Discussion:
The Consultant, complete
(too old to reply)
Ray Keller
2005-07-10 21:49:31 UTC
Permalink
Here it is.
Saved and compiled from posts to misc.survivalism.



From: "Jeff Schwartz" <***@comcast.net>
Subject: OT : The Consultant



Chapter I

"Contract Addendum 4: The person of the Guild Certified Consulting
Programmer is
inviolate. Attempts to search the Consulting Programmer's person, vehicle,
or
home are considered both a violation of contract and initiation of force."
-- Page 23 of the Guild's Standard Contract


I still carry the Glock 19. I've got LEO mags for it, of
course,
ignoring the law against non-Law Enforcement Officer's having them just like
everyone in the Guild ignores the "Firearm's Owners Protection Act of 2017"
that
protected the common person out of owning a gun. Call it another law on par
with HIPPA for the diff between title and content. I've not had to fire the
Glock in anger, yet, and with luck I'll make another five years as a Guild
programmer without having to deal with a Federal Software Quality Assurance
team.

Of course, if I did run into the "QuAilS", nothing handheld would save my
life
anyway, which makes the Jeff Cooper argument of 9mm vs .45 ACP academic. My
only real protection in that sad event would be the Guild.

The Guild. Now there's a topic.

When HIPPA went through, lo those many years ago, a number of programmers
realized that far from being a "Healthcare Information Privacy Protection
Act",
it put all your private info into the hands of the people you least wanted
to
have it. Instead of keeping hospitals from sharing your private medical
information with insurance companies who were willing to pay for it, it
caused
all the medical information to be sent to an agency in DC... which then sold
it
to insurance companies who were willing to pay for it, and pocketed the
money.

After September 11, and the PATRIOT laws, then the National ID Act, then
the
Personal Privacy Act, then the Universal Citizen Location Confirmation Act,
most people realized what had come to pass. By then it was much too late to
do
much to complain about it. If you weren't a good citizen, and a good sport,
then
obviously you were in league with the Terrorists, and were thus first in
line
for the body cavity search.

If you go back and really read though each of those acts, though, you'll see
a
common thread: information. Information being gathered in larger and larger
quantities, and centralized into larger and larger databases, all cross
referenced. In the early twenty-first century, that kind of consolidation
and
centralization required one thing: "Programmers". The type of programmers
who
actually read the project specs. The kind of programmers who typically
aren't
satisfied with an 8 to 6 job in some software house, playing politics and
making
less than a third of what they could make if they went independent. They
were
the programmers who realized how badly this project is going to end up
biting
them in the butt down the road.

In many cases, they decided the wanted no part of the system they'd just
written, and put "unrequested software enhancements" in place to support
that
decision. According to legend, on the day National ID went on line, there
were
about 18 people who had around 4 IDs each, with the biometric software
jiggered
to not worry about the duplication.

Worrying about the duplication became the job of the folks in charge of the
project... but they were managers, and when they worried about a software
problem, they did what IS Managers always do: They put their Best Programmer
on
it. "Send in the Guru", "Call out the Geek", and "Round up the usual
Perverts"
were the cries in manager land.

Curiously, the people who could actually figure out how the jiggering was
done
were also smart enough to figure out what could happen to them if they
didn't
have some kind of jigger in their pocket. Either that, or they were the
person
who installed the jigger in the first place.

No one is quite sure when the Guild went from being a running joke to
actually
being a business clearing house. It was probably after a number of
programmers,
using word-of-mouth, passed the word on how to drop out of an increasingly
intrusive society... and then realized that the aforementioned intrusive
society
really needed programmers to keep it going. In order for those programmers
to
have the freedom they desired while society got what it desired, there
needed to
be an organization in the middle. I'm sure those early Guild members were
totally altruistic, and their personal material needs had nothing to do with
the
decision.

Soon after that, they decided to set up a "business partnership", so that
they
could watch each others backs. They could have a cut-out between the client
and
the Consulting Programmer, hopefully to filter out the 'stings'. They could
use
it to trade what they'd bartered for their services between them. (I once
got
payment in the form of a box full of 'Home Depot' prepaid gift cards. Nice,
but
then food and gas are needed more than home repair stuff. I once heard of a
lady
programmer who took a contract in a small town in Pennsylvania. She was
handed
several hundred kilos of chocolate. Curiously, she didn't complain. Go
figure. )

Before the Guild, one of the biggest user of consultants were hospitals
suffering under HIPPA regulation changes every six months; needed
programmers
who understood what was what. Accustomed to dealing with various small
consulting firms in the past, they had no problem adjusting to the changes
that
the Guild wrought. For them, it was merely trading a bunch of different
small
consulting companies for a single contact at the Guild.

That was what brought me to the point where this story opens. I was in
Cleveland, working for a major hospital. The contract was for interface
software
between.... well, I won't bore you with that part. Suffice it to say that
someone in Washington, DC decided his department needed a full copy of all
lab
test results electronically transmitted in real-time rather than waiting for
the
weekly summary file transfers.

I suspected it had something to do with changes in the Citizen's Sugar
Ration
and the National Diabetes Sufferer's Support Act. From the news a few days
ago,
it appeared the CSR would be raised from 400 to 200 grams per day. It must
be
the 'new math' they talk about.

The desire by someone in DC to keep a closer track on the blood sugar of
innocent civilians led me to a barb-wire enclosed compound on the wrong side
of
Cleveland. The gate guard had checked my NatID when we pulled the motor-home
into the parking lot - "J. Mortimer Snerd, esq" - and it had dawned on her
that
probably wasn't my name, and that she shouldn't do more than a cursory check
of
the outside of the vehicle. I didn't mind that overmuch; three years ago, a
person who'd been rated "F-4" for Health Support had tried to slip into a
hospital by clinging to the outside of the Beast. Many of the F-4's don't
take
well to being told that it is their patriotic duty to accept that their
cumulative healthcare costs, were their disease treated, would exceed their
total tax revenues and contributions to the National Health Support
Insurance
Program.

After parking, my wife moved deeper into the Belly of the Beast, making hot
cocoa on the stove and keeping half an eye on the sheet of laminated
smart-paper
that we used as a tablecloth as it repeated information coming from my
wearable.
I did, on the other hand, get a quick kiss and a briefer fondle before
disembarking and heading for the doors of the data center. She mentioned as
I
pulled away that she was planning on making our traditional "Starting A New
Project" dinner that night - prime rib with her own special mix of herbs and
spices. Desert would be the diet-killer: fresh ground whole-wheat flour used
to
make tollhouse cookies from scratch. Those cookies were very tasty and
rather
nutritious even though each one had enough calories to support a family of
Bangladeshi for a week. She would choose the wine, of course - with the
exception of the couple of vintages I know I like, I wisely rely on her
judgment.

I walked across the parking lot to a huge brick and steel building. Long
ago, it
had been an assembly plant for automobiles. OSHA had closed it due multiple
toxic substances being found during a routine check. The hospital had bought
it
years later, cleaned it out, and turned it into a huge office complex and
data
center. Here they kept the Big Iron computers, and the geeks that made them
go.
Everyone who worked there had been assured all the carcinogens had been
cleaned
up; they re-assured each other of this daily with grim, gallows humor jokes.
During my last visit here, I had wondered if they did all that re-assuring
because deep inside, none of them were really sure they weren't on the road
to
leukemia.

The glow of my wife's kiss was still on me when I walked up to the huge red
brick building, and it faded with the first clue that this contract would
stink
manifested itself. Someday I'll learn to listen to those instincts.

The burly, unwashed security guard at the metal detectors refused to pop the
gates so I could walk around them. He stood there, staring at me with a look
only a Relocated Palestinian could stare. The influx of RePal's after the
Arab/Israeli war had brought a whole new ethnic group of minimum wage
earners to
the US of A. I only hoped that, someday, they'd settle down and do the
melting
pot thing to the degree that they'd rise out of it like the people who fled
to
the US at the start of WW II had. It was a faint hope; there'd been yet
another
article in that morning's news about RePal street gangs in New York City
rumbling with Young Zionists. The casualty figures were as lopsided as one
would expect.

After politely asking three times for him to pop the gate so I could go
around,
I walked through the metal detector and tripped every red light it had, he
rose
up out of his chair balefully, presented his ceremonial plastic bowl of
office,
and in a thick accent said, "All your metal items into the bowl!" The
"infidel
pig!" at the end of the sentence was unspoken, but emphatic none the less.

I smiled, and said, "Addendum Four."

There's always someone who doesn't get the word... and because of that
decides
to do things his own way. I remain curious as to why so many of the people
in
the security field seem to really believe that in order to protect someone,
you
must dominate them, interrogate them, and humiliate them.

I had him pinned to the floor and in an arm bar when the rest of the
security
guards came in. I had been polite and rational right up to the point when he
tapped me on the chest with the "wand" and began screaming about taking me
aside
for a body cavity search. After that, it was just another day of Aikido
practice. This particular dojo, however, announced the end of a kata by
having a
bunch of guys point guns at you.

The man in charge of the Rapid Reaction Force looked like a stereotypical
movie
Sargent from an old WWII flick. "Sarge" smiled so wide it stretched from one
side of his white beard to the other, and it wasn't any more a friendly
smile
than the toothsome grin a shark gives just before it begins a meal. I knew
someone on my side of the room was about to have a very bad day, and I just
hoped it wasn't me. When the Old Man began yelling at the guy I had pinned
in a
voice that made me think of the "Basic Training" scenes in "Full Metal
Jacket",
I figured it was time to let Abdul up off the floor.

Fortunately, the grizzled old veteran had been around the block enough to
recognize Guild Blacks. The business suits, cut in old fashioned 1990's
style,
were made of microwoven spidersilk. It was expensive, but would shed water
like
Gortex, and still 'breathe' enough not to be uncomfortable. Every tenth
thread
was "thermotropic", in that if the outside of the cloth were much cooler
than
the inside, it would swell, pushing all the fibers together and preventing
the
cooling airflow, thus keeping the wearer warmer. The spidersilk was strong
enough and tight woven enough in enough layers to stop small caliber fire.

Under Guild rules, I could walk back out the door right now, and still
collect
50% of my payment, because the client's security guard had broken one of the
contract's provisions. Since cash or check would be relatively easy to
trace,
I'd get prepaid gas, phone and grocery cards in a number of different names.
From what I understand, the hospital IS staff would actually buy the cards
themselves at lunch, using company funds, in order to spread the purchases
out
across a number of NatIDs.

Over the next couple weeks, I'd ask myself again and again, "Why didn't I
just
take the forfeit and walk?"

The only answer I had was, "Because I'm a Guild Certified Consulting
Programmer,
and I'm a professional!"

Sometimes I am such an idiot.


Chapter 2


"The Guild Certified Consulting Programmer is responsible for protection of
him/herself and his/her family. Any attempt to degrade the effectiveness of
that
protection through restriction of the possession of arms is violation of
contract and may be considered initiation of force. "
Addendum 2, Standard Guild Contract (Page 23)


When the elevator doors opened, I was once again face-to-face with the
reason I
took this contract: Terry Kulkowski. There are people who gave you your
break
in every field, and Terry was the one who was my first client when I was
making
the transition from wage-slave to being a Consulting Programmer. She
probably
even remembered my real name.

As the elevator doors parted, opening the scene like old theatre curtains,
she
was entering the 6th floor lobby, stage right. A large woman, with the pale
skin
that makes one think of vampires and SysOprs, she exuded a warmth and
humanity
that dispelled such horrid thoughts and made you think of Mom, Apple Pie,
and
(what used to be) The American Way.

She was all that, but underneath the cheery exterior topped with long black
hair
was an analytic brain that would tick through the nature of a problem, then
grind through possible solutions and lock onto the one that best suited her
needs. She may have looked like a somewhat overweight Mortica Adams, but a
better comparison might be Lady Ada Lovelace in blue jeans and a printed
T-shirt. The t-shirt said, "PGP? Who me?" and in smaller letters underneath,
"I
didn't download nuttin'!"

"Alex", she said, "it's great to see you again. That interface to
MultiScript
has worked clean, and if you can get this one working the same way, it'll
take a
lot of overtime off my people. "

I smiled, a little embarrassed. The MultiScript thing was something her
people
had started, and it had almost worked. They'd spent weeks coding it, getting
all
the straightforward parts working, and then hit dead ends. I'd come in, oh,
a
year and a half ago and tweaked the code.

Somehow, I got all the credit.

It's a Consultant trick. That way we get to come back, again and again. It
keeps food on the table, gas in the tank, and our names off the lists.

"Ma'am, it's great to be back. I got the packet of specs you'd sent out, and
coded part of the new interface on the drive out here. If you've got a spot
for
me, I'll get to work."

Thirty minutes later I was in an unused cubicle, with two LAN connections.
One
went to the old 5Ghz Pentium 7 on the desk top, and the other went to the
cufflink on my left sleeve. I started the LAI in my wearable on its task of
comparing the existing code to the additions I'd written, flagging places
where
the additions would need to be inserted. Before the Limited Artificial
Intelligence programs, that would be one of the more time consuming portions
of
the project.

While the LAI ran, I stepped into the hospital database and identity pirated
32
backgrounds, stuffing them into deep memory in the wearable, and then pushed
half of the over the encrypted data-link back to the computers in the Beast.
That would give us false trails for the next month or two after the project
ended.

Just after lunch had been brought up - nobody wanted me near the Facial ID
cameras in the cafeteria, just in case - I was inserting the additions to
the
right places in the system, and by the end of the day I was ready to start
testing.

For the next few days, the contract went well.

On the plus side, someone dropped a packet of payment cards on my desk each
afternoon. Hess pre-paid gas cards. Shell gas transponders. Visa pre-paid
"secured" credit cards, which were really debit cards. Gift cards from major
book store chains. Things like that. My wife had developed a fine hand for
further laundering the payment in the process of purchasing our groceries
and
other consumables.

On the minus, it was a little dicey dealing with the Feds on the other end -
I
would trade email filtered through the hospital computer with the Fed
programmer
and make up excuses why I wasn't at the phone number I'd given him. I
figured
that getting on the phone with him and taking chances on the Eagle/Echelon
system recognizing my voice was just not worth it.

On Thursday morning, the data was actually starting to flow like it should.
Nine
out of ten packets of patient info were posting, and the tenth would only
fail
out if there was missing info on the Fed side and the records wouldn't tie
up.
Not much I could do to fix that , but I got an email from a GS-12 asking me
to
let him look at it overnight and he'd email me in the morning.

I shrugged, and let Terry know I was going to go down to the parking lot and
hang out in the Beast. Until the guy in DC called, I was at a stand still,
and
by leaving the building I'd stop billing her by the hour.

The Beast started life as a 2017 Mercedes Unimog, stretched for use as a
military C3 truck by the Swedish Military. I'd had it shipped to Unicat
Fahrzeugbau for a conversion that replaced nearly everything. Almost all the
modifications used off-the-shelf technology though; having to send all the
way
to Germany whenever I needed a spare part would have been doubleplusungood.
The
powered wheels (axles, motors and all), fuel cells and battery packs were
standard Volvo semi-tractor assemblies. The idler wheels were standard
Featherlite trailer assemblies. Both were the upscale end versions, which
had
central tire inflation as a traction enhancement for slippery roads, but
since
about a third of the semi's had it, you could get parts at most truck stops.
The
air suspension used off the shelf Monaco systems, available from your local
RV
dealership.

It set me back over half a million Euros, but what else was I going to use
money
I'd made on a remote contract and couldn't sneak into the US "smart card"
economy for? As it stood, it was simply a matter of having the folks at
Unicat
build it, then having the Guild Programmer that took care of the manifest
software for Llykes Lines add one more container to a ship that had room for
it.


Fortunately that part hadn't cost much - one I'd explained what I wanted to
bring over, he decided he wanted one too. It wasn't much work for him to
press
"2" for number of containers rather than "1", and thus two can travel as
cheaply
as one.

After that, there was the normal dancing of bits every time one of us wanted
to
own a vehicle. Only six months after I'd finished the contract from Paris,
I
was behind the wheel of the big truck with VIN# 011001100110.

Heading back through the now chastised security post, I left the building
that
morning around 10:00, crossed the parking lot and pressed my JavaRing to the
door frame of the Beast. It and the ring traded bits for a few milliseconds
and
then it popped the door and I was "home".

My wife had just returned from doing some sightseeing, and sported a "Hard
Rock
Cafe" t-shirt while she lounged in passenger's seat reading a book. I could
tell
from the faint hum and the smile on her face that the seat's auto-massage
was
running, which was no surprise, but she was reading, "The Mitzvah", which
was a
bit of a surprise. She normally doesn't go for old tyme political
propaganda,
no matter how good it is.

I'd just grabbed a Jolt from the fridge when the lights in the Beast shifted
to
battle red. I still had my glasses on, and I looked up and to the left,
where
the information the Beast was relaying was projected. "Helicopter
Approaching"
was flashing in the display, which was normal enough for a hospital, and I
almost blew off the report....

Until I saw the profile of the Helo. Medivac choppers do not have gun pods.
Nor do they have troop transports trailing behind them.

I started for the driver's seat as the words started coming from my mouth:
"Computer, send QuAil alert to Guild, expedite."

As my Ring slapped against the ignition, my sweet wife was strapping into
her
seat. Just as she finished the last buckle, I heard, "Unable to connect.
Packet
Radio Network Unavailable."

Jammers? Already?

The Beast slammed into reverse, all eight powered wheels getting rubber on
the
pavement as I ripped her out of her parking spot and spun her for the gate -
the
already closing gate. I turned another 20 degrees, picked a spot midway
between
two fence posts, and rammed the fence.

The Beast has a GVW of 33,372 pounds (unloaded), supported by eight powered
wheels (three axles of double wheels, plus the front, steering, wheels) and
twelve unpowered idlers (3 axles of double wheels). Her outer hull is made
of
1/8" carbon nanotube plastic, as strong as tool-grade steel but at one sixth
the
weight. Both sides of the hull core were faced with 1/4" carbon/epoxy resin
laced with spider silk threads for resilience, strength, and radar
absorption.
Inside, there's also a 3/8" thick spider silk spall sheet between the epoxy
and
the wallboards... just in case something does hit the outside hard enough to
shatter chunks off the plastic layer and send them shooting through the
epoxy
layer.

The chain-link fence was not an issue.

As we bounced onto the road, I hit the smoke ejectors and the exhaust smoke
switches, popped three flares, and left a EM-Screamer sitting on the road.
At
least one of them must have worked, because none of the rockets the Helo
fired
hit. Either that or the pilot was as stupid as I was beginning to think I
was;
I should have had someone else answer the phone and pretend to be me at
least
once.

The HUD had started a clock up in the upper right corner. Multiple hands on
the
clock counted pace, showing the amount of time we'd been out of contact with
the
Guild network, the amount of time the Beast had had the Helos on target, and
the
time remaining before more reinforcements (ours and theirs) might be
expected.
Other lines started to be painted in as the Beast intercepted the
transponders
in civilian cars, reading the VIN, GPS and passenger count numbers they sent
continuously to the local Location Confirmation center, thus allowing "law
abiding citizens to prove they are not involved in terrorist acts."

My dear wife's fingers were dancing over the keyboard on her side of the
dash,
plotting and planning as she went. She's positively devious in the
simulations
we'd played with, and she's done quite well making our other trips ride
smoothly, but this was the first, "For Real" for either of us.

About the time the machine gun fire began spanging off the roof, the traffic
lines on my screen changed. Local traffic control, receiving the 836
transponder
signals the Beast was now sending out, was convinced that this particular
road
was seeing the biggest traffic surge in months, and was resetting traffic
lights
accordingly. The ensuing gridlock would, with luck, prevent the people who
were
dispatched as a road block from actually getting there.

I eased it up to 95, screaming through the city streets. All of the
superconducting pancake motors were running flat out, and the HUD added a
color
schematic display indicating the temperature of each motor; when a motor's
temperature crossed seventy centigrade, the coils would stop
superconducting.
Then the motor would draw about two thousand times more power than normal,
and
the battery packs would drain in a few seconds no matter how fast than the
fuel
cells could break down hydrocarbons to fill them.

If I could get to the point where I was cruising on the open road, doing 95
would be a non-issue. The Beast would automatically cycle motors on and off
to
let the air blowing over them carry away the heat of operation. What was
making
the motors work so hard was the acceleration and deceleration as I went
around
corners, or on and off freeway on ramps, or making sudden course changes to
evade rocket fire.

We spent two hours getting far enough out of town that I could rationalize
shooting back. I just couldn't justify shooting down an aircraft over a
populated area. Like I said, sometimes I'm such an idiot. So, for the next
two
hours we kept doubling back and changing course in order to weave the
gridlock
the way we wanted it, but by high noon we were in the country side, with a
couple more Seminole gunships joining the party.

Finally things were rural enough that I flipped the switch that would open
the
door for the dorsal gun, and at the same time throw any profit from this
project
out the window. The 40/50 moved up to its firing position with the whir of
large electric motors, and the LIDAR painted targets. Every time I pulled
the
trigger, I blew off the pay for over an hour's worth of work. Consulting
rates
are pegged at 30 times minimum wage, so it was not an inconsequential
amount.

The "bang" from a 40mm anti-aircraft cartridge necked down to handle a .50
BMG
projectile is a bit excessive, even on the other side of the Beast's hull.
There
had been stories long ago of a ".224 Boz" cartridge for pistols that would
shoot
through just about any body armor. This was just a scaled up version,
intended
to tear through aircraft armor and engines. The solid chunks of tungsten
flying
through the air did that, quite well, but perhaps more importantly they
moved
fast enough that anything out to line of sight pretty much ignored bullet
drop
and the mass of the projectile allowed most winds to be ignored as well.
Out to
any range one was likely to shoot, the projectile hit where you had
bore-sighted.

Since the LIDAR's laser emitter was nestled right against the barrel, that
meant
if you could see it, you could hit it.

Soon after, the troop transports that were lagging behind the (formerly
flying)
gunships decided discretion was the better part of valor and left. It was
just
as well - by that point I only had 4 rounds left of the 16 I'd started with.

We drove out of the area, heading away from cities for the rest of the day.
We
monitored and decrypted police radio transmissions, and even those we
couldn't
decrypt we could triangulate. Since there was a jigger in the NRO's
satellite
identification system to ignore certain vehicles (much the same set up as
the
facial recognition jigger that allowed Guild Members to go to a shopping
mall
without being arrested... usually) we managed to elude our pursuers.

Around nightfall, we found a run down tourist-trap of a campground, and
pulled
in. The old man running the place checked my ID ("Fineas F. Fnord, PhD") and
rented us a space 23 for the night, where we expected Dr. Fnord to be able
to
spend the night unseen.

My wife and I cooked dinner, enjoyed part of a bottle of wine, and fell
asleep,
trusting the machine intelligence of the Beast to protect us.


Chapter 3

"The free exchange of information being the purpose of a Guild Certified
Consulting Programmer, the Consultant's freedom of expression shall not be
infringed. By the same token, the Consulting Programmer will not
intentionally
offend others while at the Client site."
Contract Addendum 1, Page 23 of Standard Guild Contract

The alarm got me up at 07:00. Not the wake-up alarm I'd set, but at
repeating
chime of an all-stations broadcast on the 'Net. I climbed out of the bed
and
moved to the driver's seat, slumping there in 'scrubs' while the Beast
pushed
data to the HUD. I sat there trying to make sense of code-word
transmissions
that went with definitions I didn't have. Bright red letters scrolled
across
the display, indicating "Msg Rcv'd: Activate ALAMO" or "Msg Rcv'd: Little
Big
Horn Sounding" or "Msg Rcv'd : Cry Havoc".

