I receive yesterday's mail delivery. The static continues throughout the day. I try my family, I try some friends. Static. I contact the military, they are silent on the matter but concede the same problem. Armed patrols are in the streets by sundown. No problems yet. Solar flares they claim. The last intercontinental mail comes to my office around noon the day after the static began. I receive a padded parcel addressed in local script. These are always interesting stories of culture shock, locals who want to share their story with friends and family back home. Trips to the Doctor, trips to monuments, stories about people, pets, school and work dominate the fare. The package is thicker than I'm used to receiving, and addressed not to the paper but to me personally. It seems to contain multiple entries from multiple participants. Hand written letters are addressed to family members and their local communities. I open a short stack of data discs and load them one by one onto the computer. I didn't even think about them for the rest of the afternoon. We put the issue together for the next day, and left some room for a human interest story. I sat down with the tapes to

22


put something together for page eight as the sun was setting. Two days without contact. The soldiers were getting anxious. An incident was in the air. *** After the evening's prayer, I poured some more coffee. I sat down for what I thought would be a long night of translating impossible scrawl and watching video diaries. I had no idea. The vid-player came to life, the camera shook a little. I reached for the hand written letters and took a sip of coffee. I wasn't paying attention as the voice in the video began its religious diatribe. All these videos always begin by giving glory to god, wishing peace upon all their family and their community. I was unprepared. First I recognized Michael's voice. I was astounded. This was the last person I expected to receive a video journal from in the UUP. My excitement was quickly replaced by worry. Michael wasn't saying anything I wanted to hear. “...And we will take this country to its knees. We have cells in every major city, in every major industry and we will shut this country down. We will burn it down and scatter its ashes on the winds. We will take the just recompense for the destruction levied against our people. This is the will of God. Solomon, take these tapes and do the will of God with them.” Religion as misguided nationalism. Something was horribly wrong. From engineers to janitors, teachers to lab-technicians and agricultural workers; the videos continued. Older orphans and immigrant workers took their turn in front of the camera. They were organized, and well coordinated. These tapes came from all over the UUP. After giving thanks for all they had, and wishing the best on their families, many continued with “By the time you receive this message...” It had already happened. The plan was described in detail by its individual members. Some were responsible for overloading nuclear power plants, some were responsible for simple suicide bombs in densely populated areas. None of them cared for their own life. All of them seemed to believe that this was the best choice for everyone. One went so far as to call it “A purge of corruption,” and another “Just deserts for the invaders.” Would we ever know what really happened? *** There was no contact with home. There were these letters and videos that detailed a plan of action that would make the UUP uninhabitable for hundreds of years, and cause an immediate loss of life in the millions, with billions to perish due to starvation and disease. And it had already happened! The home I thought I knew was gone. My family was gone, dead or dying, and I was holding a signed and dated confession. The news is my responsibility but this would change everything. It already had. I stared at my cup of coffee. It was still full. I cried and howled and sobbed. The weight of the entire world was crushing me. I thought about suicide. This story was too big. I thought about repercussions, about what the soldiers would do when this story hit the press. It'd be a massacre, how many more have to die?

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I wondered what the natives would think, would they be inspired? Would they be appalled? How many more people have to die? I thought about Michael in the desert, his note, his video, his letter to his family. I filled with hate and sorrow. I was cracking. I felt so lost. Everything felt untrue. One word kept repeating in my mind, NO. NO. NO. This can't be the truth; this can't be what's happening. NO. But it was. It did. This was reality. This was too much, and I was right in the middle. This was my responsibility, and I didn't want to touch it.

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FIVE: Ten Days I drafted a letter once I regained my senses. It began: "This is not a happy time, though it is not devoid of finer points. It is not every one and not even every generation that is given the task of building a new world. But we have. The Outland Express has audio and video information regarding the communications black out that will be revealed to a discretionary action panel on the last day of this, the first month. Have I been chosen? For whatever reason, this is the role I must play. "There is no television broadcast capability here, or even a network of televisions to receive it. What few computers there are are personal, or military, and almost completely in the hands of soldiers, emigrants and settlers. There is hardly even the capacity to increase our technology. Our technologies are in the hands of a few. They are static and limited without support. We are a land of haves and have-nots, though the soldier has his weapons; the settler has his settlement; the farmers have their farms. We have many learned men and women amongst us who bring with them their knowledge..." The past has passed on. "...but what we no longer have is an enemy, or a home. We have no shortage of knowledge or resources, but we will quickly run out of medicine and ammunition if we can't find peace." The time has come to bite down on the bullet. Can we catch with our teeth? "The contact with the United Utopian Provinces has been lost for 3 days. The daily supply planes aren't coming. The cargo ships at Port Horne refuse to leave until their counterparts arrive. The Outland Express calls a representative from all groups who would willingly participate to come to ad-Doubeet and form a discretionary action panel. Whether or not contact can be re-established, this communication outage requires decisions to be made. Order must be maintained and violence should not be an option." We've lost so much, must we lose more? "It's time we take care of ourselves. This is not a call to revolution. This is a call for rejuvenation. We peoples are the inheritors of one future. This is our Promised Land." Let's make it beautiful again. ***

