Friday, May 30, 2036
An Old Friend
“I thought I recognized you!” he grinned. “It’s been a long time since Nickajack, hasn’t it?” He steered me out the door and up to the street.
“I got your message when you were in Dallas. And I checked on you afterward, but I never heard from you and pretty much lost track.”
“So you know about General Mayhem and Sgt. Pepper.”
I nodded. “They didn’t make it.”
We walked in silence for a while, passing a once-empty lot that was now one of many thriving gardens. “What about you?” I asked. “You took the amnesty — what happened after that?”
“Not much. The interesting stuff happened while I was doing my jail time. All that time, we thought the televangelists were the ones behind the junta, the RoT, all that. I guess they were… but nobody I know of thought to ask who was behind them. We weren’t much for questioning our leadership, you know, at least the kind we liked.
“So those FEMA camps. The junta sent a few people to those, mostly the D1 people — non-violent agitators. After we redeployed, the old government let those guys go. But that’s where they sent us. Justice.”
“I guess. One of the people in there with me was an assistant to one of the big shots there in Dallas, and he wasn’t taking prison camp too well — he’d had access to a lot of power, and now he was in a cage. He spent pretty much all day walking a rut around the fence line for most of the first month.”
“So what happened?”
“Sooner or later, everyone in the program got ‘counseling.’ I guess they kept an eye on everyone and waited until they were ready. They might have waited a little too long in Kenneth’s case.
“Anyway, it was probably obvious that what this guy wanted, more than anything, was to give advice to the powerful. They told him he’d have the ear of the very top if he had something interesting to say… and by God, did he ever.
“Turns out the televangelists were taking orders from the one-percenters — the richest of the rich. God didn’t have much to do with the junta, unless His name is Mammon.”
We got quiet for a while… two old men lost in their own thoughts. He stopped in front of the building in the cul-de-sac we were walking through; I remembered a name, or part of one: “Something Science. I have no idea what they made.” The next building was where the office park maintenance people worked from. After a while, we picked up where Col. Mustard had left off. “So your eyes were opened, or something?”
“It was pretty hard to take,” he said. “Have you ever built your entire life — your entire outlook — on something, then found you’d been used?” I shook my head, but I don’t think he noticed. “I tried not to believe it. I know some of the guys there refused to believe it. Some of them tried to kill themselves, and one or two did it. I know a lot of guys opted-out. I thought about it.”
“You’d think the counselors would have known what kind of bombshell that would be.”
“They didn’t do it. When Kenneth started talking, it was like a dam broke. He went around and told us all. A couple of guys beat the hell out of him, and they moved him after that.
“Soon after, I got my own turn at counseling. They helped me accept what I’d let happen to me, then they gave me a train ticket to Atlanta and a voucher for three months of lodging. They were having a bandit problem up here at the time, so I offered to help with security. Been here ever since.”
“You got any idea whether they got the people who bankrolled the junta?”
“I’m sure they went after them. Maybe they put a dent in their operation. But I doubt that it was more than a dent. Those guys had assets offshore, sure as sunrise.”
“Lay low for a while, wait for something to happen, maybe make something happen, take advantage,” I said. “That’s how they played it with the New Deal, right? You know some of those guys were backing the Nazis in World War Two. That didn’t quite work out as planned, so they got the Cold War going with the Soviets and made out like bandits selling arms to just about everyone. Eventually, they co-opted the southerners and the religious authoritarians… and you know the rest. At least up to now.” I told him about the visit from the newsies. “You think those guys might be a new tentacle?”
“Maybe. But it doesn’t make sense. At least by itself. There must be more to this than we’ve seen so far.”
The rest of the walk (and the entire trip) was uneventful. Col. Mustard was intrigued that one building used to be a firearms training site, but it didn’t matter much to the task at hand (which was to identify potentially toxic areas for the farm crew). The trip home was pretty much like the trip down — shuttle, RoadTrain, get a ride home — except that there were three of us to keep each other company. Robin and Little Mo barely noticed that their parents (and granddad) were home; they were busy with all the other kids. Some things never change.