After a few minutes, I got a packet that was addressed to me. I answered it,
blowing our EmCon, but what the heck; all the messages flowing across the
screen
implied that things were bad enough at this point that one small detail
probably
couldn't make it any worse. A small window formed on the HUD, and the person
who
had brought me into the Guild looked back at me. My old mentor's face was
older
and more lined than years ago, and he looked haggard and beaten. He spoke
one
sentence before ending the call: "Check the NBC Feed."

I switched on the old TV, and fiddled around until the dish could see the
sat.
Moments later I was 'rewarded' with the Today show.

A building in some rural area was burning, and the point of view was that of
a
helo, circling the flames and capturing them with the loving views that
cameramen give things the FCC has 'suggested' they film. Other helo's were
visible - mostly Seminoles with FCC markings, but some Homeland Defense
Command
birds. There was, of course, the usual array of armored ground vehicles
sporting
different unit markings. When the Fed's throw a Bar-B-Que, all the agencies
are
invited.

The voice over was the clincher though - "... faculty refused to surrender
the
students, saying they would all burn first. Obviously the fire was started
by
members of this fanatical sect, willing to die rather than be good citizens.
Once again, the Xavier School in northern Texas is on fire after a twelve
hour
stand off against our gallant Homeland Security Forces. This school claimed
to
be a charter school training its students in technical and scientific
subjects,
but investigators from the Office of Homeland Security have determined it to
be
a training camp for members of the terrorist group known as 'The Guild'. "

I slumped heavily in the driver's seat of the Beast as the bubble-headed
news
blonde continued to detail the horror in a cheerful voice. My daughter
taught
tenth grade English there, and my granddaughter attended fourth grade. I
had
just lost most of my family.

The sound of the bleach-blonde's voice was lost in the roaring in my ears,
and
soon the roaring sound had a pattern to it; it was the pounding of my heart.
My
vision tunneled down to just that scene on the HUD, everything else becoming
gray and blurry. . My hands and feet and face went ice cold, and moments
later a
roar I couldn't control ripped from my throat. I'm pretty sure that's what
woke
my wife; not the pounding on the steering wheel or against the armor glass
of
the windows. I had just enough control left not to hit anything we really
needed, but for the most part I felt almost outside myself, watching, as I
went
berserk. A passenger in a train that can look out the window and watch the
derailment, but do nothing more than brace against the seat as the car rolls
over.

I was in the middle of the madness when my wife came forward, and looked
blankly
at the TV for several seconds before slumping to the floor, crying, sobbing,
yelling that it couldn't be real. Had she not come at that moment, and made
me
realize that there was still one bright spot in my life, I might never have
come
out of the madness. There are some who say that I never really did.

I fell down next to my wife, there on the deck, and held her in my arms,
whispering over and over that we'd kill the bastards, we'd make sure they
were
punished, we'd make them pay, and similar babbling. I wanted so badly to
spread
my pain out, to let everyone who had had a hand inflicting it on me have the
opportunity to share a sample of what they had helped to create.

Finally, my beloved lay there in my arms breathing softly, eyes filled with
pain
and a blank look on her face. She seemed almost catatonic, almost like her
soul
had been excised with a hot knife.

My throat was raw from the screaming, and the rage had burnt down to a
coldness,
an emptiness that even now, years later, still hasn't been filled. A day
hasn't
gone by when I haven't thought that if I'd taken the Forfeit on the
contract, we
probably would have driven back to the Guild House, and maybe I would have
been
able to get my babies out of there.

I was cold, shivering with physical reaction as I slumped against the wall
with
her head on my lap. Everything seemed surreal, like I was watching my life
through a pane of glass.

Wearily, mechanically, I said aloud, "Computer, Execute Illiad."

If it were possible for the Beast to be surprised, it would have sounded in
its
voice; but it sounded as dead and emotionless as shock made me feel when it
replied, "Confirmation Code needed".

"Helen is stolen. Troy Must Fall."

A few seconds later, "Msg Sent: Implement Illiad" joined those scrolling
across
the bottom of the HUD.

Over the next hour, carefully crafted software across the world slowly
decrafted
itself. My 'doomsday message' wasn't the only one sent, just one of the
flood
that started early that day.

As hundreds of pieces of software across the US received a short message
over
IP, they set data areas on the computer, then restarted the programs. Code
added by the modified compilers executed. Code that never appeared in the
source
listings, that had been added by the very act of using a compiler with a
built
in LAI fired for the first time.

Programs which fed the FedGov data stopped running, or worse, sent data
which
was just valid enough to pass 'sanity checks', but just invalid enough to
make
the database it updated useless. Suddenly, everyone was not only eligible
for
Social Security benefits, but all the women were pregnant as well, needing
both
WIC payments and a visit from a Federal Pregnancy Counselor. The automatic
scheduling system packed up when it realized it had work to keep the pool of
FPC's busy for 271 years, but only 9 months to get the work done. All of
those
pregnancies had to be tracked to make sure there were no illegal abortions.

$500 billion was dumped into the smartcard economy, into random cards, no
more
than $1million per card.... all of it easily traced as 'fake', but requiring
manual intervention to correct each and every error.

One particularly inventive program change in the smartcard system was a 30
millisecond delay in the fetch of the clocking that handled the secure
encryption. The smartcards in the NatID would respond to a time ping with a
password that changed every 50 milliseconds. By slowing the clock 30 mills,
the
password would be wrong, more than half the time. When you add in
transmission
lags, it became almost all the time. It would work just often enough to
confuse
the people who were trying to fix it. For added fun, the closer you were to
where you could fix the problem, the less transmission lag there was to deal
with - which meant it failed less often, and thus you had a less
reproducible
problem to try to figure out.

Some programmers are just plain sadistic.

PBX's at major corporations began placing outgoing calls all on their own,
using
all the lines and preventing the corp from doing business. These calls tied
up
the exchange the corp was in with thousands of calls, until the average
phone on
the street got "all circuits are busy" no matter which cell they were in.

Air Traffic Control computers tracked planes that were in the air, but put
warning messages on the ATC's console that it would ignore the transponders
of
any planes lifting off after 03:00 Zulu.

At many automated JIT warehouses, the bills of lading suffered one
transposed
digit. WalMart #117 got the shipment intended for WalMart #171, and #171 got
#711's and so on. All the bottom line inventory tied out, it just went
places
where it wasn't needed. People in Miami have little need for snowshoes. The
boxes of swimsuits would take quite a while to sell in Fairbanks. People in
Las
Vegas were to be puzzled by the inflatable boats that would appear on their
shelves.

It was all the nightmares of a Y2K computer collapse come home to roost, but
done deliberately in a manner intended to produce the most confusion with
minimal loss of life possible. Each Programmer activated his or her personal
'vengeance package', all the code they'd used to bargain for their life in
the
past.... but no one had ever really thought about what would happen if a
certain
critical mass of those messages was sent.

I know it never worried me... until the power in the trailer park went off,
and
moments later my 'net connection went down.

I had never met a Guild Programmer who had worked at a power plant. I guess
there was at least one.



Chapter 4

"Of course, if you're writing the code to control a cruise missile, you may
not
actually need an explicit loop exit. The loop will be terminated
automatically
at the appropriate moment."

Programming Perl, 3rd Ed.


My wife sat in the kitchenette crying, and it was all I could do not to sit
and
join her. It didn't stop the tears rolling down my face to concentrate on
the
maps and projections of how long our on board fuel would last. We were both
sliding quickly into depression, a disease not uncommon for programmers.
Even
under normal circumstances, even among non-Guild "legit" programmers,
suicide is
the most common cause of death, even when one takes into account QuAils and
heart attacks. I'd battled it long enough to know that giving into the
temptation to sit and stew would cause me to find a new use for the Glock,
and I
knew that if I didn't keep my wife distracted she might come to a similar
conclusion. Not a good plan at all.

So I sat and looked at maps and tried to figure out what to do next. I'm
glad
the maps were on the smartpaper table cloth; the tears dribbling down from
my
face would have ruined regular ink-printed maps fairly quickly.

The Beast has a 1 meter cube for her fuel tank; an even thousand liters of
internal volume contained in a box made of the same material as her hull.
The
internal baffles reduced the capacity of the tank down to 250 gallons, and
we
were over half full. On the other hand, the Beast only got 11 miles to the
gallon, and drank a gallon every four hours we were parked to power the
computers.

In trying to project a course to follow, it didn't help that I no longer had
much of a destination. With the Xavier School burnt, there was no more
Guild,
not as an organized business, anyway. All that was left of our proud group
was a
scattered bunch of gypsy 'geeks with guns'.

By lunch time I'd powered down everything that was non-essential, and
checked
over our Bail-Out Bags. I ended up moving them from the closed compartment
they
were normally in to racks next to the door. They were a little more in the
way
when getting in and out, but I had a feeling that it was worth it.

While I was wrestling with that, my wife got up and started making lunch. I
think she spent more time on lunch preparations than usual, making something
more complicated than just sandwiches as an opportunity to distract herself.

We had left over chicken with portabella mushrooms in a white sauce for
lunch,
washed down with what was left of last night's bottle of Valley of the Moon,
Pinot Blanc, 2000. She made up a light soup to go with it, a delicate broth
that just danced on your tongue. The salad we had was topped with the
dressing
she'd made the night before. Yummy stuff.

It dawned on me that I tend to try to distract myself from depression by
eating
better food; fortunately, my wife's reaction to wanting to forget about
something that is bothering her is to cook gourmet food. We make a perfect
pair.


When life is good, however, junk food often rules the table, with the
exception
of special occasion meals. When I feel like my world is falling apart, I
become
the Galloping Gourmet. Part of me wondered if the reverse would work: If I
pigged out on Twinkies, would life improve?

Sipping the Pinot Blanc, I thought to myself, "Say it ain't so!" Although,
if
you've never had a microwaved "King Dong" with a glass of Syrrah to sip with
it,
you're missing out on something.

Over lunch we both made brave faces and tried to talk intelligently. We
didn't
really have a long term plan, and the information on what was going on in
the
world was sketchy. Finally, we decided to spend the rest of the day
listening to
the shortwave radio and then figure out which way to jump. One of the
things
I've learned as a consultant is that you don't jump into a project until you
have some idea what the end result of the project is supposed to be.

The US economy took its biggest hit in decades with the sell off of huge
blocks
of stocks. There was some talk of the SEC reversing all the sales since it
looked like most of the sell-offs were due to tampering with the automated
sales
systems, but on closer inspection it was only the first ripple of the waves
of
sell-offs that came from the computers. It was the news in the following
hours
that prompted the biggest sales, and that was a totally human response.

The crash of the US stock market migrated across the globe. Whoever came up
with
the line about "when the US gets a cold, everyone else gets pneumonia" was
right. The Nikkei dropped 60% over the next 6 hours when they realized that
there probably wouldn't be anyone buying Japanese products over here for the
next few years.

There were riots in some cities where people were trying to buy food and not
able to use their NatIDs to validate the sale. According to Federal Law,
even if
they paid cash, they still needed to swipe the NatID to show which house was
getting the food. This would allow the Feds to create a 'consumption
profile'
for each home and be able to tell if there was an extra person living
there - or
if the home owners were hoarding more than their ration.

People were trying to leave cities where the power was off, but even when
the
trains worked, they weren't accepting a passenger who's NatID wouldn't log
in.
This created more jams at the checkpoints, and often more scuffles and small
riots.

The small riots seemed to merge together as we sat there listening to the
shortwave. More and more checkpoints were overrun, and more cities seemed to
be
having problems as the day went on.

During the six o'clock news, the major networks announced that this was the
worst case of cyber-terrorism in US history. It was being blamed on members
of
Al-Jihad, and the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise had already launched
retaliatory air strikes against terrorist training camps in Somalia. Nice
footage of buildings exploding and trucks burning graced the evening news,
showing just how effective the attacks had been At the very end of the
segment
they did mention that there were said to be ties between "The Terrorist
Organization known as The Guild" and Al-Jihad.

That was news to me. I'd never known that Al-Jihad had programmers. Unless
you
write code, or are the spouse or child of someone who is a "bit-slinger",
you
are (at best) a Client of the Guild.

Or were, back when the Guild House wasn't on fire on nationwide TV.

We spent the afternoon and into the night listening to things melt down.
Some
stations exhorted people to not riot and show patriotic spirit in support of
the
War In Somalia. Some stations were announcing that the County Commissioners
in
that area had declared martial law, and people should return to their homes.
I
never expected to live in a country where there was a 5pm curfew.

Considering that the county we were in was one with the curfew, we decided
to
sit tight for a few days and see what happened. I did climb up on the top
of
the Beast and fill the holes in the epoxy with new paste, though.

For the week we were there, it was like watching the game "Civilization" run
in
reverse. When it was done, we no longer got TV or XM feeds from the sats.

On Monday morning we decided to drive south. Winter was coming, and it would
be
best to be somewhere warm. We took power line roads and unpaved back roads,
making wide detours to avoid cities. Occasionally, people took pot shots at
us.
Out here in the hinterlands not everyone had turned in their guns, but even
before the FOPA very few people had something that would pierce the Beast's
skin, so we just stayed inside and drove.


Chapter 5

"Everyone must have an "ESCAPE PLAN". This includes an early warning system;
assistance; safe hiding place; funds; transport; disguise; new documents of
identity; "
African National Congress Manual for Covert Actions
Source: gopher://gopher.anc.org.za/00/SACP/history/secret.wrk

"Everyone must have an "ESCAPE PLAN". This includes an early warning system;
assistance; safe hiding place; funds; transport; disguise; new documents of
identity; "
Source: Guild of Consulting Programmers New Member's
Handbook




We'd been driving for three days and night, taking back roads and avoiding
cities. We'd burnt up much more fuel than a simple straight line course
would
have; on the other hand, simple straight line courses include human-operates
state border check points, and we would just as soon avoid those, thank you
very
much. In one case we had to change our plans and drive three hundred miles
out
of our way to avoid a newly set up road block.

There had been a few places along the way where we'd managed to get more
fuel.
The Beast's solid oxide fuel cells would strip electrons off any hydrocarbon
you
poured into them; the problem was keeping the fuel cells fed. Gas, av-gas,
diesel, we weren't picky, so long as it was even close. We got what we
needed,
most of the time, trading junk silver coins in some places for fuel.
Sometimes
we even traded ammo. Twice, it was food - with the sugar ration in effect,
kitchen staples were a good trade item.

Once, it was a bottle of mead, traded to a bunch of SCA types that had
decided
since the curfew started at the beginning of their weekend event, they were
just
going to stay Medieval until further notice... which meant they needed
Period-Correct Potables more than they needed the gas in their cars. I was
fortunate that my wife had scored twelve gallons of honey in a "horse trade"
six
months earlier, and had turned ten gallons of it into decent enough mead.

The "horse trades" and barter economy were more prevalent than you might
expect.
A good chunk of the population - about one in three - had developed a
'hobby'
that (at the least) paid for itself. Most people did this in addition to
their
regular jobs, working 50 hours a week, then working another twenty or thirty
on
a 'hobby' that provided a tax free income of sorts. My wife was one of the
fortunate few wives who didn't have to juggle a full time career plus the
full
time job of running a household plus the part time job of a 'hobby' that
made
ends meet.... so her 'hobby goods' were especially good. The "rube-goldberg"
progression of trading a finished product for the raw materials for another
project was, at times, humorous; with us traveling, she often offered things
that had been raw materials a thousand miles away from the buyer, and had
been
worked into a finished product during the drive.

'Hobbyists' traded things among themselves - my wife had traded two pair of
leather moccasins she'd made from the skin of a deer we'd killed while on
'vacation' between contracts. One of the 'payments' we'd received was a
week's
parking space in a private hunting preserve. It let us park the Beast in a
quiet
spot for a week, and gave us something out of the ordinary to do. My rifle,
while highly modified, would still fire special soft lead hunting rounds. It
was
better than using a bow or muzzle loader. The hunting laws had never
changed -
you could still use center-fire rifles to hunt, but you just couldn't own
one.
The hunting guide at the preserve had smiled and looked the other way, never
quite noticing what I was shooting.

The government had made special exemptions for hunting preserves - after
all,
they had no intention of taking guns out of the hands of sportsmen.... so
long
as the guns in question were useless for fighting government agents.

Some 'hobbyists' were into car racing, and their purchasing more gasoline
than
their normal work/shop/home profile did not raise a terrorist flag. So long
as
they raced a certain number of times per year, they could write off the
extra
fuel they purchased as "practicing at the track." The BLWV (Land and Water
Vehicles) never really came out and said how many races a year you had to be
in,
so such people ran a risk of being hauled off in the night to prove they
were
involved in a sport and not black marketeers. On the other hand, "Car
Racing"
or "Motocross" or "Boating" were profitable 'hobbies', and it made it worth
the
risk so that getting 'grey gas' wasn't that hard. In a way, it was one of
the
hobbies where you made more if you pursued it less: by 'practicing' less
often,
you had more merchandise to sell. Go down to the track, BS with your buddies
for
an hour, drive for thirty minutes, and then log ninety minutes of practice
time
into your BLWV bound-book, and you had some extra gas in the tank compared
to
the fellow who really did drive for an hour and a half.

In that manner we traveled south, bartering and trading as we went.

I had been dozing in the passenger seat, recovering from my turn at driving
when
my wife woke me and explained we were down to 20 gallons of fuel in the
tank.

We pulled over pushed the maps up to the big 42" display in the ceiling of
the
cockpit, highlighting possible destinations. After mulling it over for a
half
hour, we decided to end our long drive in rural Georgia.

Our goal was three safe-houses owned by the Guild in the same way Xavier
School
had been. We had been promised we would be able to hide in them should we
ever
end up on the run; it was one of the benefits that came with paying Guild
Dues
every month. All three were within 40 miles of our stopping point. Since
the
method of covering the tracks of their ownership was similar to that used
for
Xavier School, I didn't trust any of them as places to drive the Beast
without
taking a peek first. If the School was blown, then how many of the safe
houses
were blown also?

The spot we stopped was in the middle of a UN Biodiversity Area. We had
spoofed
the fence-post sensors coming in - which is more exciting than it sounds
because
of the mines - and were pretty sure the 'Boys In Blue Hats' were unaware
that
parked under a stand of oaks was one of the Scourges of Mankind: a vehicle
with
what they considered an Infernal Combustion Engine. It didn't matter that
the
Beast's fuel cells gave off water vapor and CO2 as waste, just like an
animal's
respiration, they still considered it one of the mail reasons for 'the
immanent
destruction of the world environment."

The Biodiversity area was supposed to be off limits to all humans, so that
nature could remain in her pristine state. Never mind that no one would ever
see
it, or appreciate it.... except Forestry workers, and the politicians who
determined the USFS's budget by means of trips to selected forest areas each
summer. Such trips always included their families, lasted about two weeks,
and
happened when school wasn't in session.

After we'd snugged the Beast under the trees, I had changed clothes, grabbed
my
rifle and walked a patrol based on a 1/4 mile radius around the place we'd
parked. I found one nice camping spot. At the edge of it was a half-buried
lump
of empty beer bottles, empty MRE wrappers, and empty condom wrappers that
implied the area was not as 'pristine' as the 'American Sportsman's and
Campers
Bill Of Rights' implied it should be. I mean, Item 4 from the ASCBOR said,
"A
Camper has the right to camp in a government approved pre-improved campsite,
with concrete or metal fire-containment, running purified water, a paved 30'
x
15' parking area, and easy access to flush toilets." There was an unsaid,
"And
Nowhere Else" at the end that applied to anyone who did not have the proper
'connections'. Those connections were typically made through the proper
contributions to political parties.

I made a second walk-about, a little closer than that first patrol,
collecting
deadfall branches as I went. I put them in piles along the route, then went
back
to the Beast and unloaded the 4wheeler ATV. It was modified with a license
tag
and street-legal lights, and passed more road-worthy tests than the Segway
being
pushed on most city-dwellers. For want of a better word, it was my wife's
car,
used to run errands that weren't worth the bother of moving the Beast.

Now I used it and its little collapsible trailer to move the branches back
to
the Beast's parking spot. We spent the rest of the day adding the branches
to
the camo netting so that the Beast was well hidden. The key tricks here
were
not to over do it and make the vehicle stand out, and to make sure you took
your
branches and leaves from places relatively far from the spot you were
camouflaging, so that your vehicle didn't stand out by being the only thing
leafy in view. Always remember to place the branches in such a way as to
break
up the regular outline of the vehicle's shape.

Once we were done, we made one last check of the Beast's sensors, then for
the
first time since I'd bought her, shut everything that wasn't battery powered
down and pulled the auto-start switch on the generator to off. It was an
eerie
thing to have your home of the last two-plus years, a place you got used to
as
being well lit and full of flowing data suddenly be dark, cold, and silent.

We sat there in the dark, lit only by the light of the smart-paper display
I'd
unfolded from my wearable's pocket, and looked at the map of the area, then
planned a list of supplies for our walk. We'd played with the idea of using
the
4-wheeler to run out the 22 miles to the nearest of the three sites, but
it's
battery was only good for 30 miles, and I didn't relish pushing the thing
the
rest of the way home. If we parked it part of the way out, then walked the
rest
of the way, we were tying ourselves to a potential ambush point on the way
back
if someone found it. Besides, going on foot would improve our overall
stealth.

So we changed clothes, digging into the closet of things we hoped we'd never
be
wearing. We each pulled on a set of CU's (Combat Utilities, the successor to
BDUs), slipping our wearables on under the jacket portion, and plugging them
into the modified connector on the CUs. The normal mil-spec connector on
the
CU's was meant to plug into the JFOPCS (Joint Forces On-Person Computing
System), and we'd had to so some creative engineering to make them work with
ours. The CUs were possible to get, black market, with all the peripherals
for
the JFOPCS still woven into their fabric. Getting a working JFOPCS was
another
story; fortunately, that was just a processor and software, and our
wearables
could fill that role.

Over the jacket went combat vests, with their built in "hydration systems" -
basically, a soft canteen with a drinking tube attached. Pockets were filled
with basic survival gear, ration bars, ID cards of various sorts, and sundry
trade goods. The vests came down to mid-thigh, and were made of the same
cloth
as the CUs.

My Glock 19 went into a shoulder holster under my vest, along with its spare
magazines.

Both of us put on pistol belts after that. Glock 17's modified for selective
fire went in the thigh holsters. Ever since NFA2033 had declared that "any
firearm which uses the energy of firing in any way is a machine gun", the
number
of guns modified for select fire went way up. I mean, if you're going to get
the
same jail time anyway, why not?

My wife lifted her FN PDW, and I picked up the trusty M1891 Mosin-Nagent.
The
rifle's design was pushing 200 years old. The stock on this one was nearly
that;
old wood well polished. It had originally been made for the Russian Czar's
Army. The metal was nice and new, in a rainbow of colors, mostly cobalt
blue.
The Mosin's wood stock and fore grip covered all but the bolt, a small space
over the chamber end of the barrel, and a small section near the muzzle. The
majority of the long barrel was enclosed in the wood. Someone once told me
the
Russians wanted it that way to reduce the exposed metal, and thus the
chances of
your hand freezing to the gun if you grabbed it the wrong way during the
Russian
winter.