25


The letter gives ten days to be delivered and travel to ad-Doubeet. A tough task, but doable. The fastest means were sent the farthest. It was sent out by every means at my disposal, the scribes. They left on foot, on horseback, on camel, in jeeps and sent the word through the new but limited communication infrastructure. I was expecting trouble with the military. They were my job. They weren't going to like this. I had to find a way to get them involved and find a way to get them to listen. It only took three hours for the military command to send a jeep for me. The sweat was wicked from me by the speed of the jeep through the evening air and I soon found myself sitting before a panel of three Colonels and a General. They are too far away and there is bright light behind them. I can't make out names or faces, but everyone who doesn't like me much seemed to be here. It feels more like an interrogation than a meeting. It feels like the prison. "Inciting a revolution is on par with treason Strangelove. You called it rejuvenation, but you knew what you were getting into. What’s this information you’re hiding? We’re the authority here, not you." Short on sleep, and at my wits end I was in no mood for negotiation, so I laid it on thick. "Without regular supplies and reinforcement, you can't sustain a land war here. You can change your game, or you can start a civil war that you're guaranteed to lose. People might not realize this yet. Your retired soldiers know it, as do you and so do I. Even if you take me out of the equation you won't be able to stop this. This place is quicksand for you now. You are going to have to control your soldiers." I pulled out the disc. I walked to the table behind which their shadowed faces sat. I put it down in front of them. "This is the information that the paper has. I wish you could have asked for it nicely. The UUP is wholly at a loss. There is no more home. I can't stop you from doing whatever you're going to do. You're going to have to stop yourselves." I got up and I left. I walked the five miles back to the city proper. No one stopped me. No one even said stop. The evening was cool. The dry wind was picking up, but it wasn't strong enough to pick the sand from the dunes. I arrived home as the last of the redness left the western sky. *** In the ten days, they came in droves: representatives from families, fledgling "Communities" clones, farm co-ops; natives, settlers, emigrants and retirees. I worked some of my low grade military contacts, and the scribes that had returned to get a makeshift amphitheater thrown together into the town square by the afternoon of day nine. It was all happening; just one more night. We tested the A/V equipment by showing some older movies, and premiering some of the primitive documentaries we'd thrown together at the Express. The mood was loose, but it was becoming obvious. The unspoken was taking its toll. I don't know if anyone slept that night. There were bags under everyone's eyes come morning. The word was circulated: still more were on the way. And I was waiting on the soldiers. Through my contacts, we'd had almost two platoons volunteer and take 26


leave and come to help with set-up and preparations. Their spirits were positive, and they kept my hopes for cooperation alive. The military forces arrived en masse mid afternoon, during the hottest part of the day while many people were sleeping. They blocked off the city square. They called it an unlawful gathering. The told everyone to go home. They issued warrants for detention on anyone who had ever been arrested for disturbing the peace or civil activism. I found myself in haughty company. Twenty hand-cuffs away I saw Dr. Karen Messier and I knew what I had to do. I got up and I ran. The awkward, uncontrollable run of one whose hands are bound. I barreled between two of the soldiers. I had to make it to the soundboard. It was time to start the meeting. It must have been completely unexpected because I almost made it. I was tackled 15 feet from the sound booth. I was dragged away. My feet were bound, and I was being hogtied when I saw a flash of simple white cloth. One of unbound scribes had succeeded where I fell. Even though some soldiers had begun dismantling the soundstage, the audio rang out through the speakers. The plan had been to play the tapes to a mixed audience of soldiers, residents and natives after an open forum about future cooperation and self governance. The tension immediately escalated as the first tape began, "In the name of God, I seek solace. I plead for forgiveness and peace upon my family, and to live in harmony with all creation. I am taking it upon myself to act as a tool of God's vengeance. By the time you receive this message, I will have sacrificed myself to destroy the North Pier Nuclear Reactor, and God willing, The Capitol of the accursed UUP." "This is not my GOD, THIS IS NOT WHAT I BELIEVE!" cried the scribe. The first shot fired cut him down in a spray of blood and pointlessness. Panic spread in the crowd, violence was erupting everywhere. A stray bullet tore into my foot. The soldiers around me were taking cover. I was left hogtied in the middle of the square. The audio carried over the commotion: "...and I beg his forgiveness and blessings for my family. I have taken it upon myself to rid this world of its tormentors. I have gained access to a world of destruction. Disease and plague designed by the hands of men! It is the will of God to let them die by the fruits of their creation, for man is not a creator!" I started fading out. Shock, blood-loss. Tunnel vision. I saw soldiers freeing prisoners, soldiers fighting each other, hiding. I saw my captors slumped behind a brick outcropping, holding their heads in their hands. Their rifles were laid down beside them. One of them was wearing sergeant stripes, clutching a photograph. He stood up. His concern shifted from the picture. It slipped from his fingers. Un-holstering his pistol, he screamed, "what are we fighting for! what the FUCK are you fighting for?" He pointed the pistol recklessly, and started pulling the trigger. His words interwove with his pistol shots. No one else seemed to be listening. Two thuds on his Kevlar, a third ripped through his neck. He hits the ground in front of me. The dust stirs and then settles. The balance of power shifts. His lifeless eyes meet mine. The lights go out. Somehow, life goes on.

27

The Lost Documents of Solomon Strangelove  

This was a semester long project for my Literature elective, "Peace and Conflict in Literature"

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