I had done the metalwork modifications on this particular gun, which looked
so-so; the multi-color rainbow effect through the barrel was at times a
disconcerting anachronism when compared to the rest of the design. The wood
working, however, was typical of the work my wife does: deep wood tones
polished
and varnished to a perfect sheen. As old as the wood was, the stock and fore
grips looked better than the day the gun had rolled out the factory. It was
the
kind of wood-work that fine antique shops wish their chairs had.

The two of us settled our ammo in place, and we slipped out of the Beast and
headed north by north west.

Moving through the woods at night isn't that hard, but you do have to be
careful
how you step. Bring your toes down first and feel the ground, don't just
tromp.
Rub your toe in a little circle, clear out the twigs, and then carefully
bring
your foot down if you really need to be quiet. You'll leave a bigger track,
but
there's trade offs to everything.

With the compass displaying on the hood of the CUs, keeping a straight line
was
no problem. But I find the thing distracting sitting up there and glowing at
me,
so what I do it take a bead on the direction I want to go, and pick a
landmark
closest to it. Then I banish the compass, walk to the landmark, and repeat
the
process. You should be careful to not always pick landmarks that are to one
side
of your base course and instead try to alternate them.

In this manner we walked all night. We stopped every two and a half hours or
so,
when we got to a good spot, and looped back to watch our trail while we had
a
drink and a snack and sat for a few minutes. As far as we could tell, there
was
nobody out there. Some of the good spots we passed along the way were saved
to
our wearables' memory. If we were separated, those would be spots we would
aim
for to meet back up.

We stopped under some trees before dawn, ate, and afterwards burrowed under
a
pile of leaves to hide for the day. It was nice, warm, and reasonably cozy
with
the hoods of the CUs keeping the leaves from scratching our faces. We left
the
CUs passive sensors up and fell asleep holding hands. Not the best tactical
move in the world - it would have been smarter for us to pick separate leaf
piles, within supporting distance of each other. That way if one of us was
found, the other would be able to flank the enemy. On the other hand, some
times doing everything the perfect and smart way gives you a very poor
quality
of life. Considering all that the last couple weeks had brought, being
together
and holding hands was a strategic move that outweighed the tactical
disadvantage. It kept us from cracking up.

At 16:42 I risked a few pulses of milliwave and decided there was no one
watching us. We slipped out of the leaves, ate, drank, and shared a kiss
before
moving on.

It was full dark when we stopped at a rise just before the safe house. Both
of
us hunkered down, and opened up all the passive sensors we had.... and both
of
us could "see" the rain of microwaves coming down from the sky, painted into
the
displays in our hoods as squiggly blue lines, dancing and twisting like a
sheet
of blue cellophane rippling in the wind.

The US military, back in 2018, fielded a new kind of tank. Built into its
composite laminate decking were thousands of 'rectennas', which could
rectify
incoming microwave radiation and convert it to ordinary everyday direct
current.
What made that useful was the Army had also caused to be launched several
satellites which used large solar arrays to generate electricity and then
beam
it to the ground as microwaves. You simply up linked, gave your GPS
coordinates,
and next time the sat was in your sky you got power.

I understand the tankers called the two steps of the process "praying" and
"getting manna from heaven".

The huge amounts of power charged the tank's batteries. These not only drove
the
8 super-conducting electric motors that moved the thing, but powered the
25mm
rail-gun. The rail-gun was bad news for anything in its path. It could shoot
lengthwise through the Beast, fuel tank, two bulkheads and all. Since all
they
had to store for it was the projectiles, a basic load out was 1500 rounds of
"Silver Bullet" armor piercing, and another 2000 rounds of mixed HE (High
Explosive) , WP (White Phosphorus) and Chemical (both 'riot control' gas
and
the nastier type). The idea was that once you put one those bad boys out in
the
field, you didn't need to bring it fuel or ammo until the end of the war.
The
slogan was "Simplified Logistics to make war fighting easier" - and more
cost-effective.

We sat and scanned for a few minutes, resting and thinking. If one of those
was
parked at a safe house, then truly all hell had broken loose. While we were
sitting and scanning, the image of what would have happened if we'd driven
up
fat, dumb, and happy popped into my head. I tried to forget it as quick as I
could. After listening and waiting to see if anyone had noticed us, we snuck
back out and started heading home to the Beast.

We'd gone about a mile when we ran into one of the people assigned to watch
this
area. He'd blown his stalk by using his milliwave radar too much, and we
were
under cover - split up this time, sensibly, as the tank had scared us - by
the
time he found us. Active sensors are seductive in the "God's Eye" views
they
can give you, but many people forget that when you use active sensors,
you're
effectively shining a flashlight in a dark room.... and hoping everyone in
the
room is blind to your light.

My wife kicked off the ambush by firing a burst of 5.7mm armor piercing from
her
PDW at him. He was wearing Land Warrior armor, and the light armor-piercing
bullets her over-sized machine pistol fired washed off of him like hail off
a
trench coat. She knew that would happen, though, and hit the dirt as she
finished the burst and before he had turned around.

Her decoying maneuver left me with a clean shot.

The only thing 'factory' on the M1891 was the stock and trigger group. We'd
recreated the rest milled out of aircraft grade titanium so that it would
handle
the overpressure of loading to the brim cartridges meant for black powder
with
the most modern propellants. The cartridge cases were made of tool steel so
they
wouldn't deform when the "overload" went off. It used a plastic sabot to
fire
standard 5.56mm 'green tip' projectiles down the 7.62mm/7mm custom made
"squeeze" barrel.

The muzzle velocity of the bullet was upwards of 8400 feet per second -
almost a
quarter of what you'd need to launch it out of Earth's gravity well,
neglecting
air resistance. It felt like someone had slammed me in the shoulder with a
sledge hammer. I could feel the stock bruising on me even through the layers
of
'bullet proof' fabric of the CU and the bullet-resistant combat vest I was
wearing. Firing it without the CU would definitely break at least one bone.

The shot hit just above his back pack and just below his helmet. He never
finished turning around to shoot at my wife. It looked like the armor plate
of
his gorget spalled under the impact from the way blood and chunks flew into
the
air. I was kinda surprised the thing actually worked. I'd watched on TV
years
ago when the Army had slugged it out with a group up in Montana, and the
Land
Warriors had shrugged off 7.62 NATO fire. After that, it was a matter of
trying
to figure out how to take care of the problem. One guy in the Guild had
managed
to pick up a bunch of the old HAFLAs from Germany, but I thought that a bit
excessive. Besides the drawbacks of using a flamethrower in the forest, it
had
much more area-of-effect than seemed sane.

My wife and I sat there for a second looking at each other, and listening.
The
CUs had shut down the amplifiers when we'd fired, saving our hearing, but
they
were back to +30 db now. We knew that as soon as this guy's superior pulsed
his
suit they'd know what happened and where, but we didn't want to run willy
nilly
into an ambush... or lead them straight back to the Beast. As we sat and
listened, I gently opened the bolt on the M1891, drew out the fired
cartridge,
and pocketed it. I pushed the bolt forward, and locked it, then twisted the
safety over.

When the "pins and needles" in my arm faded, we broke off into the woods,
heading 69 degrees off of our desired course for 2 miles. It was just a
random
azimuth, really. We ignored leaving behind the brass from her PDW fire -
one
thing that had been drilled into us years ago was that you put gloves on
before
you open the ammo boxes to load magazines, and never, never, ever touch ammo
bare handed. Let the Feds pull the prints of the poor slob that works in the
ammo factory, rather than yours.

We stopped again, before dawn, and made a place to stay for the day. Two
places,
actually - the encounter had scared us enough that we were doing things by
the
book. It was the first time in 14 years we slept apart.

Chapter Six

3-7. Restrictions.

a. US forces engaged in counterguerrilla operations function under
restrictions
not encountered in other types of warfare. These restrictions may appear to
hamper efforts to find and destroy the guerrilla. For example, the safety of
noncombatants and the preservation of their property is vitally important to
winning them over to the government's side.

b. The guerrilla knows this and will attempt to capitalize on it by engaging
US
forces at locations where US fire would endanger civilians or damage their
property. While the temptation to return fire may be great, a few dead or
injured enemy will in no way compensate for the ill will of the local
populace
if some innocent civilians are killed or injured or their homes and property
destroyed.

FM 90-8 CounterGuerrilla Operations, page 3-5

We got back to the Beast the next afternoon. The netting didn't seem to be
disturbed, but to be honest if I were an LW who found it, I would have
simply
placed claymores, then eased off and watched. My wife and I opened the
distance
between us, letting the wearables keep us in contact with one another over
49Mhz, and then repeated my patrols of the previous day. Twice. During this
we
cut back on our own trail three times, waiting and watching and listening.
Finally, we snuck aboard, sighing with relief once the door was locked
behind
us.

I opened the Jeffries Tube hatch and reached down into the little space
below
the floorboards where many of the valves that we didn't have set up for
smart
control were. I opened the LP Gas feed, lit off the water heater, and we
started making dinner while the water heated up. Once the food was started,
we
took turns getting showers and watching dinner cook. I'm allowed to watch
dinner when she's away from the stove, but not to add ingredients.

Once it was ready and we were clean, we killed the LP Gas and purged the
lines
with N2 just in case we ended up getting shot at the next day.

Over a candle light dinner of steaks, mashed potatoes (with garlic), and
steamed
green beans, with "Vampire" Cabernet Sauvignon 1996 to sip, we discussed out
plans for the future. I spent time mulling over the wine during pauses in
the
conversation; it was an import from Romania, in fact the very area of
Transylvania who's most famous personality had been a bloodsucker that came
out
at night. My wearable was generating soft music in the background; Tom
Petty
was singing, "Don't have to live like a refugee".

Finally, just before sealing the bottle to finish later, we decided to drive
the
42 miles into the nearest town, and see about getting either fuel or a spot
at a
RV park. We'd had good luck during the drive down, and perhaps going to
ground
in the midst of other people might be better than hiding in a safe house the
people hunting you already know about, or hiding in the middle of the woods
where any sign of life was a neon sign indicating investigation was needed.

The other pressing argument in favor of moving on was that after the
incident
with the Army guy, someone would be scouring these woods soon. It would be
best
not to hang around too long while reinforcements were brought in for the
search.


So we slipped out at dusk - that is to say, when dinner was done - and
de-cammo'd the Beast. We stacked the branches up neatly under the oaks, out
of
view from above, so that the site wouldn't stand out as much from the air,
then
waited until full dark to drive out.

While we were waiting, we tried the sat again. We got XM, and a couple TV
stations. It looked like repairs were being made to the infrastructure,
slowly
but surely. As I half expected, it was the commercial enterprises that were
repairing much more efficiently than those that were government run. I
suspect
it had something to do with worrying about staying in business.

Finally it was time to drive out. The Beast has low-light, of course, and
that
was being displayed on the HUD as we drove. Now and then I'd stop and let
her
passive sensors listen for a while. Even more rarely, we'd find some terrain
that was questionable and either tap the milliwave to map it or tap the
lights
for a second or three.

Off road driving is an art and a science. The Beast, with her multiple,
wide,
tires had a ground pressure about that of most SUVs. Consider an old Land
Rover
Discovery. Unladen, its 4500 pounds were divided across 4 tires, for about
1125
pounds per tire. Loaded, the Beast was 'only' around two thousand pounds per
tire, and they were much wider and (with judicious use of the Central Tire
Inflation System) 'softer' for more surface contact. That meant we weren't
going to dig huge ruts in the earth by driving over it, and that we weren't
going to sink into dirt roads and forest trails, despite our weight.

So we "trod lightly", looking for open spaces between trees, old trails, and
shallow ponds or streams. With milliwave, we could do a quick pulse and
decide
if it was fordable or not, then not make a trail for a ways.

Driving through water isn't that bad. Don't stop, don't slow down. If you
do,
you'll sink into the mud at the bottom of the pond. In that way it's sort of
like driving on a rickety bridge. On the other hand, don't 'goose' the gas
either - if your wheels suddenly get a boost in speed, they might 'break
loose'
from the mud and spin. After that you've got no traction, and the game is
mostly
over.

The other part of off-roading is to go slow. No hurry. Stop and look over
obstacles before committing to them. Don't do anything that involves taking
a
risk to save time unless you absolutely have no other choice. Know your
vehicles
limitations, and measure once before becoming stuck fast.

It took 3 hours to make the 8 mile (straight line, as if we drove a straight
line) drive out of the UNBDA, but we weren't seen by anyone. I think. If
there
even was anyone there to see us. This was one case where I could live with
not
knowing if there were watchers or not.

Finally, we were back out on the open road. I hit the button on the dash and
listened to the whirr of the tire inflation system running for a few
minutes,
then pulled out onto the blacktop and got up to speed. A few voice commands
later, the Beast's transponder was squawking again, claiming that it was a
brand
new Mercedes SUV. My wife laughed at the identity I'd picked, but fetched
the
matching ID papers and stuck them in my shirt pocket. I declined the offer
to
borrow one of the long silk scarves she had embroidered while killing time
waiting in the Beast during projects I'd worked on in then past. It just
seemed
a little over the top.... especially since she wanted to give me the white
one
with a little image of a beagle sitting on his dog house in one corner.

We sat and talked as we drove, remembering our daughter, and talking about
what
our long term plans were. The conversation drifted in and out of tears, but
for
the most part we held it together. My sweet wife did talk about our plans
for
that evening, primarily refueling, and she spent a good part of the drive
looking in the mirror and getting her "face" together. Not so much her
makeup,
but more getting herself "compartmentalized" to the degree that she could
take
care of the things we'd need to do over the next few hours without letting
on
how much she still hurt.

We drove through the still night, watching the clouds race south, and we
rolled
into the truck stop at 2:42 am.

I smiled at the National Guardsman who was on duty at the gate, rolled down
the
window and offered him my ID ("Richthofen, Manfred Vaughn"). It passed
validation on his screen, on the fourth try. He bitched about the NatID not
working right all day, and it didn't bother him in the least that mine
flashed
bloody red the first three times he swiped the card.

What did catch his attention was the Beast though. He looked at his display
of
her VIN and (somewhat correct) telemetry, and said in a deep Georgia drawl,
"What the he-ll is th-at?"

I smiled, looking into his blue eyes framed by blond hair. "This is the new
Mercedes SUV! Actually, I work for Mercedes, and managed to get me one of
the
concept trucks. The R&D boys had done all kinda experimenting on it, and
then
blew the engine, messed up the whole truck. They were gonna sell it for
junk!
But me and Skeeter Jones fixed her up. You know Skeeter, up on Mabu Ridge
Road?
"

The Guardsman shook his head no, just as I expected. Nobody would admit to
knowing Skeeter, or Mabu Ridge Road.

"Well, you ever need work done on your truck, you look him up. He'll do you
right. I don't have his number handy, but I think he's in the book."

The lad bobbed his head and opened the inner gate, letting us in as he
yelled,
"Thanks fer the tip!"

Sometimes I think maybe, just maybe, the government position that people are
sheep that need to be cared for and protected from themselves may be right.
Not
in all cases, obviously, but sometimes I wonder. That boy relieved me of my
faith in the power of the human mind.

What blows the 'party line' out of the water, though, is that more than half
of
the people that I see who really need to be cared for and protected are in
jobs
where they are being paid to provide those services for me. To top it off,
half
of the ones that were competent were the ones I needed to be protected from.

There was a line of semi's nuzzled up to the pumps, gulping down diesel, but
there were only a few cars looking for gasoline. No waiting was worth
choosing
gas over diesel, so I pulled up to the pumps and started running through
pre-paid cards. I used the largest denominations first, working my way down.
The
idea was that most people don't stand there and use 18 cards to fill up the
tank.

My wife went inside while I was fuelling, wearing CUs and no (visible)
weapons.
I'm pretty sure her FiveseveN pistol was in one of the pockets though. She
blew
a couple more cards on munchies and Cokes then talked the clerk behind the
counter into helping her consolidate several cheap-o cards into a $100,
weaving
some tale about them being Christmas Presents from friends. She got the new
card, linked to her "Neudorf, Emilia" identity. Sometimes you just have to
stick
with a theme, if you know what I mean.

I could see her manipulating the clerk through the window as I pumped the
gas.
Sometimes she uses charm, sometimes sex appeal. Sometimes playing the "dumb
woman" works right well for her. I don't know how she does it, but she
manages
to know the weakness in a given male soul the moment she lays eyes on the
body
containing it. The scary thing is that she might have, on occasion, done
the
same to me, and I'd never have known it. Part of me drifted back over the
years
to a funny movie where one guy kept asking the other "You ever use the
flashy
thing on me?" The answer was always, "No." It was the same kind of thing.
She'd flash her smile, and then I found my mouth saying, "Yes, Dear" to
things
that later I wondered how I'd gotten myself into.

The poor store clerk never had a chance.

While she wrapped his brain around her pinky, I pulled around to the "water"
spigot and dropped a dollar coin in the slot, then plugged the hose into the
water intake on the Beast. It was no where near enough pressure to do much
in
the way of filling up her clean water tanks, but I figure I got at least 10
or
15 gallons in there before the meter shut off. Not wanting to stand around
too
long, I figured it was time to hightail it out before we got too greedy.

She came back out, we rolled back through the gates, waving at Cpl. Fife as
we
left.

Once back on the highway, I did succumb and ask the Beast to dig through the
really old .mp3 files for the "Snoopy" song. It just went with the ID I'd
never
be able to use again too well to not play it.



Chapter 7

Nevertheless, the urban guerrilla has an advantage over the conventional
military or the police. It is that, while the military and the police act on
behalf of the enemy, whom the people hate, the urban guerrilla defends a
just
cause, which is the people's cause. The urban guerrilla's weapons are
inferior
to the enemy's, but from the moral point of view, the urban guerrilla has an
undeniable superiority. This moral superiority is what sustains the urban
guerrilla. Thanks to it, the urban guerrilla can accomplish his principle
[sic]
duty, which is to attack and survive. ...The urban guerrilla must make his
living through his job or his professional activity. If he is known and
sought
by the police, he must go underground, and sometimes must live hidden.

Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla by Carlos Marighella


We parked outside a little cow-town in the Florida Panhandle long enough to
do
research. We'd found a "green box" sitting at the side of a low-usage road,
and
I hopped out long enough to pop it open and attach a modified cordless phone
to
it. We drove down the road, until we were a couple turns away and behind
some
trees, then used conventional dial-up to get onto the 'net. We were going to
be
doing a fair amount of transmitting in the course of doing our research, and
I
didn't want to do all of it over wireless internet. The 900Mhz connection
would
probably be lost in the noise - just one more ya-hoo with a cordless phone -
but
kicking off high-speed packet radio data connections out here in the middle
of
Deliverance Country would probably be a tip off that something was
happening.

The goal was to search the newspapers and yellow pages for people with
apartments or houses to rent. "Casa esta renta" was the magic phrase we
were
looking for, in the messed-up Spanish/English mix used by so many of the
illegal
workers in the area.

Illegal worker. There's irony for you. When you come right down to it, there
wasn't much difference between a Guild Programmer trying to earn a living
and
sneak around an oppressive government and a Migrant Farmer trying to earn a
living and sneak around both home's and host's oppressive governments. Both
need a place to live, food to eat, and a job that isn't tracked by the
system.

The other criteria, and the major consumer of on-line research time, was
pulling
credit histories for each of the places we considered renting. Our intention
was
to find one with a fairly poor rating - of a certain kind. There's two ways
to
get a poor credit rating. Way number one is to start with a good rating, and
ruin it. What we were looking for was the second option - someone whose
rental
business did everything on cash, with minimal use of credit. The lack of a
historical use of credit typically caused credit review agencies to list
them as
a poor credit risk, just because of the lack of data on which to form an
opinion.

We pulled places for rent, then cross referenced them. We wanted someone who
was
taking cash or barter for most of their income, and doing just enough
smart-card
business to make things look legitimate.

The process of running what amounted to IRS audits of each prospective
landlord
took hours - which was why I didn't want to be up and transmitting on the
regular packet radio network during this research.

We finally settled on Senora Estrada's little 'compound' out on the
north-west
side of town. She had a complex of little one bedroom cottages, and was more
than willing to rent us the dilapidated old barn that had been untouched
since
she bought the place 11 years ago. The old power lines out to the barn were
still in place, even though the meter had been turned off at the side of the
barn. That took about 10 minutes to fix, and we had a spot where the Beast
was
sheltered and had a steady supply of juice to drink.

El Senora, at times, reminded me of the Al Calde from the old Zorro movies.
She
ruled the roost with an iron fist, occasionally screaming like a fishwife at
people who were late on rent, or who left litter on her pristine
landscaping.
Even Jose, the big Venezuelan, would flinch when the little 4'10" tall,
38-38-38
woman would round the corner and turned her wrath on him. She'd point with
her
right claw, just so there'd be no mistake of who she was berating, and
scream a
stream of profanity-less invective in mixed Spanish, English and
Portuguese -
and God knows what else, because I swore I heard Russian in it one
afternoon.
She never cursed or blasphemed, but did call on every Saint in the Church to
do
something to deliver her from the people she was forced to house. She used
words
that I never expected to hear in this location, and she used them with
style.

So long as the verbiage wasn't directed at you, it was the best
entertainment
the whole place had to offer. If she could write code that hung together as
well
as her 'flames', she'd be the best programmer I'd seen in a long time. The
first
time I heard her chew out Jose with a stream of Spanish too fast for me to
follow, then watched the big, muscle-bulging macho-man pick up the Big Gulp
cup
that had missed the trash can by three inches to land at the edge of the
mulched
flower bed, I nearly fell down laughing.

I guess you had to be there.

The first few weeks we kept to ourselves, turning in silver or gold coins
to
pay the rent. This put us in her good graces - off the record hard money
that
she could use for barter and wouldn't appear on her taxes seemed to put he
in a
good mood.

December meant Christmas, and we felt obligated to join in with the rest of
the
community. Watching everyone put up home made decorations and the kids
practice
carols just drew us in.

I had found an old junkyard a few miles away, and had killed time in
November
retrieving parts to build things with as a hobby. It was either that or go
stir
crazy sitting in the Beast. I spent the first half of December using those
parts to make toys. Nothing really complex - radios (crystal and otherwise),
toy
cranes with electromagnets at the end of the string, little flashlights you
could charge up by turning a crank, a few toy robots. We snuck around
Christmas
Eve, using the camouflage on the CUs and all our skill to be unseen, and
left
one or two under the tiny Christmas tree in each house. Considering that in
some of the houses the adults were awake, talking, drinking and/or smoking
when
we slipped in and out, it was a good prank, if a bit reckless on our part.

Christmas Day, my wife went into the crowd of kids in the apartment's
parking
lot, playing with their new toys. She began handing out foil covered
home-made
chocolates to the children... and with her typical style, could not resist
using
sleight-of-hand to pull the treats from the children's ears, hair, and out
of
thin air. One of her mother's friends had been a stage magician, and he'd
done
the same thing with the kids when she was a little girl. At a certain age
she'd
talked him into teaching her to do some of the tricks, and she'd done the
same
with our daughter and her friends around Christmas time. To her, this was
just
keeping a family tradition alive. To the kids of Senora Estrada's "compound"
it
was unexpected magic.

Around the second week of January, we started getting kids visiting us. From
what I could piece out, tall tales were growing between the children that
lived
there about a Mago and his wife who was a sorceress, living in the Haunted
Barn.
Apparently they could turn invisible. Both were said to be directly
reporting
employees of Santa. The Magos kept elves chained in the barn making toys,
and
if a child got caught peeking in, they would be chained up and forced to
work on
making toys too!

Naturally, every young lad out to prove how brave he was had to sneak up and
try
to get a peek.

Sometimes the best way to keep something secret is to make it so common that
no
one cares. We greeted the kids, talked for a bit in pidgin Spanglish, and
then
told them that if they wanted to come in, then they had to have their
parent's
permission. Children should not be going into the houses of people their
parent's don't approve of, much less don't know!

That led to a few parents coming to see the gringo magos. We'd brew tea, sit
and
talk. Many of them were second or third generation Migrants, and spoke
English
fluently, if with a few extra words that most English speakers don't use.
They
understood what it was to be on the run from the INS, and figured that what
we
were on the run from was much the same. They did want to learn more about
how we
cooked IDs, and even more intriguing to them was the idea of their children
having a more upscale career than the one they had.

Even if you're not a Guild Programmer, programmers in general tend to make
more
than what Migrant Farmers make. The opportunity for them to get more of an
education for their children hung in front of them like a dangling carrot,
and
we worked out an agreement that we'd open classes in exchange for a bit of
groceries. By this point we'd been living on the canned, retorted or
dehydrated
food in the Beast's reserves for a while, and the prospect of fresh fruit
sounded wonderful. They even showed us where they managed to shop without
showing NatIDs, and I began working outside the home fixing old electronics
in
the evening to help make ends meet.

Surprisingly, Senora Estrada sent over her two granddaughters, wanting them
to
learn to read and write and code better than they were learning in school.
She
even gave us a substantial break in the rent for teaching them. I guess from
her
perspective, the rent we'd been paying had been "found money", so it was six
of
one and half dozen of the other if she used it to pay for tutoring for her
kids.


We ended up with a classroom for twenty in that old, beat up barn. We took
our
second-best tablecloth and tacked it up on the wall. It was laminated
smart-paper, so it made for a great blackboard when IR linked to one of our
wearables, and we strung cable from the Beast's data-ports to put a few PC's
we'd found in a junk yard to use. The old 400 Mhz machines weren't much for
processing, but they would run telnet, which let the kids sign onto the Unix
box
that once upon a time I used for work. The tiny 65 Gig hard drives would
barely
hold Windows-SS, so the kids even got a chance to play around with desktop
applications that they might end up using if they were to someday work in an
office.

Over the next few months, the kids got a decent education in the technical
subjects that school taught poorly, if at all, and a middling one in the
'soft'
subjects. I know the American History portion of our little school covered a
number of things that weren't in the regular classes, and there was a strong
bias toward libertarianism in our teaching. It wasn't intentional, but one
thing
that most people don't realize is that a teacher's personal feelings often
intrude on how material is presented. For this particular school, the ideas
of
being responsible for yourself, working hard, and not starting fights with
others were topics that the parents strongly approved; they were things the
parents were teaching the kids anyway, and we just meshed into what they
were
trying to impress on their children.

If society is going to come back from the mess we're in, I think it's going
to
be people like Juan Carlos, and Jose Florez, and Nita Gonzalas that will
bring
it back. The fire in those kids eyes to learn and then apply that learning
to be
productive members of society who think for themselves and rule their own
lives
helped restore my hopes for the future. The few times I'd gone into the
City,
the teenagers I'd seen left me cold; either they drove very expensive cars,
well
outside what they could afford themselves, or they worked in fast food
joints
doing mindless work for minimal pay. Since I'd taken to riding the bus into
town, I had a chance a few times to engage one in conversation. They seemed
unable to use English, and most puns went right past them. They took
everything
literally, and only seemed to have a vocabulary of about 500 words. I've
used
LAI's that were more conversational.

Some nights, during our time there, we'd use that old barn as a community
center. When something everyone wanted to see was going to be on TV, we'd
pop
popcorn and throw a party in the barn, and the Beast would push the images
to
the school's "blackboard" while pumping the sound over its external
speakers.

Sometimes it was prize fights, with the men standing up from the bales of
hay
we'd thrown around and making punching motions, as if the movements of their
arms would be telepathically transmitted to the boxers or the yelled Spanish
orders could somehow be heard by the people on the screen. Sometimes it was
the
made-for-TV miniseries that everyone would complain afterward weren't as
good as
the commercials made them out to be.

Surprisingly, one thing that people always liked was the specials on the
History Channel about early American History. These were surprisingly free
of
the usual propaganda, and seemed to push the very edge of what the FCC would
allow them to say. One night it made a little more sense when there appeared
a
pair of icons in the lower right corner of the screen, very small and at the
edge of a computer graphic explaining the Battle of Lexington. One was the
symbol that privately denoted the Guild, and the other was the icon for
'stay
hidden'.

My wife and I exchanged grins, and a high five, but I don't think anyone
there
understood why.

The winter was a pleasant break for us, for the most part. Being with
people,
families, and watching life happen around us - even including us in the
community - seemed to salve the wounds. Through the holidays, there was at
least
someone there to make us feel like the world was still alive, and that
people
were still basically decent.

When spring came the rental houses emptied and the place became a ghost
town. We
were invited to travel with them, but somehow I figured the Beast would
stand
out like a sore thumb among a bunch of rebuilt school busses. We stayed with
Senora Estrada a few more weeks, but the place wasn't the same anymore. It
was
too full of reminders of when it had been alive, and the emptiness seemed to
bring back memories of how much of our lives we'd lost in The Fire. We
decided
to move on.


Chapter 8

First, Necessitie at home, as a Remedie to an unavoyded disease, in opposing
sodiane assaults, which from Caine, pleading Antiquitie, will not now lose
their
plantation. And since Innocence is no protection against murtherous intents,
God
and Nature tollerate this Defence.

The Private School of Defense, by G. Hale Gent, written in 1614

With spring came rebirth. In our case, it was a rebirth of a pain that lay
dormant through winter and bloomed again with the warmer weather. My resolve
that having been given this 'gift' it would be churlish of me not to in turn
share it with my 'benefactors' had hardened over the winter, a bit at a time
each time I saw a parent hold a child as I would never hold mine again.

Four months had passed since the time we had fled Cleveland, and now we
found
ourselves again on the road, wondering where to go first.

West, taking a variety of back roads to parallel I-10 when near cities, or
actually using the Interstate when out in the middle of nowhere. West,
towards
Texas. Toward the old location of the Guild House.

We stopped three towns away. The news stories we'd been able to dig up
between
New Years and the time we left Senora Estrada's had named the National Guard
unit that had participated in the Burning. Getting the phone list for the
unit
hadn't been that hard, and that gave us the name and home phone number of
its
commander. With a home phone number, getting the address is a trivial
exercise.

We stopped in the town adjacent to where he lived, and went to the airport.
I
didn't need to risk the full security screening; all I did was rent a car,
using
(of course) a false ID: in this case, "Wilkes, John B."

The first thing I did after driving it off the lot was stop, pull on
surgical
gloves, and wipe down every surface I'd touched bare-handed with WD-40.
Great
stuff - it fixes all kinds of squeals and squeaks.

Then I drove for thirty minutes, and followed Lt. Col. Bishop home from
work.

The next morning, very early, I dropped the rental off before the office
opened.
That way no one saw me get out of the car with gloves on.

"Mister Wilkes" rented cars from various agencies over the next couple
weeks. No
real pattern as to which agency when. Several days would pass when he didn't
rent any. I grew to hate the hair gel and hair coloring that went with the
Wilkes Persona. The FBI has broken many cases based on finding a few hairs,
then
running DNA matches to figure out who the owner was for me not to use them
though. The hair coloring wouldn't throw them off long, but I'd been
slathering
enough gel into my hair that I doubt any could fall out even if given a
Summons
from On High.

On the average, I rented two or three times a week. No pattern at all,
unlike
Colonel Bishop, who drove home the same route during all of the 'tails',
arriving home within a few minutes of the same moment each day he was
followed.

One Thursday evening around 17:36, just as Colonel Bishop got out of his
car, a
late model car pulled up to his driveway. The driver, wearing sunglasses,
leaned
out of the window of what was obviously a rental car, waving a rental car
map
and saying, "Hey, buddy, can you give me a hand here?"

The Colonel was a nice enough fellow, when he wasn't burning buildings full
of
children, and he walked up to the car. Having spent the day doing office
work,
he was looking pretty good in a light green shirt and sage pants. His tie
was
still knotted tight to his collar, and he looked very professional. The
ribbon
for leading an assault against a domestic terrorist compound was visible
among
the other ribbons on his chest.

There is a trick you can do if you have a wearable that supports milliwave
radar. You can read the echoes off the barrel of a gun you're holding, and
then
have the wearable display a solid red line on your glasses which shows the
path
the bullet will take when you pull the trigger. This trick becomes useful
when
you want to hold a pistol on your lap, and want to shoot through a large
piece
of paper you're holding between you and your target so that the victim can't
see
the gun.

I mention this trick only in passing, of course. Not that I, as a Certified
Guild Consultant would ever use such a program to assist me in something
like
premeditated murder.

Nor would I, after firing 7 shots to the head and watching the victim
crumple
like a marionette with its strings cut, drive off. It's inconceivable that
I'd
ditch the rental car in a high crime neighborhood - after (you guessed it)
wiping down most of its surfaces with WD-40 and picking up the brass that
had
landed inside the car. I would never take a waiting taxi to an anonymous
street
corner where I would be picked up a few minutes later by my wife, who was
just
happening to be driving out of town.

That being the case, it was solely a maintenance issue that caused me to
take
the spare barrel and slide off by Glock, put the ones that the factory had
installed years ago - the ones Glock, Inc had 'fingerprinted' and turned the
chamber and slide-face prints over to the ATF. Further, it was solely a
maintenance issue that caused me to put that spare barrel on the lathe and
grind
new lands in it and polish the chamber. I also noticed the slide face on my
spare slide was dirty, so I ran the polisher on the Dremel over it for a few
minutes.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, after all, especially in the care of
firearms.


That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Premeditated murder is a qualitatively different thing from the fire-fights
we'd
been in in the past. In the other cases, you could build an argument for
self
defense. The Seminole gun-ships had fired first, and we only fired to be
able to
escape. The Land Warrior on patrol would doubtless have apprehended us (at
best) or shot us (most likely), and we'd ambushed him in order to escape.
In
those cases, there was at least some level of moral justification; we'd not
initiated force, or at least the person shot had been an intruder on land
the
Guild owned. There was some way I could rationalize it as not being "my
fault".

But the case of Colonel Bishop wasn't self defense in any immediate sense. I
think that's why I try to distance myself from it when talking about it;
wrapping the shooting and the 'Wilkes Persona' up in one bag that can be
burnt
and the ashes dumped in an muddy ditch on an empty road side.

I think it was a turning point in life. While it was part of a group of
things
that needed to be done, I'd just as soon the chain of events that fate
handed us
not have led down that path at all.

Did you know that you can melt fired brass cartridge cases in an LP gas
oven? It
ruins the pan you do it in, though. And it uses a lot of gas.


Chapter 9

The avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when he meets him, he
shall put him to death.
Numbers 35:19

I was thinking a lot about religion, for some reason, as we drove.
Programmers
are an odd bunch when it comes to religion.

Some are agnostic, operating under the theory that anything that they've
never
seen manifest is something that don't have to worry about. This is a good
rule
of thumb when trying to debug a large program: any portion of it not related
to
your problem can (probably) be ignored. Most of the time I lived in this
category.

Some look over sundry religious texts, then cataloged internal
inconsistencies
and thus decided that the text wasn't to be believed, and thus there was no
such
thing as a Divine Being. This worked right well until a more religious
programmer would point out that there were many, many internal
inconsistencies
in most software documentation, and yet the code ran.

As mentioned above, there were religious programmers. Most had somewhat
'modified' beliefs, compared to what their childhood religious instruction
had
been. Programmers can't resist tweaking code...

We drove through the night, and my mind drifted back to a Guild member, a
lady
programmer, with whom I'd spent two weeks working on a project. She fell
into
the third category: She was religious.... and she had her own theology.

Her explanation for the state of the world was "détente." Somewhere after
the
time the Jews had been taken out of Egypt, the Devil had acquired the means
to
do large scale miracles. Since then, God had done fewer and fewer as sort of
a
cosmic "Mutual Assured Destruction." The Cold War still raged, but neither
side
wanted to set the stage for Armageddon by pulling out the metaphysical
equivalent of nukes.

So one side or the other would support a person, or try to assassinate them,
or
try to start a movement. Small efforts, using angels or devils like Viet Nam
era
Green Berets, dropped behind enemy lines to train the locals into becoming
'force multipliers' in the War.

It sounds crazy, doesn't it? But it explains things like why Hitler would
spend
precious military resources on concentration camps rather than on keeping
the
war going: his goal wasn't just this war, but to shift the balance on the
number
of 'good' souls in the next generation by killing millions of innocent
people
before they raised decent, good, loving children. It explains the rise of
single
good or evil people who build large social structures around themselves
quickly.


Last but not least, it explains why God doesn't step in to prevent the death
of
someone we love. Either the mortal forces weren't close enough to react, or
reaching in with a Divine Hand and acting directly would cause The Other to
similarly escalate his actions.

As we checked into an RV Campground (as "Mr. & Mrs. Alighieri Dante") just
outside San Angelo, Texas, part of me wanted so very badly to dive into that
theology, and cloak myself in the thought that what I'd done the day before
was
"on the side of the angels." A solace to give me hope that I hadn't damned
my
soul by committing cold blooded murder. Another part, more fatalistic,
figured
that having done it once, I couldn't be any more damned if my vendetta
continued. By this point, the only way out was through, so to speak.

We camped there for several weeks, parked about 19 miles from an FCC
airbase, in
fact the very airbase which had contributed 'birds' to the attack on Xavier
School. Every electronic ear the Beast had was listening, mostly for the
chatter
from the airbase, but we tracked the news story about the murder, of course.
In
the end, the guy across the street had been blamed. A 'routine' search of
the
neighborhood had found a 9mm pistol in the guy's house, and the police used
Occam's Razor after that. Anyone guilty of breaking the law on FOPA must be
a
murderous dog, right?

With luck the guy would get off with some kind of suspended sentence when
they
finally got around to running the ballistics on the gun. I hoped so, anyway.
It
was just a guilty conscience trying to rationalize things. Someone else was
suffering for my crime, but I couldn't exactly email the police and say,
"Excuse
me, gents, but you've got the wrong man."

Tracking the chatter of aircraft wasn't as useful as we had hoped. Anything
tactical was digitally encrypted, and the keys were not something we could
easily break. My wife suspected they were some kind of one-time pad, burnt
to CD
for each mission. All we could do was track the transmitter on the Beast's
radio direction finders, and try to triangulate. The Beast had separate
sensor
packages at the front and rear under the theory that if one was destroyed,
the
other would still be there. Serendipitously, it gave us the ability to
triangulate signals.

While communication once is flight was over a secure connection, the
take-off
and landings were done, per FAA regulation, on non-encrypted channels. This
made
sense - having aircraft crash into one another because someone was on a
different security network than you would be embarrassing. Those
transmissions
we could track, and we made a list of call signs, each tagged to a short
sound
file of the pilot talking. From there we started making schedules of when
certain people and aircraft had flown, and looked for patterns.

After three weeks, we'd found almost nothing. Unlike a certain National
Guard
Colonel's personal life, the airbase was not run by the clock, but by
events,
most of them pretty much random.

We did find out the 'base' was a combined effort of the FCC, FAA and EPA.

The FAA had shut down private aviation years ago, citing the "terrorist
threat
of pilots who could just jump into planes without being searched for
weapons." A
couple of TV specials and a miniseries where Arab terrorists took over a
private
airport and mounted VX canisters on the planes did the trick for turning
public
opinion. The innocent people at the private airport were the first to die,
and
one actor in the series had delivered a monologue about "if only they hadn't
had
those planes, the terrorists never would have attacked them."

There were some people, mostly private pilots, who complained. Quick IRS
investigations showed unaccounted for financial gains in their accounts. The
pilots couldn't prove it wasn't drug money, and their planes and homes were
seized. Soon after that people go the message.

Within three months, houses in fly-in communities had a severe drop in
value, as
well as the problem people had with planes they had sunk money into, but
which
they could no longer fly or sell.

The government took pity on them, though, and bought out the houses and the
aircraft. Twenty cents on the dollar, sure, but it was still more than
anyone
else was offering the owners. Soon, every department and agency had a
swell
place to store aircraft, as well as land and launch them, plus comfortable
houses to be used as offices (or dacha) right next door. In many cases,
the
department even had bright shiny new airplanes to play with.

The little airbase outside San Angelo was one of these. Originally it was a
getaway location for wealthy Texans; now its eleven houses along a 2300'
runway
were used by "the people."

We rented a nice Buick sedan (under the name "William Durant"), and drove
past
the place. Both of us had the video cams on our wearables going, of course,
and
we got some good footage. There was the normal thousand-foot perimeter
fence,
designed to keep anyone at least that far from the place. It had the normal
chain link with regular anti-ram reinforced poles, razor wire on top, and
the
normal signs. We'd expected that.

Review of the video files over the next three days, however, showed us
something
we'd missed. When the place had been privately owned, each homeowner kept a
50
or 100 gallon tank of fuel in their hanger to top off the planes. This
practice
was considered inefficient and dangerous by the 'new owners', who decided to
instead install a large, 500 gallon tank off to side of the runway, on a
paved
refueling area. This area was well out of the path of the runway, and well
out
of the area where a plane crash would hit it. Since the planes had to come
to
it, there was no fence around it.

That tank had possibilities.... but those thoughts were put on hold about
half
way through the video when I found myself saying, "Son of a bitch! I know
that
guy!" In the middle of the display was a man in his early thirties, smiling
and
joking with the pilot of the old Piper Warrior he was boarding. Last time
I'd
seen him, we'd both been wearing Guild Blacks, and drinking Cokes at 4AM
while
we waited for the Pharmacy Department to verify that the messages my
computer
was sending to the automated pharmacist he'd coded were being interpreted
correctly.

This man was no prisoner. That raised some very interesting questions.

We started working backwards, trying to tie the tail number on the plane to
the
call sign used at take off. The Beast was recording while we were gone, and
it
was just a matter of matching up the time stamps on the video and the radio
recordings. We had a picture of the plane with the tail number N7746U doing
its
engine run-up before take off at 11:17:08, and a request for clearance from
"Bronco" at 11:17:14. After that, we just to track "Bronco's" non-scrambled
transmissions. That led us to the issue that the plane had turned
north-east
after take off, and hadn't returned the same day.

One problem at a time, though. We'd figure out who he was sooner or later,
and
then we'd have to have a talk with him. If he was talking to the Feds so
cheerfully, surely he'd converse with a fellow member of his profession. One
way
or the other.

We discussed a number of options for revenging ourselves upon the air base.

The most straight-forward was discarded almost immediately. Driving the
Beast
through the same route we'd taken with the rental car and firing the 40/50
into
the fuel tank might work, especially if the second and third rounds were
modified to have some incendiary components. That would, however, use up all
the
remaining 40/50 ammo. It would also expose us to any aircraft that were
already
in the air - and there were three Seminoles stationed there.

The second thought was to build some kind of disposable mortar, drop it off
in
the dead of night, and drive on. Hours later, the mortar would fire a salvo
of
bombs. By the time it fired, we'd be far, far away. The problem there was
that
there wasn't any place within the range of the mortar we could build that
would
be good for hiding it.

If we had something like a Steyr AMR or a M82, then we'd just sit out about
a
mile away and shoot holes in the fuel tank with API ammo until there was a
"boom" sound. There were places where a person in CUs could hide long enough
to
escape the notice of the aircraft, then slip out undetected before the
ground-pounders showed up. However, that plan went up the creek - the only
gun
we had like that was the 40/50, and it weighed in at 750 pounds. Not exactly
what you would call "man portable." Heck, it didn't even have human-operable
controls, just servos. I played around with using the M1891 to take the
shot,
but the lightweight 62 grain bullet would "float" too much with the wind to
have
a chance of making a hit at that distance.

We spent several hours trying to figure out how to deal with the problem. In
the
end we couldn't figure out a single direct attack on the place that had a
high
probability of succeeding, without us getting killed in the process.

So we decided to cheat.

We visited a local truck stop, around midnight, in CUs, slipping through the
fence and ignoring the pair of National Guardsmen that were playing cards at
the
front gate while waiting for truckers. The goal was to get a closer look at
the
nozzle of a tank truck.

Our time looking for patterns in the flights of airplanes had left us with
nothing usable tactically, but one rather interesting thing strategically.
There
were almost exactly the same number of pilot flight hours each week.
Curiously,
this number was just slightly over the minimum for the pilots to get bonus
flight pay for the week, with the even more interesting item that the hours
were
almost perfectly divided so that all the pilots got the bonus pay.

Flying uses fuel. Flying almost exactly the same number of hours a week
means
the fuel gets used at a predictable rate. Which means a tank truck comes by
to
refuel every Friday. We saw the truck show up twice over the next couple
weeks,
then pulled a smart card report for the company that sold them the fuel.
They
had made the same sale every Friday for the past 4 months.

We had to invade the company's computer to verify it was the same truck each
time, and get the driver's name. From there we pulled information about the
driver's use of his smart card. He delivered every Friday between 13:30 and
13:55; and there was an entry at a luncheonette about a 20 miles from the
base
time stamped between 12:55 and 13:15 each Friday.

No matter what, someone in every organization falls into a pattern. Patterns
are
important.

That 'pattern concept' led us to being up and about at 0-dark-hundred Monday
night / Tuesday morning, taking close up digital photos of a tank truck
fuelling
nozzle. With the National Guardsmen in BDUs and relying on the electronics
in
their little guard shack, slipping in and out was no real problem. The Guard
had
gotten sloppy on security over the years as their mission was expanded from
airports to train stations to truck stops to random state border crossings
to
permanent posts at major interstate junctions. With no major terrorist
strikes
in the past 9 years, the security patrols had gotten 'stale', too routine to
be
effective.

When we got back to the Beast, we got out the styrofoam cups, and some white
glue. My wife spent took two days using the expertise she'd learned from her
father concerning wood working to build our device. Many of the details of
how
it should were vague, and she relied on a lot of trial and error to
carefully
cut, mold and glue, but in the end it not only held together, but didn't
melt.
Prematurely, anyway.

The styrofoam container had an outside diameter just smaller than the inside
diameter of the nozzle that it would be slipped into. Inside, it was divided
into two compartments.

The upper compartment contained powdered "fudge" my wife had made from sugar
and
potassium chlorate.

The lower had a shot glass full of concentrated sulfuric acid, capped by a
disc
of styrofoam attached to the top of the shotglass with tub & tile caulking.

The outside of the whole package had a few strips of double sided tape to
hold
it in place when it was installed and ready to go.

That Friday, my wife had lunch at Kathy's Kountry Kitchen, wearing her
prettiest
clothes and using her 'social engineering' skills to keep as many eyes in
the
place on her as possible. Meanwhile, I slipped our device into the nozzle
that
the fuelling truck used. A moment later, I ran into a problem.

The truck I'd measured at the truck stop was one that dispensed gasoline and
diesel to vehicles at construction sites. It wasn't a full tank truck, but a
smaller one intended to do a variety of services. I had assumed that the
truck
delivering fuel to the air base would be similar.

When you assume....

This truck had a bigger hose and wider nozzle on it. The device slid into
the
nozzle - and then slid out. The double sided tape never even touched the
inside
of the nozzle, and the device slid right out into my hand. I stood there
stupidly for a moment, looking at it and thinking, "I've never had a size
problem before."

Fortunately, I had more tape. I put a few extra loops around the device to
make
up the difference, and slipped it in. It stuck in there right well. No
wiggling
at all. That should have been a clue that this device wasn't going to work
quite the way I'd planned it. Things were too far along to do much about it,
though. I was getting a little nervous hanging around out here, so I
skeedadled
before someone started asking questions.

My wife met me after the truck driver had left, and we crossed our fingers.
There was still a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I'd done
something
incorrectly, though.

The intention was that the driver would stick the nozzle into the tank at
the
air base, squirt the gas, and that would push the device into the tank.
There,
it would take a little while for the styrofoam to melt in the gasoline.
Finally,
the acid and the chlorate would mix, starting a fire. By that time Mr.
Truck
Driver would be long gone, and the casualties would be minimal. Lots of
material
damage, limited loss of life.

From the description of the fire marshal on the news a few days later, that
isn't what happened. They didn't have the whole story, but between what was
on
the news and what I knew I'd done, I could piece it together.

The excess of double sided tape had caused the device to lodge in the
nozzle.
The force of the gasoline flow had caused the "fudge" to slam through the
styrofoam disk at the mouth of the shot glass, causing ignition while the
device
was still in the nozzle.

I imagine that cleared the obstruction in the nozzle double quick.

The flame-thrower firing into a three-quarter empty tank caused a fuel-air
explosion.

The back-blast hit the truck's tank. Since he'd already made all his morning
deliveries, it was about half-empty.... or half-full depending on how you
view
such things. Either way you look at it, half of the tank contained air and
av-gas vapors. Those vapors went off, causing a second fuel-air explosion.

Sometimes overkill isn't intentional. I never intended the truck driver to
be
immolated, and that will always weigh on me. On the other hand, the fireball
crippled every aircraft on the base, and burnt down 10 of the 11 houses.

So far our plan for revenge was taking down one innocent with each action we
took. Pretty soon, our hands would be as dirty as the hands of those we were
fighting. A change of plan was indicated.



Chapter 10

All bits are significant. Some bits are more significant than others.
Charles Babbage Orwell

We had been reacting, lashing out rather than really thinking things through
and
trying to come to a long-range plan. As my wife and I drove out of Texas in
the
middle of the night, we discussed the last couple operations, and decided
that
this business of getting bystanders in trouble could not be allowed to
continue.
We also thought things through, and realized that starting at the bottom and
working up meant that there would be a whole lot of work to be done before
meaningful political change occurred.

We also ruled out an attempt on the people at the very top of government; a
lone, mad, assassin rarely caused political change, no matter how big a boom
he
caused.

Our enemy wasn't the people in the system, but the system itself. We'd
killed
the people who were right at the point, pulling the trigger on our loved
ones,
but the system still rolled on unchanged. In the grand scheme of things,
we'd
gained nothing.

There were still FCC auditors at each media outlet, to insure the accuracy
of
the news.

The government still had FCC gunships that hunted down pirate radio
transmitters.

Ten percent of the population still faced a sixty percent or greater tax
burden,
which choked out growth in the economy.

Five percent of the population still faced a ninety percent tax rate.

One percent of the population no longer got any of the money they made, and
were
forced to live off the principle of their investments until they were back
under
the legal limits on wealth. In some cases, they were caught in a Catch-22.
One
VP at Charles Schwab, for example, was told by the SEC that he was required
to
remain at work during his "spend-down", since his taking a sabbatical would
influence the stock market.

Fifty three percent of the population lived off the dole. They depended on
an
entrenched government that was willing to redistribute the wealth. I'm not
saying there was fifty three percent unemployment, not by a long shot.
There
were millions of people who worked in minimum wage jobs, pulling in $10 an
hour
for 1500 hours a year or so. Then they got a 'tax refund' of $6000 in April,
after paying $1700 or so over the course of the year. The six grand paid off
the
credit cards that supported their life style the rest of the year, allowing
them
to run the bill up again over the next twelve months. Sometimes they got a
'tax
rebate check' just in time for Christmas shopping, especially in years when
the
economy needed a boost. That fifty-three percent could be counted on to vote
for
whichever candidate promised to stick it to the rich guy hardest, while
giving
the little guy "relief from the tax burden."

Under the 'Enron Law', expanded in 2037, every business of over 10 employees
had
to leave their 'books' open to SEC and IRS audits on a monthly basis, and
pay
for the auditor's time as well. The auditors were allowed to make
'suggestions'
on how to keep the business profitable. Banks that loaned businesses money
in
the twentieth century could say, "We won't loan you more money unless you
sell
the unprofitable division of your company" or "We won't loan you money
unless
you lay off 200 people." Then, the company usually had a choice. They could
make
do without the loan, or look for another lender, float bonds, sell stock, or
do
what the bank asked. Now, the auditors would 'suggest' a change in the
company's business plan to insure profits and thus make sure there wasn't
another Enron Disaster. If you didn't take the suggestion, they would do a
more
comprehensive audit to see if they'd made a mistake in the first one. Again,
you'd pay for the auditor's time. Most companies couldn't survive two audits
back-to-back. The bankruptcy was considered "proof" that the management had
been
wrong, and should have implemented the auditor's suggestion in the first
place.
The former owners of the business usually had little to say as they were
hauled
off on embezzlement and criminal malfeasance charges.

The people were still disarmed... except for the criminals who provided New
York
City with a gun-crime rate six times higher than it had in 2001. New York
City
and gun crime should have been a clue long ago for the Powers That Be to the
effect that the Sullivan Act didn't work. Expanding it into a nation-wide
law
hadn't done any better, but they stuck in there, with the BATF having a
budget
second only to the national debt.

The BATF and local police still conducted "searches" based on anonymous tip
lines and the Magistrate-Assistants that answered them and wrote the warrant
out
while still on the phone with the anonymous tipster. Generally the
auto-trace
on the anonymous tip-lines meant the tipster got searched not long after...
since they must be involved with criminal activity if they know about it,
right?

People were still elected to local offices, but with the states, counties
and
cities competing for Federal grants, they were more interested in what D.C.
told them to do than what the people who elected them wanted.

US Customs and Homeland Security were on the job guarding our borders. On
the
other hand, drug smuggling into the US hadn't dropped much, and now the
gunrunners were also in business. If smugglers still got in, how effective
were
they at stopping the terrorists that we had been getting weekly threat
warnings
on for the last few decades?

The system stunk.

How do you effectively fight the system, though?

That question kept coming around. Once a police state is in place, it's
difficult to uninstall. We could try building a popular movement, fomenting
a
civil war. How many innocent bystanders would be killed or hurt in that
though?
Could we live with that?

It is ironic that it was during this conversation about police states that I
noticed the blue flashing lights in the rear-view.

We pulled over, of course. Not pulling over would have led to road blocks,
air
support, and in general more problems than we needed. We'd try to talk our
way
out of this, if we could.

I let the Beast listen in and decode his call in to HQ that he was pulling
us
over. My wife's fingers flew over the keys on her keyboard during those few
seconds, and I just hoped she'd be quick enough.

The cop walked up to the driver's side of the Beast, his HK slung at his
side in
the politically correct almost-threatening mode. He sauntered, trying to
build
fear in the people he'd be interrogating. His mirror-polished black leather
boots caught the moonlight with each step, and each step ended in a sharp
boot-heel click as his feet hit the shoulder of the road. The heavy flack
vest
had "POLICE" in bright yellow electro-pigment on it. That was a good sign -
if
he actually thought there was going to be shooting, he'd turn that off and
go
flat-black.

His approach was designed to take a couple minutes, time to build maximum
tension in the car he'd pulled over. Fear was his friend. Fear wasn't in
the
Beast that night - more like relief. His melodrama gave us more time to get
ready.

He tapped on the window-glass, and I rolled it down. The faceplate on his
helmet
was a dark mirror as he started to demand my NatID, registration, proof of
insurance, and route-passport.

He only got three words out before I interrupted.

"No, you can't have that."

He paused. I couldn't see his face - the mirrored surface is designed to
intimidate, as well as limiting identification for reprisals. The tilt of
his
head definitely indicated that I had not responded the way he expected, and
for
that one moment he was trying to re-adjust from being "in charge" to being
lectured.

I decided to continue. I spoke slowly, deliberately, drawing each word out
like
I was lecturing a five year old: "This vehicle and its occupants are
involved in
an operation related to Homeland Security. You are not cleared for knowledge
of
this operation, nor are you in a position where you have need-to-know about
the
operation. You have neither clearance nor need-to-know what our identities
are.
You aren't even cleared to know what level clearance you would need to find
out
any of those things. "

Finally, the information my wife was hunting for came up in the corner of my
glasses. I moved in for the kill: "Officer Purowitz, you have not pleased
the
Federal Government by your activities this evening. James Earl Purowitz,
524
Mockingbird Lane, Apartment 227, you have not pleased anyone tonight. I am
not
happy. My associates are not happy. In a few minutes, that displeasure will
spill onto the desk of Sargent Jackson. I do not think he will be happy.
When he
cans your sorry ass, your wife Melanie will not be happy. Your children will
no
longer go to private school. They will be educated in the homeless shelter,
because no other department in the US will hire you. Your precious
Certificate
of Completion of Law Enforcement Training, from Logansville Community
College
will be useless to you forevermore."

I turned to him and smiled. I waited for it.... timing is everything.

"The one thing you can do to make me happy right now is to not say a word.
Don't
even nod agreement. I do not want any kind of communication from you. Turn
around. Go to your car. Get in. Call in and let the station know you're
letting
the person off with a warning. Do not tell your partner Doris what I have
told
you. Do not talk about this over Coors Lights at O'Malleys. Forget you ever
saw
me."

I waited. He didn't know my finger had been on the switch for the driver's
door
bee-hive since he'd gotten out of his car. If he raised the HK, I was going
to
cut him in half.

I raised an eyebrow.

He turned around and walked back to his car.

I rolled up the window, and we continued our drive.

The really nice part of that interaction was that I never actually lied to
him.
Our operations were related to Homeland Security - just not in a positive
way.
He had no need-to-know at all what we were doing, mostly because if he knew,
he'd want to arrest us. That would lead to me pushing the switch on the
bee-hive, and a 4 ounce charge of explosives would send hundreds of steel
slivers out in a spray toward poor officer Purowitz. I suspected that
Sargent
Jackson would be unhappy if I'd used the bee-hive and blown up one of his
officers. I suspected that after Officer Purowitz was blown up, he would no
longer have a job. If he were blown up, then he would not get jobs in the
future. If he were blown up, his wife would be upset. I suspected that if
the
QuAils knew how he'd handled the situation, the FedGov would be angry with
him.

Last (but most importantly), just as I had told him, he had made me very
happy
when he drove off. To me, that was the real priority.

Sometimes, "honesty is the best policy." Sincerity is important too. Once
you
can fake sincerity, you're home free.

The major problem with a police state that has too many "stove pipe"
agencies is
the lack of communication and control between the agencies. Nobody knows who
works for what agency. Everyone wants to keep secrets. The people who are
actually on the front line are more interested in keeping their jobs than in
doing them.

Officer Purowitz, by the book, should have demanded my ID. His concern about
losing his job overrode his obligation to do his job.

That may be the greatest advantage of the Guild (such as what was left.) We
all
worked for ourselves, so no one could fire us. We didn't give a hoot about
rules
other than the ones we made.



Chapter 11

All Nicaraguans who love their country and cherish liberty - men, women,
young
and old people, farmers and workers alike - surely ask themselves what they
can
do with the means at their disposal, in order to participate in the final
battle
against the usurpers of the authentic sandinista revolution for which the
people
of Nicaragua have fought and shed their blood for so many years. Some might
think that today's armed struggle requires military supplies and economic
resources only available to states of terrorist bands armed by Moscow. There
is
an essential economic infrastructure that any government needs to function,
which can easily be disabled and even paralyzed, without the use of
armaments or
costly and advanced equipment, with the small investment of resources and
time.

United States Central Intelligence Agency "Freedom Fighter's Manual"
distributed
in Nicaragua in the 1980s.


We stopped in the middle of nowhere in Oklahoma, and camped for the day at
an
unattended interstate rest stop. My wife and I were getting too tired to
keep
driving, and we decided to call an 8 or 10 hour rest and get naps before
continuing to drive. The rest stop was deserted at ten in the morning, so
finding a spot lined up for a quick escape was no problem. After a quick
snack,
we settled down.

I sat in the bed, her head resting on my thigh as she slept. I was sleepy,
but
still paranoid enough that I didn't want both of us asleep. The Beast had
been
told to tell us when 4 hours was up, and then she and I would trade places.

The four hours went by uneventfully. I used the time to mull over the
question
of what to do next, and still kept drawing blanks.

She got up and started making a late lunch as I rolled over to doze.

Sometimes, the solution to your problems comes when you stop looking for it.
I
fell asleep, deeply, dreaming intensely, and according to my wife's later
commentary, snoring like a big brown bear. During those twilight moments on
the
edge of wakefulness a few hours later, it came to me.

The only time the Guild ever really hurt the system was on the first day,
back
in September, when everyone unleashed their Doomsday Codes. Our attacks
after
that had been personal issues, striking in ways that were very destructive
tactically, but strategically pretty much unnoticed.

The main reason the members of the Guild could come and go as they pleased
was
that Government as we knew it was a stove-pipe organization. Agency A did
not
talk to Bureau B. Bureau B did not share information with Commission C and
never, ever even mention the existence of Department D to anyone in A, B or
C.
The Office of Homeland Security was supposed to solve that problem, but what
it
ended up doing was adding another layer of crosstalk, further slowing
communications. At the same time, all the groups that (in theory) reported
to it
added more personnel and expanded their operations to justify a budget
increase.


That stove-pipe organization made the government slow and unwieldy to
respond.
It was like a huge hammer, hard to swing but impossible to stop once in
motion.
The organizational style also made the thing almost impossible to break by
attacking any one pipe. The other pipes would continue to flow, not even
noticing that one had been dented.

However, the thought crossed my mind while I was dozing that the American
People
were once a similar creation. Every business took care of things their own
way.
Macy's didn't talk to Gimbals. Each individual person took care of his own
life
without consulting anyone else.

That changed when government slowly took control of the flow of information.
Knowledge truly was power. The only limiting factors were knowing how to
learn
what you needed to know to deal with a specific problem, and how to put that
knowledge, once gained, to use.

For nearly two generations, the group dealing with the movement of data was
the
Guild - at least when it came to the more complicated movement of data. If
there was anyone in a position to take the route of an information war, it
would
be the scattered Guild members, wherever they were.

While the Guild was scattered, most of us had a few parting gifts that might
be
useful. In the past, informal teams had formed within the Guild, so that if
one
member of the team were unavailable, another in that group could support a
client who had a problem. Someone would cover for me when I was neck-deep
in a
project and couldn't get out. I might cover for them a month later when they
were sick, or needed to take a weekend of for their son's wedding.

In order to facilitate that transfer of projects, those informal teams would
share copies of project specs and notes. Sometimes, on particularly large
projects, an entire team would ask another team to back them up, sharing
info on
the project as they did.

I still had those files. Not just my projects were in there, but the
projects of
the 5 other people in my "cell", and the two people who had retired from our
cell to 'go legit', plus the one that had had an 'accident' soon after the
QuAils caught her two years ago. All that data was buried in the Belly of
the
Beast. Much of it I'd never really read, just skimmed over, due to the
volume of
it all.

In general, each file had the IP addresses and VPN information for the
client,
to let you get a connection to their machine. There were also the user IDs
and
passwords the client had created for the Consultant, plus the backdoors he
or
she had put in once on the system so they could get in later if they had to.
That only took up a page or so; the bulk of the rest was details about what
the
client wanted changed, and why, and what it was supposed to do. Typically,
there was also a two to five page document explaining the train of thought
that
the programmer was following when he developed the code. Enough for you to
get
an idea of where they were going so you wouldn't be caught blind if the
project
were suddenly dumped in your lap.

Now it was time to find somewhere to sit and read. I wasn't sure exactly
what
was buried in all those files, but I knew I wanted to look through them more
diligently. There was just the problem of finding time to do it.

We drove north for two more nights, driving during the times when there
would be
a minimum of people on the road and we'd not have to worry about traffic
jams.

We stopped a few times, looking for fuel and food. We avoided cities as best
we
could, and used back roads when crossing state lines. One of those border
crossings turned out in our favor; we were driving down an old country road,
and
noticed that one of the ranches had the old hobo symbol for "here live very
hospitable people." Deciding to take a chance, we pulled up to the gate and
parked the Beast.

I hopped out, wearing my old suit, and waited a bit. Finally an old couple
looking like they should be in that famous painting came down to the gate.

"Hello, " I said.

The man put his arm around his wife, and held her to his side as he said,
"Howdy."

"I was wondering if you folks had any produce you might want to sell. My
wife
and I are travelling, and we need to refill out pantry."

The man nodded, then said, "Depends." He had a bit of a drawl, like someone
from
an old cowboy movie.

"Oh. Well, I'd think that out here you folks wouldn't have a smartcard
reader
handy, so do you think we might be able to work out some kind of barter?"

The man cracked a hint of a smile. "Got one. Broke a few minutes ago.
Groceries
for the two of ye?"

I smiled back, "Yes, just her and I. " I looked up at the Beast's
windshield,
and caught my wife's eye. She came out as I resumed talking.

"We've been on the road quite a while, and some real food would be a big
improvement on the stuff we've been picking up at truck stops."

I could see the wheels turn in his head; he knew darn well why we weren't
taking
the Interstate. I wasn't prepared for the snap decision.

"Bring your truck up to the barn. You can park there for the day, and have
lunch
with us."

Lunch was a wonderful farmhouse meal. We ate and talked for a couple hours,
and
it was wonderful to be able to let our hair down a bit.

Finally, the old woman asked me, "Who are you running from?"

My wife and I traded looks for a second - do we tell, and how much do we
tell -
before my wife started telling our tale of woe.

It turned out the pair had lost a son during the Militia Roundups. He'd been
a
good boy (in his late 30s, but to them still a boy) who had decided that the
country had changed too much from the stories his parents and grandparents
had
told him to the stories he heard on the nightly news. He'd gone off and
joined
the Militias... and had the bad timing to do so just three months before the
Roundups. They hadn't heard from him since.

The old man did look me over, and came to the decision I was trustworthy.
"My
son," he began, "told me the password for the Militia was to name a famous
American who had died at the hands of the enemy. The countersign was for the
other person to name someone with the same first name. "

That seemed an important piece of information.... and it would eventually be
useful.

I spent that evening straightening out their home computer, and the next day
helping them with some chores around the farm. They had a list of them that
took
two or three people in good health to do, and Martha (the farmer's wife)
just
wasn't strong enough to handle some of them. By the second evening we were
there, I was beat. Exhausted. On the other hand, it was the kind of worn out
that comes with a day of good exercise, the kind that makes you sleep well
at
night.

My wife had talked them into letting her cook that night, and giving Martha
the
night off, so she got to sneak out of the farm work around three thirty. I
didn't complain in the least - I had noticed that early that morning she'd
moved
four ostrich mingeons from the deep freeze to the fridge in the Beast so
they
could defrost. The bottle of 1998 Valley of the Moon Cabernet Sauvignon on
the
kitchen counter was also an indication of a fine meal later that evening.

We gave them some shotgun shells, some home-brew cordials (a spin-off of my
wife's wine hobby), and I burnt some DVDs of old movies and music from back
when
the old married couple had been a pair of dating teenagers. In exchange,
they
loaded our fridge with fresh veggies, and topped off our fuel tank with gas
they'd stored for the old Ford tractor.

We continued heading north. We didn't make very good time, and spent a lot
of
hours taking back roads and avoiding Homeland Security checkpoints.

Eventually, we were in that homeland of the mal-contents, Montana. Once
famed
for its militias - most of which had been wiped out over the last 20 years -
it
still was 'Big Sky Country', with wide open, unused, spaces that most people
ignored because there just wasn't anything out that law enforcement found
worth
the fuel to go investigate.

Finally, we picked a spot up in the mountains and parked. I got out and put
the
untended ground sensors out, making a circle of about a quarter mile radius
around the Beast. Then it was time to sit down and read.

Things changed on the third night after we parked, just as we were sitting
down
to dinner - such as it was. The months on the road had brought out food
stores
to hard times, and we were settling for bagels with cream cheese and smoked
salmon. The salmon had been packed in a plastic baggy, vacuum sealed and
irradiated. For want of a better phrase, it was "KRE - Kosher, Ready to
Eat."
Picture it as the Jewish Delicatessen version of an MRE, with all the
dietary
attractiveness that goes with that image. The tomato slices were fresh
though;
barter from the farmer we'd visited a few days before. The rest of the
tomatoes
had been cut up and added to the lettuce that had come from the same source,
along with a few other veggies. Farm fresh veggies make the best salads.
Unfortunately, we were getting near the bottom of the wine cellar, so it was
a
Sutter Home white zinfandel that we were sipping when the Beast decided to
shift
to "battle red" lighting.

I looked down at the table cloth, and the Beast was showing a map of the
surrounding area, with one of the sensor modules flashing a red "7" next to
it -
indicating the number of warm bodies it had detected within its zone.

Dinner was postponed as we threw on CU jackets over our street clothes, then
grabbed weapons. My wife went up to the driver's seat of the Beast as I
hopped
out of the door, sprinted 8 long paces, and then dove for cover, just in
case.

I kept my sensors passive, while she warmed up the Beast's - if anyone were
out
here, they probably already had a fair idea where the Beast was due to it's
communication with the sensor packages. That left my wife in the position of
being safe under cover, but under a cover that was obvious in the EM bands
even
though it was fairly well camouflaged from sight. Trade offs, trade offs,
but
it was the safest I could get her.

I let the Beast feed me sensor information as I moved to dog-leg the
straight
line between the Beast and the sensor that had gone off. I wanted to find a
good
ambush spot to see who was coming to visit. I'd gone perhaps 400 feet
before I
found a large rock outcropping to snuggle up against. It gave partial cover
in
the direction I figured the enemy was coming from, and it was a color the
CUs
electo-pigment could mimic, so I managed to blend in pretty well.

I chambered a round on the M1891, then sighted down the direction the
Beast's
untended sensors said there were 7 IR sources. I waited there, just after
sunset, listening for movement.... and hearing not a thing.

Finally, worry got the best of my judgment. I launched a set of four
milliwave
pulses.

A moment later I heard the whistle of bullets going overhead, and felt the
impact of them on the rocks around me a few fractions of a second before
hearing
the "bang!" - a very distinctive bang, one that did not sound like any
current
issue military weapon I'd heard before. The firing sounded very much like
old
AK-47s.

I lay there hiding, and sent commands to both my wearable and the Beast. The
four pulses had been enough to get a rough location on the rifles. The area
around that spot was flooded with milliwave radar pulses, from both me and
the
Beast, to the degree that I could 'read' all seven rifles - all had bores
between seven and eight millimeters, all had metal magazines, and all had
wooden
stocks.

The military hasn't issued a thirty caliber rifle with a wooden stock in
about a
hundred years.

I sat there thinking for a moment, and then yelled out, "Tom Paine!"

There was some rustling in the dark, and a moment later someone yelled,
"Jefferson! Who goes there?"

I replied, "Call me Tom, because if I'm wrong about who I think you guys
are,
I'm about to give my one life for my country. Listen, I'm going to clear my
rifle and lean it up against this rock where you can see it. Then I'll step
out
in the open. I think we really need to talk."

I flipped the bolt on the '91 six times, pocketing the five ejected rounds
each
time. The last flip of the bolt was just for safety's sake. Then I held the
rifle high, and put it on the boulder I'd been hiding behind. Then I flipped
the
CU's hood off my face. It was a real leap of faith to stand up. Part of me
could remember all too well the bloody mess that had been the head of the
Land
Warrior I'd shot, and in my mind's eye I could just see me lying on the
ground
with what looked like a glob of hamburger for a head.

I walked out into the clearing, hands out, away from my sides, and waited.

After a couple minutes, a couple guys in BDUs, carrying AKs came out,
covering
me. One of them had a partial headset - like my wearable's glasses, but it
looked more primitive, more rough-and-ready. I figured he was the one that
caught the milliwave pulses.

"Gentlemen, " I said, "I think we can do some business. I suspect that we're
in
a similar line of work - and this could be the start of a wonderful
project."

They looked at me the way clients always look at you when you start a sales
pitch.

"Look, I think you guys are from the Montana Militia. I figure that when the
Feds came up here, you managed to slip out and head up here where it's
quiet.
This is the best hiding area within 30 miles, so it's natural we both picked
it."

I could make out a nod from one of them in the gathering darkness. "I'd
allow as
how that might be the case," came a gravelly drawl, "but that still doesn't
say
anything about who you are. "

"Well, sir, " I said, "you remember hearing about that Xavier School the
Feds
burnt a few months ago? I used to work there, and I had family that were
still
there. I've been on the run for quite a while, hitting back when I could,
and
now I need to sit back and plan for a bit. "

There was a non-committal grunt. "Mister, we ain't seen the TV in near on a
year. Only contact we've got with the outside world is an old Baygen radio,
and
it doesn't pick up too many stations out here in BFE. All I do know is
you've
got something damn close to Land Warrior gear, and you know a pass-phrase.
You
have any other bona fides for me to go on?"

I thought for a second, then said, "I've got something in my pocket that
might
help. Can I reach for it real slow?"

"Yeah - but nothing stupid. We can head-shoot you no problem at this
distance."

Again that mental image of being a hamburger-head. Just what I needed at a
time
like this.

I pulled out five NatIDs, all with my face on them, and handed them to one
of
the guys. The guy that had been speaking took them, then used an old
angle-head
flashlight with a red filter to look at them and then at me.

"Well," he said, "Seeing how anal the Feds are about these things being
one-per-customer, I doubt they'd hand a whole poker-hand of them out. I'm
Mike
Morrison.... "

He held out his hand. I took it, "Call me Tom Rapide." I gave it the French
pronunciation. I looked them over. You could tell they'd been out in the
bush
for quite a while. "Would you guys like a shower and a meal?"

I gathered up my rifle, and we walked back to the Beast. My wife had been
listening the whole time over my wearable, so she had cold drinks ready when
we
got there.



Chapter 12

Gilb's Laws of Unreliability
1. Computers are unreliable. Humans are worse.
2. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable.
3. Undetectable errors are infinite in variety. Detectable errors do
not
exist, unless a deadline is less than three hours away.
4. Investment in reliability will increase until it exceeds the
probable
cost of errors, or until someone insists on getting some real work done.

Programmer Lore

Mike Morrison sat down on the far side of the dinner table from me, his
brown
hair still damp and dripping a bit down his face. I'd dug through our
clothes
bin and found clothes for the guys to wear while we ran their BDU's through
our
washer/dryer. From where I was sitting, Mike was a whole lot more personable
when he didn't smell like he'd been in the bush for a few months.

We'd shifted things around in the Beast enough that the table would seat
four.
Mike and his second sat on one side of the table. The rest of his men were
taking turns using up our water reserve getting clean - not that I begrudged
them for it. From six feet away you were well aware that it was a mitzvah to
give such a fellow a chance at a hot shower. With soap. Lots of soap.

My wife set soup and salad on the table and then slid in next to me. The
men
had been living on roots they'd found, small game they'd snared, and a
couple of
deer they'd bagged and smoked. Farm fresh produce and lobster bisque from a
can
was a change of pace.

Mike spoke up, "Thank you for your hospitality, Mrs. Rapide."

My wife smiled, and took his hand, "Actually, Mike, my NatID says Mary
Nestor."
Her smile got a little wider after using the name and watching Mike's eyes
slowly work through the fact that she'd not said that was her name either.

To be honest, I have to stop and think for a while to remember my real name.
I
suspect my wife has the same problem.

Mike grunted an amused grunt, then said, "Well, then, I'll just call you
Mary.
Your husband said there was a bit of work that might benefit us. Would you
mind
interrupting this wonderful dinner with some shop talk?"

My wife shook her head no, smiled one of her pearly grins, and explained
further. "We often discuss what to do next over meals when it's just us. No
reason it should change just because we have company tonight."

I cleared my throat, and launched into my spiel.

"Mike, I don't know what you've heard about Guild Programmers in the past.
As a
whole, we did a lot of work for a lot of different companies. People called
us
in when they had a project that was a nightmare.... which often meant that
it
involved sending data to a government controlled system. "

"I've got a bunch of files holding the data on a large number of those
projects.
Consider them keys to be able to break into the data flowing between the
private
sector and the public. I wanted to park out here for a while, in the middle
of
nowhere, and have time to go through them and plan what could be done with
them."

"As I see it, the transition point between the Old United States and the
American Empire was when the government got too much control over the
people -
rather than it being the other way around. That control came when they
learned
too much about us. "

"Knowledge is the key. Thomas Jefferson supposedly once said something along
the
lines of, 'I'd rather have newspapers and no government than a government
and no
newspapers.' The point being that so long as the public keeps a close eye on
the
actions of government, and really pays attention, then tyranny doesn't
happen."

"The problem is that somewhere along the way the average Joe decided that
he'd
just as soon not pay attention to what the laws that were being passed
really
said."

"That's what got us into this mess, and what I want to do is get us out in a
similar way. I want to cut as many lines of communication as I can, blind
the
Feds everywhere I can, and ruin as much of their logistics as possible
without
putting innocent bystanders at risk."

"I want them to be as unable to see the populace as the populace was
ignorant of
them."

"I need a few weeks to read through those files and come up with a detailed
plan
of action, then set something up to implement it. What I'd like to ask is
for
your group to provide security while I do that. I've got two hundred rounds
of
7.62x39 sitting in my trade-goods box waiting for the right fellow, and I
can
give you folks food and other support. I just need to sit for a while,
without
being on the road, so I can think things through."

Mike sat for a while, and then said, "Who told you about our password?"

I looked at him. "An old farmer south of here who had a son that ran away to
join the Militia."

He looked at me, and thought for a moment. Finally he said, "Martha's son
Irving made it out of the building, and headed east when we broke west. As
far
as I know, he's still alive."

I said, "Thank you. If I can, I'll pass the word along."

"Once you're back out on the road. We'll watch your back while you're here."

....

They spent the night camped in and around the Beast. They took care of the
patrols for us, and kept a good watch. I spent the morning digging the tents
out
of the Beast's cargo bay and then setting them up around us.

The tents were made of a flexible solar cell material originally meant for
Third
World countries. The idea was that you could use this material to make a
hospital tent, or a school tent, and have a decent flow of electrons as a
bonus.
It wasn't cheap enough for the Third Worlder's to afford though - which left
the
company selling to yachtsmen who wanted to use it for sails and to the very
rich
Recreational Vehicle owners who used their land-yachts like the old Russian
nomenkultura used their dacha's.

I hadn't wanted to use them in the UNBDA since the tree cover was too much
to
make them worthwhile, but here in Big Sky Country, that wasn't an issue. If
anyone were trying to spot us from the air or from orbit, the Beast would
stand
out like a sore thumb anyway, so it wasn't a matter of stealth. My hope was
that
the photo-interpreters would just decide it was a retired rich guy who
parked
his land-yacht.

With the tents out, the Militia folks had a life that was pretty plush
compared
to a few weeks before. They'd fled their compound with little more than the
gear
on their backs, and hadn't had much of a chance to re-supply since.

The main benefit, though, was that with the four tents out, I could turn off
the
generator on the Beast and stop burning needed fuel. Sometimes I wonder if
it
would have been worth the security risk to rig the Beast with rectennas like
the
Army's tanks used.

I set up a folding chair next to one of the tents, and spent most of the day
working there. Pleasant days spent sitting in the springtime breeze, reading
technical documents and playing around with sample code. If it weren't for
the
political scene and the loss of my daughter and grand-daughter that caused
me to
come to this moment, it would have been heavenly.

My wife spent her free time going over three deerskins the Militia folks had
been trying to tan. She had been reading up on homesteading over the years -
someday, we wanted to retire to such a life - and she wanted to tan one of
them
and make another pair of the slinky leather pants she liked. She mentioned
over
dinner that there was enough between the three hides that even after cutting
out
the less-than-best parts, she could make a cat suit like Emma Peel from the
old
"Avengers" DVDs.

Trust me, I was all in favor of that. Emma Peel reminds me a lot of the
woman I
married. Only my wife doesn't fence, cooks better, and likes wine rather
than
champagne.

After a week out there, we needed food, water and fuel. I'd been sponging
off
the solar as much as I could, but the generator on the Beast still fired now
and
then to top off the batteries. We'd also used up a fair amount of LP gas
running
the non-electric stove burners and water heater to save power.

We left our Militia friends behind, and drove into the nearest town. "Town"
may
have been too generous a term; a group of buildings with wooden walls and
tin
roofs all under the sign "Fort Lonesome Gas And Grub" isn't really a
thriving
metropolis.

On the other hand, he had everything we wanted. Old Mister Corbeil stood
there
in his jeans and western shirt, with a black cowboy hat on his head and
happily
sold us everything we asked for. He let us dump the Beast's sewage tank (for
a
fee), then topped off its water, hydrocarbon, and LP tanks. He even let us
buy
as much food as we wanted without asking any questions....

at least while we were there.



After three weeks, I'd gotten most of what I wanted to get done, done. It
all
came down to a grey metal box.

The box contained an old laptop I'd pulled from the junkyard back in
Florida,
and two other small attachments. One was a multiplexer for the modem. It had
a
standard telephone jack on one side that plugged into the laptop. The other
side
had sixteen sets of jumpers for plugging into a roadside "green box." The
multiplexer would change which line the laptop was connected to each time
the
laptop dialed.

The other attachment was a self-destruct, set up so that if the multiplexer
was
detached from the phone lines, a small thermite charge would render the
whole
kit-and-caboodle of interest only to those who like sifting through ashes.
Do I
need to belabor the obvious in that the whole thing was put together "clean
room
style" - latex gloves, hair under a swimming cap, surgical mask so you don't
breathe DNA on it?

When plugged into the phone system, the laptop would dial an ISP
automatically.
It would use a random source phone number, pick a random ISP, and a random
national dial up number. It would then sign onto a former client.... using
a
backdoor I'd created while I was signed on using the 'preferred' back door.
There, it would add a worm program that would go from machine to machine
through
the client's network. Since one of the clients was a company that handled IT
for
three major gasoline/convince store chains, that meant the release would
spread
from the single contacted machine, to around seventeen thousand sites that
were
inside the clients network.

The laptop would then perform this same initial infection on a weekly basis,
cycling through 16 phone lines, 18 ISPs, and an even 1024 dial-up numbers,
until
someone unplugged it.

The worm would transfer itself around the world. Each transfer would give
the
new worm a "serial number." It would not transfer to a machine that already
had
a worm on it. Once on a machine, the worm would look for other (uninfected)
machines to infect. When done, it would then lay dormant for a number of
days
equal to its "serial number" before striking.

On that lucky day, the worm would use a method similar to the old music
trading
software to see if any other worms were running. If they were, it would add
a
thousand to its "serial number" and wait a little over three years before
waking
up to check again.

Worms and virii are normally found after they make a mess. There's a clue on
the
infected person's system that something they don't like is happening. If
the
effect of the infection isn't noticed, people tend not to do anything about
it.
So long as the parasite is not something that unduly harms the host, the
parasite gets to tag along, lamprey-like, for quite a while. That was the
idea
behind making sure only one worm fired, for a particular list of events, and
then stopped.

Once a worm started its dastardly deeds, it would sign onto a victim's
computer
using a pre-formulated back door. The first thing it would do when it got in
was
to make another back door that would be available if the first one were
closed
off. This was planned so that simply fixing the known holes in a site's
security
would (hopefully) not stop all future penetrations.

It would then check to see if a certain program was running on the victim's
system. If it wasn't, a copy was uploaded and started. If it already was
there,
the worm would verify that it was the correct (i.e., modified by me) version
and
put the modified version in if needed. Otherwise, it would sign off and go
onto
the next system on it's checklist.

Number one on the list of victims was the connection between the Remington
Ammunition Company and United Parcel Service. Remington had the contract to
supply ammo to the US Government. With the FOPA and NFA2033, there were no
civilian shooters, and thus no market other than the US Government - and
thus no
other ammo companies in business.

UPS was the last shipper that would allow ammo or firearms to be shipped.

The modification to the Remington computers would email a "cancel shipment -
improper address" for a tracking number to UPS the day after ammo went out
the
door. UPS would then be obliged to return the ammo to Remington, since they
didn't want to take the chance of delivering ammo to someone who shouldn't
have
it.

Closely related was the Colt Firearms Company, with a similar contract. The
old
HUD contract with S&W would have given them the monopoly, but they went
under
before 2033, and thus never had a chance to reap the rewards of the Faustian
compact they'd once made. (There is a strong irony to Colt being the largest
licensed producer of HK weapons in the world...)

Colt's computers got a similar modification, with the intent of causing
every
gun shipment to be returned to the Colt Warranty Office for a "product
recall"
the day after it left the factory. A bonus email was sent, implying that the
department that was supposed to get the firearms had heard of a recall, and
wanted their guns checked before taking delivery.

Mao once said, "Political power flows out of the barrel of a gun." I wanted
to
see what kind of political power there was when the government itself had to
deal with the kind of paperwork SNAFUs that civilians were forced to suffer
through... back when we could get guns legally.

With them having problems getting weapons, the next step was to try to tax
them
and get the money back into the people's hands. A program that was to go to
the
clearing houses that handled payment request transactions to the National
Healthcare System would 'hijack' patient discharge messages. This would
falsely
extend the duration of stay of all patients, and thus cause NHS to pay each
day
for patients that weren't in the hospitals. Sure, it would eventually be
found.
But then it would be a manual process to go back and try to track every one
of
those patients's actual discharge date, and then figure out who should get
paid
how much. During that time, with luck, the clearing house computers would be
re-infected, and the government would continue to hemorrhage money.

Similar mods were aimed at several government assisted housing and education
departments, as well as a modification so that Social Security payments
would
not stop when the recipient died.

There was an elaborate Air Traffic Scheduling System for the thousands of
small
government planes and helicopters. This system would allow a busy
functionary
to simply log in, enter the from and to locations, and an aircraft would be
arranged for their personal travel. No need to arrive at the airport four
hours
early for your security review if you were part of the upper echelons.

The modification for this system was to 'hijack' the "Aircraft has taken off
and
is en route" message and replace it with a variety of different messages.
These
included "Bad Weather, can't take off" or "Mechanical Failure, 4 hour delay"
or
other similar signals that all told the central scheduling system, "please
assign another aircraft."

Of course, since the first plane was already on the way, he'd arrive. A
little
while later, another plane would arrive, wanting to pick up the same
passenger.
And then another, and another.

If they ignored the reschedule messages, that was fine too. It meant that in
the
case of a legitimate problem, a government functionary would be left sitting
at
the airport twiddling his thumbs and missing whatever important meeting he
was
supposed to be attending.

Last, but not least, was a patch to the national face recognition system. I
wanted to find the Guildsman I'd seen briefly. Somewhere, Bob Roberts
(probably
not his real name, any more than the name he knew me by was mine) was taking
some kind of action of his own. I very much wanted to know which team he was
playing on.

Those few transfers would take an average of about 70 seconds. The worm was
programmed to wait until the screen-saver was running before kicking off the
above activity. No one would notice, most likely, or they might just curse
Microsoft as they had to wait a minute or so for the screen-saver to go
away.

After three weeks, my little gift to humanity was complete. All that was
needed
was to decide where to plug it in, and to install it without getting caught.





Chapter 13

To the future or to the past, to a time when thought is free, when men are
different from one another and do not live alone -- to a time when truth
exists
and what is done cannot be undone: From the age of uniformity, from the age
of
solitude, from the age of Big Brother, from the age of doublethink --
greetings
!
George Orwell's "1984"

The night air was surprisingly cool and damp, but that made it pleasant as
it
came in through the air hole in the hood of the CUs. The hood covered my
face
and head, but the valve that would route the outside air through filtration
was
open.

We'd split the militia up. Two were watching our campsite. Three sat with my
wife in the Beast, acting as our backup. Two were with me a mile away from
where
the Beast was parked, sneaking up on an old, weathered, roadside box. We'd
driven the Beast fifty miles or so from our hiding place to get some
separation
between where we had holed up and where we were dropping off the Bomb. Now
we
found ourselves sneaking along the edge of an agri-business's ranch.

The box was at the intersection of the only two paved highways in the area.
Because of the low number of inhabited ranches, there weren't that many
active
phone lines in this area, and we were forced to pick a more exposed spot for
a
copper hook up. Hiding the box in a major city might have been better, but
the
infrastructure there was mostly fiber optic, which meant spending much more
time
splicing than just putting jumpers on copper wires.

One of the militia guys with me used his Wrist Rocket to take out the
streetlight, and then I slid forward and attacked the lock on the green box
with
my picks. Just as the last pin slid into its keyway and the cylinder turned,
a
spotlight came on. A moment later there were blue flashes.

I looked over my shoulder, through the hood of the CU. It blotted out the
headlights and the spotlight, and dimmed the flashing blue light on the top
of
the old police car. Four people were hopping out of the car and raising
weapons.
The driver yelled, "Cee Oh Pee - Halt and raise your hands!" as his feet hit
the
pavement.

Citizen Observer Patrol.

Sometimes, the government did let the citizens have guns. The roundup of gun
owners and militia members over the last couple decades illustrated the
futility
of attacking someone in mid to late twenty first century body armor with mid
to
late twentieth century firearms. This accomplished two things. First, it
helped
enforce the futility of armed rebellion against the government. Second, it
gave
the Feds a chance to give people on their side weapons that could only be
used
against the 'peons', and not effectively used against them.

The world slowed down, and it seemed like I had forever to think.
"Tachypschia"
I think they call it - the ability of your mind to go much faster when you
really need it. Every thought is an instant flash, rather than a series of
decisions and words. That 'slow motion' that occurs in a car accident, or
when
you're falling off a cliff...

None of these yokels were emitting milliwave, so I pulsed them - not that
EMCON
mattered, since they could see us with the naked eye. The primary reason I
did
was that I wanted to know if they had anything that could hurt me. The other
reason was that I knew it would show on the Beast's sensors, and my wife
would
view it as the equivalent of a distress flare.

The pattern recognition in my wearable came back fairly quick - all had
AR-15s
(yes, the LAI in my wearable can tell the difference) and M9 pistols. Unless
they had AP ammo in the 15's, I was perfectly safe. The rating on the CUs
said
they'd stop standard 5.56mm fire at ranges of 25 feet or more. It was right
there in the spec book, in black and white. I trusted it.

Sometimes I'm such an idiot.

The milliwave also implied they had old-style police "Second Chance" vests,
which left me with a problem. The 9mm on my hip was full auto, and I could
"spray and pray" twenty rounds their way in a heart beat... and most would
not
do anything. Or I could make aimed shots with the M1891... but there were
only 5
shots in the gun. If I missed, reloading would be an issue.

"But they can't hurt me while I'm aiming", I thought.

I could see the two guys with me in my peripheral vision, already dropping
prone
and opening up with their AKs. The C-O-P's took cover behind the car, one of
them being drug to safety by the others.

I went up on one knee to get a line of sight out of the ditch we were in,
and
over the natural "hump" of the pavement. The M1891 came up to my shoulder, a
round in the chamber, and the wearable's LAI realized I was interested in
doing
some shooting. A red line appeared in my view, glowing like a red-hot iron
wire
in the darkness, and I moved the rifle until the wire stretched between me
and
the driver of the car, crouched behind the car, near the front bumper. I was
getting secondary echos on the small amount of energy the car hadn't
reflected,
and that was enough to generate a target.

If you're going to take cover behind a car, get nuzzled up against the front
wheel, so that the engine, the front axle, and the metal wheel are between
you
and the shooter. Hiding against the front fender is pointless.

The M1891 boomed in the night, and there was the normal two meter muzzle
blast.
I rocked from a kneeling position to tatahiza, sitting on my left ankle
while I
looked at the effect of my shot. My right hand slapped the bolt without
even
thinking about it, hitting hard so the empty cartridge flew up in the air,
high
enough for me to catch it. The steel cartridges were hard to make, and
catching
them had become a habit during the time I'd been target shooting and
perfecting
the design of the gun and its ammo.

The car was rocking on its shocks, and the guy I'd aimed at was lying on the
ground. Steam was pouring from the radiator, and fluid was gushing out on
the
ground.

I rose up, and there was a hail of gunfire from the two remaining C-O-Ps.
My
two guys slapped in fresh magazines and tried to suppress them. I hit the
deck
and waited a moment.

The 5.56 fire slackened, and I looked for a target. Only one guy was there -
I
aimed and shot, the rear tire of the car exploded, and the guy hiding at the
back of the car suddenly had a fine red mist around him when viewed via the
CU's
light intensifiers.

The last guy I had lost track of briefly. I'd just flipped back to milliwave
as
he popped up in the ditch, to my left, about twenty feet away and emptied
his
magazine.

CUs are not Land Warrior hard armor. CUs are a restricted item, not
available to
most civilians. Heck, even the National Guard doesn't usually get them. They
will stop a lot of things. Unlike Land Warrior armor, they do not shed
bullets
like hail off a trench coat. Land Warrior is plate mail, made of multiple
ceramic plates over spider-silk arming jumpsuit. CU's are just a cheaper
version of that jumpsuit.

It felt like a consortium of Major League Baseball pitchers had decided to
use
me as a target for fastball practice. I heard a rib crack, felt my left
shoulder
dislocate, and then one hit me on the side of the head and it got very, very
dark.

As I lay down to rest, I heard a yell of pain, and then the distinctive
sound of
an AK-47 firing. And then it was just quiet and dark.




When I woke up, I was in bed in the Beast. The first thing I remember was
pain,
and the second was thinking, "if I'm hurting this much, I must not be dead
yet.
Maybe soon."

On the other side of the bed was my wife. She was asleep, with an IV
dangling
from a hook screwed into the wall over the bed.

That put a jolt of terror though me. It got worse when I realized we were
moving. I tried to get up, felt something inside grind against something
else,
and then it got dark again.



I woke again, and daylight was coming through the small window in the back
of
the Beast.

My wife was asleep, a half empty IV bag hanging there, and slowly drip,
drip,
dripping its contents into her. She had a number of bandages on her.

I rolled over in the bed, working to get out. My Glock 19 and its shoulder
holster were on the nightstand. Full magazine, one in the chamber, like
always.
Whoever had been driving the Beast apparently was a friend. My Ring was
missing,
so that explained how they did it.

I put on some clothes, moving stiffly. My ribs were taped, and my left
shoulder
popped and cracked pulling the scrub shirt on, and then the shoulder
holster,
but I managed to get dressed without wincing too much.

I moved into the main room of the Beast, and there was no one there. I
continued
forward, and found Mike Morrison sitting in the driver's seat, snoring
lightly.
The landscape outside was barren - dark side of the moon barren. We were
nuzzled up to a group of large, brown boulders. I couldn't see any road.

I sat heavily down in the passenger seat. That woke Mike up. He cleared his
throat, then squirmed in the chair to get more comfortable before beginning
to
speak in a flat, almost bored, tone of voice. "You're wife's a nutcase,
you
know. Total psycho," was his morning greeting to me.

"Oh?"

"She brought the Beast barreling in when you were shot. You didn't tell me
there
were all kinds of weapons built into this thing. She blew up the COP car,
machine gunned each of the bodies, and then jumped out and threw you into
the
vehicle. Then she decided to take us back to where you met us and drop us
off,
then flee."

"She said something on the way back about getting gas after dropping us off,
and
I said, 'Get it now, while we can cover your back.' It was a good thing I
did -
turns out the proprietor of Fort Lonesome was a Fed. Worked for FBI, sat
there
for months waiting for people to show up and reveal themselves as part of
the
Militia. When you guys did the big purchase last time you were in there, he
got
ideas. Made sure the posse would be just over the hill when he called."

"We're in the middle of taking on fuel, three State Police cars and a couple
unmarked Ford POS's show up. She's calm as can be - locks the fuel pump
handle
to continue fuelling, then reaches into that huge bag-lady purse, and whips
out
that PDW she's been toting around. Pulls it out with one hand while she
flips up
the hood on the CUs with the other. "

"Doesn't even try to talk her way out of it - just starts shooting. Head
shots,
most of 'em. Burns a clip, grabs another out of her purse and burns it. "

"The cops and the Feds are getting out of the cars, shooting back. Auto
pistols
and shotguns going off all over the place. Bullets are sparking off
everything.
We jumped out and opened up with the AKs, and that evened things out. Pretty
soon we were the only ones standing."

"She says, 'watch the gas pump.' Real calm, like she's telling someone to
pass
the salt at the dinner table."

I nodded. I've heard her use that voice. It means bad things.

"I caught the eye of one of my boys, and then decided to follow her."

"So she walks into the store, finds the clerk. Old Man Corbeil's hiding
behind
the counter, with a .454 Casul. He opens up when she comes in, and she don't
even flinch. Shoots his hand off with the PDW, blows apart a knee, then
starts
interrogating him while he bleeds out. Real cold, real nasty."

"She finds out he's a Fed. He spills the beans, tells her anything so she'll
put
a tourniquet on his wrist. She's taunting him over it, holding up a loop of
paracord, moving it closer and farther from his arm, teasing."

Mike turned a little in the seat, so he could look me full in the face -
"Dude,
she pulled her hood off so he could see her smile at him. She was actually
enjoying torturing him. I've done a few things over the years that weren't
stuff
that the Preacher would approve of, but I never enjoyed them. "

I'd never seen her like that. She'd always been so caring, so full of
empathy
for our kids. Never saw her enjoy hurting someone.

"She said something about 'payback for her daughter', and then she looped
that
cord around his neck and drug him back outside. I heard his windpipe go when
she
was dragging him. No remorse on her face, just like she was pulling a wagon
full
of groceries. "

That made some sense, in a twisted way. She'd wanted some kind of personal
payback. I never expected that.

"Calm as can be, she asks if we're done fuelling, then climbs back into the
truck. Starts marking a course on the map, based on things he told her about
where the fuzz was. We pull out, go about 200 feet, and then she slumps
over.
We check on her - we thought all the blood on the outside of her clothes was
Corbeil's... it was hers. Bastard shot her twice in the chest. Left lung
collapsed. One of my guys volunteered to drive, while I worked on her. "

I winced... that explained the bandages. It scared me, but at least I knew
she
was still alive.

"You're damn lucky you had so much in the way of medical supplies on board.
You're even luckier that I was half-way through medical school before they
decided I wasn't 'ethnically qualified' to keep my scholarship."

Mike's face looked tired, and his voice took on something of a babbling tone
as
he continued.

"So we drove, and drove. Followed the notes she'd made on the map, as far as
they went. We went south and then turned west. We're in Nevada. Once we were
in
Nevada, I drove off the road and just drove off into the desert. Steve and
I
just took turns driving until we were here. Steve's outside, keeping
watch."

"You've got about 150 miles of fuel left, maybe less. "

"We managed to keep ahold of the box you were going to install. It's in the
closet, down near the bottom."



Chapter 14

We should also recognize that secrecy is an integral characteristic of
individuals and groups. .... For outsiders to demand that we give up our
secrets, no less any other of our ancient practices, is as much an invasion
of
privacy as would be demanding a videotape of one's wedding night. One of the
more horrifying aspects of the world depicted in Orwell's 1984 is the total
lack
of privacy.
'Why Secrecy?" article on Masonic Web Site
Dr. Roger M. Firestone, 32 KCCH


With only thirty gallons in the tanks, the first logistics issue facing us
was
to feed the Beast. On the other hand, my first priority was my wife's
health....

I wanted to check on her again, but Mike said she'd been awake just before
I'd
awakend, and wanted to give her a few more minutes sleep before we peeked in
on
her again. She'd lost a good amount of blood, but Mike had filled her with
D5W
and Ringers to keep her blood pressure up. The medical supplies bin was
looking
pretty bare, but that's why the stuff was there. Better to use it up and
live
than to have it and be so stingy you end up dead.

The bullets that had penetrated the CU's had lost a good bit of energy, and
hadn't done as much damage as they could have. Mike had managed to fish both
of
them out while I was still KO'd, and then sew the holes in the lung tightly
enough to keep it airtight, and re-inflate it. He said he'd done a fair
amount
of debriding while he was in there as well, taking out tissue that had been
killed by the shock of impact.

I sat at the bed side most of the day, fingering the hole in her wearable -
one
of the battery modules, nothing that couldn't be replaced, but one of the
more
solid portions of the vest-like arrangement. I kept thinking that it came
down
to random chance - had she been hit a little higher, would she have died?

When she woke, fitfully, now and then, I held her hand, helped her drink
water
or broth, relieve herself, or eat a vitamin pill. She was pretty anemic, and
Mike was hoping that vitamin pills containing iron would help her body grow
more
blood. I played nurse to her, basically. She knew what had happened to her,
and
knew how badly she'd been hurt. She didn't talk much - it hurt to breathe,
so
she didn't have much wind for speaking. She'd nod or shake her head,
though,
and we 'talked' a bit.

Part of me knew I really had to do something about the current mess we were
in,
and part of me just couldn't bring myself to face it.

I got to the point where that want to escape led me to watching TV -
something I
hardly ever do - and as I surfed the channels, I found a listing for the
History
Channel show that we'd enjoyed watching so much while at Senora Estrada's.
It
was sentimentality that made me change channels and bring it up on the wall,
lying there in bed holding my sleeping wife's hand and thinking back on
better
days.

This time there was another symbol added to the computer animation that had
showed the Guild symbol in the corner, months ago. My eyebrow rose as I saw
it,
and then I said, "Computer. Freeze. Play back last fifteen seconds,
frame-by-frame."

The twenty frames that had the Guild symbol at the bottom also had a black
line
over the bottom portion of the screen. It fit the theme of the animation,
but
here and there through that black line were little white specs that danced
across the 20 frames.

A brief conversation with the Beast's computer led to that line from those
20
frames being stuck together, then treated as a 9-track tape layout. 8 bits
plus
parity. All you need to send ASCII...

It was compressed and encrypted, and by the time I'd managed to break it
into
clear text, I was sure it was for real. The Guild was back in business after
being on the run for eight months, and they had new safe houses, new
alliances
with the other portions of the Underground Economy. It included a
state-by-state list of new safe-houses. We had a place to run, a place to
hide.


We laid in a course for Pahrump, Nevada.

Once upon a time, there was a commercial company which taught people how to
fight. It had some of the best instructors in the world, and was very well
known. It taught police, military and private citizens how to defend
themselves
with firearms, knives, or empty hand.

The people who owned the place also went one step further: they built a
housing
development.

One hundred seventy seven families each had homes on one acre lots. That
hundred
seventy seven acres was part of a five hundred-plus acre town, with its own
schools, shopping mall, groceries, shooting ranges, and dojos. It even had
its
own airport, and a small hospital.

When the Feds came to close it down and round up the guns, they estimated
there
were 352 adults and 217 children living there. They sent in 50 Land Warrior
armored troops and 500 CU-equipped soldiers. The Feds had air support and
medivac.

At the end of three weeks, the Feds couldn't find any living civilians in
the
town. There were 11 Land Warriors left to look for them at that point. It
was
one of the few battles where the "right wing militia terrorists" managed to
actually kill Land Warriors.

The place had gone from manicured lawns, ornamental fountains and ponds, and
palm trees to something that looked like Baghdad after General Reinman's
assault
in 2031. The Feds called it a victory, sprayed persistent chemical agents
just
in case they missed someone, planted a few land mines, and left.

We drove cross country for an hour, and then hit a tall chain link fence
with
razor wire on top. There was some fumbling around to find exactly the right
spot, and then we parked and honked the horn - long, long, long, short.

The ground opened up.

...



At the end of the twentieth century, the difference between a semi-automatic
weapon like the AR-15 and a fully automatic M16 was about three dollars in
parts.... and ten years in a Federal Prison, plus fines.

There was one loophole: if you wanted to own such a thing, you could buy one
made before 1986, if you were willing to pay very high prices and very high
taxes and fees. The difference between a legal M16 and an illegal one was
about
seven times the price. This also ignores the fact that a fine automatic
weapon
can eat a thousand dollars worth of ammo in the course of an afternoon's
fun.
Some will even eat that much ammo in a few seconds. The expenses involved in
the
hobby meant that anyone who owned machineguns for the fun of it had some
serious
money.

When you look at a community that is into such a hobby, they collectively
have
some Cash. That may have been one reason they were raided: Under NFA 2033,
any
assets of a person arrested (not convicted, just arrested) were forfeit to
the
Feds. I reckon that sucking down the 401ks and other investments of 177
very
rich families did good things for the national budget that year.

Or the budget of the folks who skimmed the seizure, anyway.

Usually, people who are self-made wealthy tend to be smart. Put another way:
Unless you look at the entertainment business or the lottery, it is more
difficult to go from poor and dumb to rich and dumb than it is to go from
poor
and smart to rich and smart. The people who bought those homes were, for
the
most part, smart and rich.... and they had several years to figure out which
direction the political currents were flowing.

In more ways than one, it led right down the sewer.

...



The door was 20 feet wide, and it opened upward to reveal a tunnel that was
about that high. I eased the Beast down the smooth concrete ramp, and drove
about 100 feet. After the first 50 feet, there were small lights every ten
feet
or so along the tunnel. In the rear-view display, I could see the door
closing
behind us. If I'd been suckered by that message, things were looking very,
very
bad.

We came upon another set of doors, and as I stopped to wait for them to
open, a
pair closed behind us. We were trapped.

The tunnel lights went out, leaving just the glow of the Beast's headlights.
I
was sweating bullets, waiting for the lead ones, when the Beast said it its
normal, calm, monotone voice: "Guild packet radio connection re-established.
You
have thirty four new messages. One message bears a 'Read Immediately' tag.
Would
you like me to display it?"

I looked it over, decrypted parts, and then sent a reply. The doors in front
of
us opened. We drove a little further, into a large cavern. A man holding a
pair
of flashlights with orange light-cones waved us into a parking space.

Painted in neon orange on the wall of the cavern, right in front of where we
were parked, was a sign: "The right to own weapons is the right to be free.
Welcome to Isher Arms. No Police Admitted."

After we parked, I got out - and saw my old mentor striding down the parking
area, with a couple guys in white coats pushing a gurney behind him. Tears
rolled down my face - we were home.


I jogged along side the gurney that was carrying my wife, through hallways
and
tunnels. Some showed wear and age, and others were still under construction.
Finally, we reached a cul de sac where they turned the gurney in, and I
began
the process of giving the lady at the desk my wife's medical history.



After checking my wife into the hospital, the receptionist gave me
directions to
an office one level down, and asked me to please go there. Getting only
slightly lost, I soon found myself sitting with my old mentor, and a man who
introduced himself as Paul Kent.

Paul was the Guild/Isher liaison. I'd actually met him once, about two and
a
half years ago - he had been the salesman who set up the Beast's armaments.
Of
course, he'd called himself "Phil" then. No last name.

I asked what the story was on this place, and he leaned 'way back in his
desk
chair, lit up a pipe, and began talking. He seemed to really enjoy hearing
himself pontificate. I felt like I was trapped in a Dickens Novel. I don't
remember all of it, so I'll just summarize.

One of the lessons learned in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during World War II
was
that connectivity between the building is a wonderful tactical advantage.
One
way to improve that connectivity is to bash a hole between the basement and
the
sewer, then use the network of tunnels to make the buildings an
inter-connected
chain of strong points.

When his company had been planning the housing development, they'd kept that
in
mind.... and had over-sized all the underground tunneling by a large factor.
Utilities - fiber, power -which were normally just buried cable went through
tunnels. The sewers were grossly oversized - and had separate piping as
well.
Heck, they even included storm drains... in Nevada? Key buildings had
sub-basements accessible only from the utility tunnels. They taken the
opportunity, during all that building, to prepare a back-up city.

Secrecy wasn't much of a problem - the owner of the construction company was
also a resident. He'd hand-picked his most trusted employees to do the work.
Money wasn't an issue, since the people who were moving in had cash to
spare.

After NFA2033, and the raid a few years later, they'd gone underground.
Literally, where the rest of us had only done so figuratively. They'd
converted
the machine shops to gun factories, and began producing armaments that were
sold
in exchange for food that they couldn't grow in hydroponics rooms.

Power came from a group of Rapid-L reactors, six meters high and two meters
wide, capable of providing 200 kilowatts for decades. The Rapid-L's had been
built for Japanese apartment buildings back in the '20s, and getting a few
in to
the US hadn't been to terribly difficult. Making them disappear from the
AEC's
careful watch had.... but sometimes money closes eyes.

They had one reactor that had been modified to act as a breeder, producing
reactor-grade plutonium to feed the others, and weren't expecting to run
into a
fuel issue for another hundred and twenty years.

The caverns were the ultimate fall back position, from which they would work
like busy little beavers, subverting everywhere they could until finally
freedom
was restored.

Oh - of the original five hundred sixty nine residents involved in the
battle,
four hundred and eleven had safely made it "downstairs."

"Which brings us to the present," said my old mentor, "the here and now.
Your
host's side of the story told, but yours remains a mystery. The question of
your
wife's injuries looms, and how they came to pass. Where you have been and
what
you have seen and done. I ask you to share with us what your safety and
honor
permit you to, tell us your tale and what you can do for us, and we for you.
"

I suppose the propensity to use big words, long sentences, and
academic-style
pomposity is contagious... it took four hours to fill them in, and I found
myself using words I didn't even know I knew. Be thankful I'm not sharing
that
here.


Chapter 15


b. Civilian internee camps are operated by military police units. They are
operated in the same manner as PW camps, with due regard to the fundamental
differences between these two categories. For example, due consideration is
given to the age, physical condition and the ability of civilians to adjust
to
the conditions of internment. Separate quarters are provided for family
groups
when the internment of more than one member of a family is necessary.

FM 19-40 : Enemy Prisoners of War, Civilian Internees and Detained Persons

The data I'd accumulated on aircraft comings and goings was something that
Isher
Arms' "News Agency" was interested in purchasing. The News Agency was more a
free-lance CIA than the normal evening news. You could go to them, ask a
question, and then negotiate a payment for the answer. Those payments went
into
a kitty that was used to bribe informants and pay researchers. I guess you
could say it functioned as a privately owned intel-clearinghouse for the
Revolution.

Money was something we were in need of at that point; it had been many moons
since I'd had a paying job.

Mike and Steve didn't have that problem, as much. Mike took a job in the
hospital my wife was healing in; he'd wanted to be a doctor way-back-when,
and
it was only a change in the ethnic quotas for his major that had forced him
to
leave college. His bitterness had caused him to join the Militia, and now
things
had come full circle: The Militia's successor (so to speak) needed doctors.

Steve had a knack for handling heavy equipment, and he got a job running a
hauling machine that would take the rock mined out of new tunnels and
deposit it
inside old above ground buildings, or dump it into lakes through drainage
pipes.
The job was more dangerous than it sounded - the above ground areas were
still
toxic with Persistent Nerve Agents. Call it 'salted earth' taken a step
further.



While my wife was in the hospital, I went back to my old trade, getting the
automated lab system that had been smuggled in a month earlier talking to a
server that in turn pushed messages across a wireless LAN to the PDAs the
doctors and nurses carried. It was strange having a "normal" life that
didn't
include my wife sleeping next to me at night, back in the Beast's aft
'stateroom'. I spent a number of nights sleeping on the floor of her
hospital
room, my jacket rolled up like a pillow under my head.

My sleep wasn't the best that way, and my days were long, 16-20 hour
work-filled
chunks of time. That's probably why when the news came in it took so long
for it
to register in my brain, and why it played 4 times over my wearable before I
fully understood what they were saying.

In the wake of the first Data Strikes, just after the burning of Xavier
School,
a surprising number of people had decided that enough was enough, and they
weren't going to take it anymore. They had given up freedom after freedom in
exchange for promised security, and hadn't gotten the security either. The
rebellion was quiet, for the most part, but you were starting to hear more
and
more about government employees being killed on their way to or from work.

An IRS auditor would step out of his car, and make it halfway up the
driveway
before there would be a single shot from a high power rifle, and the squeal
of
tires. A HRS social worker coming out of a bar, using happy hour to shed
the
stress of taking children away from alcoholic parents, would be run down in
the
parking lot. A van full of QuAils was broadsided by a suicidal programmer,
distraught because he'd lost his job due to 'psychological infirmities that
impaired the elegance of his code.' An elderly chemistry professor, in the
latter stages of lung cancer, declared "F-4" by the National Health
Insurance
Board, released a bottle full of home-brewed VX at his appeal meeting.

The government had decided that the solution to the problem of having their
employees killed was something called "Dual Cantonment." It was a bigger and
better version of the relocation projects in Viet Nam of the 1970s,
Afghanistan
of the 2010's, Iraq of the 2020s, and Columbia of the 2050's.

Government employees would be relocated to what were essentially gated
communities attached to the building they worked in. This way, they were
safe
24/7, behind steel fences, barb wire, and machine gun nests.

To catch the 'terrorists', everyone else would be relocated into new housing
projects - called "Citizen's Villages" - as the new projects were built.
These
would be rent-free, with communal kitchens providing all the food.... for
registered community members only.

Once the Villages were completed, groceries and farmers would be allowed to
sell
only to the Community Kitchens. No one would be allowed to take food home,
and
thus the only way to eat would be to check in three times a day with your
designated Food Service Provider.

Everyone moving into the Villages would be required to sign a paper that
said
their belongings could be searched on demand, and promising that a large
number
of contraband items would not be brought in at any time. Failure to sign
meant
you couldn't move in.

If you weren't moved into a Village by the end of next year, you had to pay
a
$100,000 fine. You could also have your home's kitchen designated a
"Satellite
Community Kitchen" for a mere $25,000 per year. There was no other
penalty -
unless you couldn't pay. If you couldn't afford the equivalent of an extra
hundred and twenty five grand in taxes each year, your choices were to
either
live in the free housing provided, or go to prison.

Bona Fide agribusiness concerns could build their own Villages for
employees.
Big houses there on the farm, with schools in them for the children.

People could only leave for another Village if they had a job lined up in
the
new Village before they moved.

Anyone who was "homeless" would be given jobs in the new "Citizen's
Contribution
Corp," where you'd be doing construction work building new villages. The
entire
US prison population was drafted into the CCC as well, creating a force of
millions of workers.

It would take several years to migrate the population into the big concrete
boxes... but when it was done, the government would raze any housing that
didn't
have historic value, and convert many suburbs to "Reclaimed American
Wilderness." The idea was to make them into conservation areas. The owners
of
the homes would be paid for them with a tax deduction spread over 15 years.
If
your $150,000 home were seized, you could deduct $10,000 per year for the
next
15 years in compensation.

Once people were in, it was the "company store" all over again. With
housing,
food and personal possessions controlled, the populace would be locked down
just
as effectively as if they were in prison. With no groceries, scamming the
purchase of food on a false NatID was a moot point.

With most employers clustered around the Villages, the need for private
transportation was eliminated. People would use 'free' public transport
between
work and home. Busses ran from Village to Village, allowing one to visit
distant
relatives in less than a week of travel and no more than 5 bus changes. With
no
private transport, the only fuelling stations would be ones that catered to
the
big-rigs carrying goods between Villages.... and that made monitoring and
rationing fuel much easier. Not that rationing was really needed, but
control of
how much fuel a person had meant you controlled how far they could easily
travel.

The news report promised that with the CCC working on the Villages, and many
downtown skyscrapers being converted, the entire population would be
relocated
over the next three years.

This was a brute force attempt to end any rebellion, not just now, but ever.
Imprison them all, don't worry about sorting them out.

Quite a few people looked at the Citizen's Villages, and said to themselves,
"No
housing expense, no food expense, no expense for a car.... Wow, I can buy a
new
Entertainment System!"

Others looked the situation over and couldn't find a way to resist. They had
small children they didn't want to drag into a war, or were elderly and not
willing to fight - again, for many of them. They knew they were doing
something
dumb, in the long run, but in the short run they didn't have any options.
They
walked to their doom, abandoning all hope the moment they entered the gates
of
the Vill.

A small portion of the US population became the biggest single block of
customers Isher Arms had seen. They walked away from their homes, writing
off
both investments and creature comforts. They bartered what ever portable
wealth
they had to shady fellows who operated off the back of trucks, in exchange
for
cunningly worked chunks of iron, wood and plastic.

Most of them were buying tried and true designs, arming themselves about as
well
as the C.O.P.'s. A few wanted something that would let them fight a more
armored
target. Isher paid a quick $500 for the CAD/CAM files for my M1891 and ammo.
They said they'd also pay me $5 for every rifle built, and 0.1% of the
profits
on the AP ammo. The video my wearable had saved of the bullet penetrating
Land
Warrior armor as the major selling point.

Every dime left over after paying my wife's hospital bills went into
repairing
the damage from the beatings the Beast had taken over the last few weeks,
and
replenishing its ammo and food stores.



Food became an issue over those weeks. There was no shortage, yet, of
course,
but the market was spooked none the less by a strong desire on the part of
the
Isher folks to stock up while they had the chance. For the most part they
(wisely) managed to restrain themselves. The last thing they needed was to
make
huge purchases that would tip someone off that things were not as they
should
be.

The Board of Directors of Isher Arms, and the High Guildsmen held a council,
and
when it was done they announced a "Contract On America." I think it was a
parody of the old Republican Party slogan. The gist of it was that there was
now
a very fixed time table for forcing things to change: if people did not turn
around before walking into the cage that the Villages really were, then they
would not get out of them.

They decided to put specific targets out for bid, and let people form groups
to
remove them. The idea was to have lots of small mercenary companies,
indulging
in free enterprise (pun intended), all of them working towards a common
goal.

My old mentor called that evening and wanted to know if I would like to join
his
project team. I was flattered, and proud, and accepted.

Sometimes I am such an idiot.

My wife was up and around soon after I wrapped up the lab interface project
and
changed careers - again. I received a contract to provide transport and
anti-aircraft support for a commando (it's its own plural) who would be
going
into Las Vegas. In this case, the team size would be four people.

The six of us - my wife, four guys in CUs (named Mr. Red, Mr. Orange, Mr.
Yellow, Mr. Green... I think those might be pseudonyms), and me - left two
days
later. Or nights, depending on how you look at it - we left around 22:00.

We stopped outside of town to kill time and do a little preparatory setting
up.
Just before 0-Dark-Hundred, we finished driving to our destination.

We pulled into a residential neighborhood, and stopped at the community's
gate.
The four amigos got out, walked up to the gate, and with a calm
matter-of-factness used a small hydraulic jack to pop up off its hinges.
Once
the way was clear, they went in, loose diamond formation, and went to the
front
door of the third house.

A burst of automatic weapons fire split the night, and carved off the
section of
the door that held the lock. Two of our former passengers kicked the door
open,
and the other two rushed in. After a moment, the doormen went in as well.

There were a few shots inside the house, and then five people came out -
four in
CUs, the fifth in a bathrobe. As they reached the gate in front of us, there
was
a muffled "whoomp!" The windows of the house they'd just left blew outward,
and
a moment later a jet of flame shot out of the windows and the open front
door.
After that, the house burned like a comfy fireplace fire.

I let the five of them back into the Beast and we turned to flee the scene.

The fifth guy had been beaten up -but not recently. The bruises on his face
were
all sickly yellow-green. I didn't get a good look at him because after only
a
couple minutes of driving, the Beast saw helos. Many helos. Seminoles and
troop transports.

I changed course for the spot we'd prepared earlier, and slowed down. Just
before getting there, my wife hit some keys on her console, and sent out a
few
coded radio messages.

We all arrived at approximately the same spot with about the right timing.

Each of the two foot in diameter, 8 inch thick disks we'd laid out through
the
area we were driving had accepted the command my wife had sent, and
wonder-of-wonders had actually functioned as designed. A small cylinder of
compressed hydrogen had inflated a plastic balloon. The balloons were made
of a
plastic that was "stealthy" to both radar and LIDAR. The plastic was
transparent
to visible light, and mostly transparent to IR.

The balloons had lifted thin strands of spider silk. Stronger than steel
cable,
weight for weight, they were also organic and this not as radar-reflective.

We drove through the pattern of barrage balloons just as the first Seminole
moved lower to get a better shot. The cable intersected the rotor blades,
and
tangled. Moments later the grenade sized bomb was yanked skyward, and then
detonated against the rotor mast.

As the other pilots observed what happened, they all yanked hard on the
collectives, wanting up and above whatever had happened to their leader.
When
they did that, they all traded forward airspeed for altitude - and became
relatively immobile targets as the Beast's computer pivoted the 40/50
through 7
targets and 9 shots. I wasn't being stingy with the ammo this time; I was
on a
time & materials contract, and not only could I expense every round I fired,
but
I'd actually get bonus pay for each kill.

The pilots realized they were into something messy here, and scattered.

I locked the brakes on the Beast, slamming the wheel hard to the right, and
it
slid around, changing course to take us back through the 'mine field.' My
left
thumb rocked the switch for EM-Screamers, smoke and IR flares as we
straightened
out, and then began another sliding turn in the opposite direction.

One of the troop transports turned broadside to us, and the Metalstorm gun
normally used to suppress a hot LZ fired. It didn't have duration of fire,
but
it would cover a two city blocks with one 5mm projectile per square foot.

The shooter probably didn't have a real target, but that brute force method
worked. The spread was wide enough that most of the balloons were bit, the
hydrogen going up in bursts of blue flame.

The remaining Seminoles came in again, and I emptied the 40/50, taking out
the
leaders of the pack.

I'd been told to expect no more than 8 aircraft as a ready response... and
had
already killed 12, with another 7 hanging out farther.

It had to be because of the guy the commando had rescued... Who was he?

Five of the seven that were hanging back were troop transports. Four of them
split off and raced ahead of me. I figured they'd land their troops so they
could set up ambushes. Two Seminoles continued to fire rockets and .50 cal
machineguns at me. I was rapidly using up EM-Screamers and Flares keeping
the
seekers on the rockets confused. I turned off the road, and screamed across
the
flat desert road at around ninety miles an hour.

Finally, I got a yell of "Guns Up!" from the Belly of the Beast as Mr. Green
finished reloading the 40/50. It used a platter feed system, which was
awkward
to reload under the best of circumstances. Bouncing along through the desert
made it even more a test of strength and skill.

I took out the three helos that were still in the air with four shots,
turned
again, and fled for Pahrump.

We monitored police radio, and got several weak radar hits off of yet more
aircraft during the next hour of playing hide-and-seek. The nice thing
about
deserts and a vehicle like the Beast is that roads are optional - which
makes it
a lot easier to avoid roadblocks.


Chapter 16

{if (briney-deep(spirits))
{who_am_i = "Glendower"}
{who_am_i="AnyMan"}
}


Charles Babbage Shakespear, "MS-Henry 4.1.3.1 for WindowsSS"


We ended up in our normal parking spot back when we finally made it to
Isher. My
mentor, once again my boss - the term in the industry is 'pimp', but I
rarely
used it for him - was waiting for us, along with another gentleman wearing
Guild
Blacks.

The seven of us piled out, and the Guildsman I'd not met greeted the
newcomer
with a hug, tears rolling down both their faces. "My young apprentice," he
said,
"returned safely from lion's den."

That seemed to explain why the contract was so generous with the money. The
bond
between mentor and apprentice is a strong one. People whose whole lives are
based on understanding which rules in a system are inflexible tend to create
inflexible rules in their own lives.


We met over dinner for the debriefing, eating and drinking while keeping
portions of the tablecloth free to see what people were illustrating. My
wife
and I sat on one end of the table and held hands while the drive packs from
the
computer system of the house they'd blown up were pillaged, the results
pushed
to where we could all read them.

A pleasant dinner - my wife demanded to be the one to cook it, saying that I
hadn't been getting home cooked meals while she was in the hospital, and she
outdid herself with chicken empanadas (she'd lifted the recipe from our
favorite
winery's website) and a bottle of Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc that
(wonder of
wonders) wasn't from my wine cellar, but a donation from our 'client'. It
was a
meal filled with the simple pleasures of life.

After dinner, the group broke up. The commandos were going to go clean
weapons,
reload magazines and in general do extraordinarily manly and supremely
militant
things. I suspected beer would be involved, and possibly hard-working
professional people who were not Guild Consultants but who also called their
bosses "pimps." Just a guess. Call it a hunch.

My wife had spent the day complaining that I hadn't fixed the hole in her
wearable (since I had so much "free time to lounge around" while she was in
the
hospital), so after dinner she went back to the Beast to fix it her self.
One of
the problems with actually having to work for a living is that some times,
as
the old saying goes, the cobbler's children go bare-foot.

To be honest, repairing her wearable hadn't been a high priority for me.
She'd
been the one that had originally sewn the cloth carriers for both of ours,
and
then had demanded to build the electronics for hers herself so that she'd
have
some idea how to take care of it.

I'll admit to being somewhat distracted watching her leave; the doeskin
catsuit
she'd sewn up while sitting in the hospital had a tendency to do that to me.
This was her first chance to wear it to a "social function", and she was
taking
no prisoners. Fortunately, no one commented on my distraction, since they
all
seemed to be lost in thought about the same time.

When the "testosterone controlled" people in the room had recovered, the
other
two Guild members, the guy we rescued and his mentor, explained they were
leaving Isher in the morning, heading to another safe-house where the
apprentice's wife and three kids were hiding. It really made me feel good to
think his family would be re-united. They bade us their fare wells, and
went
off to pack for their trip. I suspect some of the packing for the apprentice
would also include shopping for clothes other than the bathrobe and PJs he
was
walking around in, making true "Arthur Dent-ish" fashion statement.

My mentor and I talked for a while, and then moved to the far side of the
conference room, taking our leisure in the big, comfy, leather chairs. We
talked
for a few minutes, and then my mentor rose, went to the small brown
dorm-fridge
in the corner of the room, and removed a wine bottle, two glasses, and a
small
tray. The conversation continued to flow as he opened the wine and set
things
out. We talked as if it were the old days, him telling me stories that
would
later be the knowledge I would use to stay both alive and profitable.

After we had caught up on old times, and brought each other reasonably close
to
being up-to-date, I decided to share my "databomb" idea with my mentor. He
sat
back in his chair, sipping Yburg Riesling 1999 from the elegant lead crystal
wineglass in his left hand while the fingers of his right hand danced. The
rings
on his fingers registered the movements, and his wearable copied the
programs
I'd written to itself, then ran an LAI over them and summarized them over
the
white earphone he wore in his left ear, Secret Service style.

He sat the wineglass down for a moment, leaned forward over the coffee table
to
pick up a Saltine cracker. His fingers stopped their dance long enough to
spread
a little butter on it, and then a quarter teaspoon of cheap caviar. He
reclined
and continued to listen to the summary while he nibbled.

As I've mentioned before, he was an older gentleman - late ninety's - who
affected a long grey beard. Someone had once tried to tag him with the name
Gandalf, but he'd laughed it off, saying that he was too busy evading the
All
Seeing Eye to spend time exploring the similarities between fact and
fiction.

A few weeks later he decided to start using the handle Glendower. Go figure.

As he sat, stretching the time he needed to chew the snack while chewing
over my
proposal, I sipped the Riesling. It was a light, sweet white wine made for
quiet
conversations between friends. As I waited for him to finish assimilating
what
his LAI was reading, I sipped my drink and let my thoughts drift back over
the
years...

Six years ago common people still flew. I had a Trusted Traveler tag
attached
to the data in my NatID, along with an inter-state business visa from the
company that employed me. I could get on an airplane with only 24 hour
notice to
the TSA rather than the normal three-day wait for "Insta-Check."

That "Trusted" tag didn't make everything perfect, of course....

The moment I met the man who would change my life was perhaps one of the
most
embarrassing I've experienced. I was in a bathroom stall trying to get the
lubricant jelly out.... Let me rephrase that: I was cleaning up after the
body
cavity search that goes with having a Level III clearance and not a level
IV.

Thinking I was alone in the bathroom, and too ticked off to consider the
possibility of microphones, I was verbally exploring the lineage and
personal
habits of the ..... people... who had spent the morning verifying that I was
not
a copy-cat of the famous "Rectum Bomber" that had taken down a United 727
eight
months earlier.

I had just finished up when I heard a urinal flush.

I did my best to look nonchalant as I exited the stall, but the old man with
the
grey beard had an undisguised grin as he washed his hands. I noticed the
earphone, sighed, and said, "Well, here we go again."

He looked at me oddly, and asked, "What?"


"You've got the earphone - aren't you TSA? SS? FBI? CIA? HHS? Aren't I
busted
for unpatriotic speech?"

That provoked a belly laugh.

We talked for a bit. He said he was a programmer, and I didn't hear the
capital
letter. We talked about different projects, and it turned out that not only
did
we share some clients, but he'd seen some of the code I'd written. I was
offered
a job - the normal vague references to "it'll change your life." Unlike
other
recruiters, he wasn't kidding.

He did give me a pointer, though - when going through airport security, make
sure to put at least a $50 in the tip jar. He also gave me his business
card.

It worked - the next two legs of my flight, and the trip home were much more
enjoyable.




A month later, work wanted to send me on three back-to-back airplane rides.
Four
weeks of visiting client sites, assuming I didn't miss any planes, and there
were no random waiting periods. (The addition of random on-to-three day
waits
was intended to keep groups from flying at the same time - and thus prevent
hijackings.)

I turned to a co-worker, and said, "Twenty bucks says I can get a better
paying
job, with less KY jelly, in the next 24 hours."

Considering it was Friday at 3:00PM, he took me up on it.

When I turned in my resignation Monday, I took him to lunch on the $20.

My whole life changed right after that.



No more going to work every day. I was salary - on just enough to get by -
with
an hourly bonus for what projects I worked on. At first, I would just get
some
source code and project specs in email, then do the coding and email it
back.
No fuss, no muss, just getting to work at home, dressed like a slob and
making
my own hours. During the day, my wife shopped for expensive silks and
electronics.

In the evenings, I built the hardware for my wearable, while my wife sewed
the
carrier for it out of microwoven spider silk.

Once it was working, I was asked if I would like a raise.

I said, "Sure."

My mentor said he'd be out to train me, and I should meet him at one of the
nice
hotels in town.

We spent two weeks in that suite, sitting in the living room and doing the
"skull session" work. It was a crash course on the security holes in the
code
that ran the world.

Then he turned me lose on the hotel staff. We'd walk down the hall, and
he'd
spot someone, and then point. I had 60 seconds to scam everything I could on
them, and send it to his wearable. If it wasn't, in his judgment, enough
information, I lost $100 from my next paycheck. If I passed "go", I got
$200.

By the end of the following week, I had my raise.

Learning to use the information I'd picked up to form fictional people, and
then
create NatID's for them came next, making sure the biometrics matched mine
without raising flags in the software that was supposed to catch that kind
of
silliness. That was a pain in the tail, and took the better part of a month.

Then we began what could be called "Criminal MBA classes" - how to run a
small
business profitably, how to keep books without getting caught by the Feds,
how
to write a good advertisement that wouldn't get you caught, how to bill and
dun
customers. How to plan a project so that you can look at the specs and
understand not only what the customer wants, but how long it will take to
do,
and how much you should charge them for it.

For six months he baby-sat me, and then for another three he was on call
when I
ran into trouble with my first couple clients. My wife laughed that the time
from when I first agreed to be a "roadie" to the point when I felt confident
to
handle things on my own was nine months; she said Glendower's putting up
with me
for that long is the closest males get to pregnancy.



My reminiscing ended when Glendower's eyes opened; he looked at me and
smiled.
"I like it. We'll need a good spot to install it."

He picked up his wine glass, taking a sip. "I don't think it should be the
only
one we install, though. I'll talk it over with Hotspur in the morning, and
see
if we can put together a team for it. Hmmm, it's already early. I'll talk
to
him in the afternoon, and we'll pick it up tomorrow morning after we all
phase-shift back to daytime lives."

I said my good mornings, and then walked down the long hallway. The lights
were
dimmed to simulate night, with just a few telltales here and there; just
enough
of them so I could make our way home.

My wife was out of the hospital and once again in full health. Well, close
anyway. That meant we could once again live together, rather than me camping
on
the floor of her hospital room, but living space was at a premium in Isher,
so
an apartment was out of the question. An apartment wouldn't be "home"
anyway, so
we'd arranged for a power cable and water/sewer connections in the parking
lot.
I went home to the Beast My wife was dozing in the passenger seat when I
came
in, her wearable disassembled and spread over the workbench behind the
driver's
seat.

I kissed her gently, and she half-stirred. Carefully, I lift her out of the
seat
and carried her to bed; not as gracefully as I had twenty-six years previous
when we were first married. I guess I was getting old. On the other hand,
my
lack of grace caused her to wake up and smile softly at me as her head
touched
the pillow.

Suddenly I wasn't nearly as sleepy as I'd been when I first walked through
the
door, and felt years younger than I had a moment before.

Our being apart for a couple weeks made me truly appreciate the feel soft
smooth
skin and the warmth of her body against mine, and she seemed to have
developed -
who knows why - a similar craving for my hairy, scratchy self. In the end,
we
slept nearly around the clock, reveling in being in our own bed, together,
in a
safe place. Eventually, the lights of Isher came up to full brightness, and
the
white glow coming through the small window woke us.




Chapter 17

JV 2010 is built on the premise that modern and emerging technologies -
particularly information-specific advances - should make possible a new
level of
joint operations capability. Underlying a variety of technological
innovations
is information superiority - the capability to collect, process and
disseminate
an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an
adversary's
ability to do the same.
Concept for Future Joint Operations
(Expanding 'Joint Vision 2010')
US Joint Chiefs of Staff
May 1997

The chamber was never intended to be a conference room, but we made do.

I'd been sent an email saying where the room was, and to be there at 10:00.
My
wife wanted to come along, and a quick exchange of email with Glendower
informed
me he had no objection to it. I got up and got dressed in Guild Blacks,
since
it was to be a business meeting. My wife took one look at the black pants,
black
shirt, black vest, black sport coat color theme, sniffed and said she was
waiting for today.... and a chance to spring her own counter-fashion
statement.

This explains what led to me sitting on top of a packing crate, with my wife
(in
a fuchia cat-suit, and an ancient but color coordinated Charles Daly DDA-CS
Fuchia in a skeleton holster on her belt) sitting on top of a cable spool
next
to me.

Five others in the room wore Guild Blacks; Glendower was one of them. The
other
four were three men and a woman, all younger looking than Glendower. Two
other
women were in non-Guild clothes, and sat with two of the men. None of the
non-Guild clothed women were making fashion statements. One wore jeans and a
T-shirt bearing an iron-on that proclaimed, "An armed society is a polite
society - Heinlein." The next line on the shirt was "Mind your P's and Q's!"
It
had the Isher Arms logo on the breast pocket.

Glendower cleared his throat, and said, "Good morning. I have a multi-party
contract. The job is an install of currently written software and data. The
install process is trivial; the main work on the job is delivery of the
installation media. You will be paid T&M for travel time. Media of payment
will
be Guild Vouchers redeemable at the client site or sites for good and
services
the client may provide. Duration of contract is expected to be one to three
months. Anyone not interested in this contract, please walk out now. "

One of the guys who had a woman with him looked at her. The two whispered
for a
moment, and then he said, "Excuse us. I'm sorry, we'll decline." Glendower
shook
hands with each of them, said, "We'll keep you on file for other jobs" and
held
the door open for them when they left.

Glendower locked the door behind them, and then returned to the storeroom
and
propped himself up on meter-cube crate marked, "Fragile" and began speaking.

"Command, Control and Communication are the three elements of the military
acronym C3I. The 'I' is Information, and because of the experience the Guild
has
dealing with that, the Rebellion - such as it is - has decided to put
Control
and Communication handling in our... er... hands as well. "

"I mention the 'such as it is' because there is no formal, nationwide,
command
structure for the Rebellion. We have no Joint Chiefs or High Command.
Perhaps
that is because we are, in a way, rebelling against the concept of a
hierarchical relationship between parties other than the natural
relationships
involved in free trade."

"Because of this lack of a central Command, the major financial backers of
the
Rebellion are finding themselves negotiating projects more and more. That
requires secure Communications and Information exchange.... which leads us
to
the purpose of this contract."

"There are a number of 'hidden cities', along the lines of Isher, spread
across
the US. We have a few bastions in other countries as well, and contracts
with
the few remaining offshore data clearing houses. The recent destruction of
Sealand reduces that number by one more. "

"The Guild Packet Radio Network is being similarly destroyed; FCC Gunships
have
been tracking down our unattended communications repeaters over the last
month,
and there are now large areas where we are unable to pass information as we
once
did. This prevents our being able to simply route our client's data over our
network."

"In order to facilitate communication between these cities, we need to
deliver
one-time encryption pads. These pads will be stored as a set of two dozen
DVDs
for each city. Each DVD carries what should be enough data to encrypt normal
message traffic for one month, so we should be in good shape for two years,
provided none of the disks fall into enemy hands."

"You will each be given a set of cases containing the DVDs and a
self-destruction device. You will take them to locations on your route, and
install the encryption program on a computer system at each site. In the
event
of the possibility of capture, you'll trigger the destruct for all remaining
DVDs in your possession."

"One other package you'll be delivering is a meteor burst communications
set.
One will be installed in each of your vehicles as well. This system uses a
carrier of between 49 and 50 megahertz to carry information for a range of
up to
one thousand miles by reflecting the signal off the ionization wake of a
meteor
striking the Earth's atmosphere."

"These systems have an advantage, and a drawback."

"The advantage is that since they use a tight beam aimed into space, there
is
very little side-leakage, which means that the chances of being triangulated
are
slim."

"The drawback is that you have to wait for a meteor to hit the atmosphere.
From
twenty hundred to twenty three hundred, micro meteors of enough size to be
useful for this purpose will appear every two to five minutes. Message
transmission and acknowledgement are automatic, with a typical message cycle
taking only a few seconds. "

"As usual, the Guild has a 'bonus task' for this project."

Glendower turned and winked at me. There was a brief eye contact, and then
the
bottom of my glasses scrolled a pre-recorded message, sent just moments ago:
"This one's all yours and you'll get a bonus for each one installed. I just
don't want anyone knowing who wrote it, just in case."

He went on speaking as I read the message, "Highly skilled Guild
Programmers,
working in secret, have devised these Data-Bombs to be installed at such
roadside location you may find along the way. Yes, these professionals
trained
in dirty tricks - people so dangerous we're not going to let them out of our
sight - have devised these. Stick one in a roadside phone connection box and
after a few days it will begin raising Cain on its own. "

We each accepted the contract, and Glendower IR beamed our client locations
from
his wearable to ours, then handed each of us a locked case containing the
DVDs
and Data Bombs. Arrangements were made for technicians to come to our
vehicles
to install the meteor-bounce radios.

We went back to the Beast, and packed the goodies away in our storage
lockers,
then sat down to plot our route. Not long after we had the cockpit's large
display showing maps we wanted, there was a knock on the door.

A gent in his mid-thirties was there, wearing mechanic's coveralls with the
name
"Steve" embroidered on the chest pocket. He smiled, said, "Is this VIN#
0110
0110 0110? "

"Yes, welcome to the Beast."

"I've got some gear I'm supposed to install. Can I get a download of your
tech
specs so I know where the plug-ins are?"

I nodded, and then gave him a link to the Unix box where the Beast kept
notes on
its anatomy. I also had my wearable copy what was going to his PDA to my
display, just so that if he snuck out into other parts of the system I'd
know. "

My wife and I sat down to talk as I kept half an eye on the data scrolling
across the lower part of my field of view.

"Sweetheart, what do we need to get before we go?" I asked her.

The Beast VIN 0110 0110 0110:

Manufacturer: Prime contractor: Unicat Fahrzeugbau GMBH

"We're pretty well stocked on food, although I would like to do some grocery
shopping in the Free Market here. There are some things that would be great
for
trade goods once we're on the road."

Chassis : Mercedes-Benz Unimog "UC3" that has been cut and further
stretched,
plus axles added. The center of the chassis has been articulated for up to
10
degrees of bend in the horizontal plane, and up to 15 in the vertical plane.

"Oh? I know they had sugar cane at the market last week"

Overall Dimensions
Main Body: 15 meters long (48 feet, 9 inches)
2 meters (78") wide
3 meters (9 feet, nine inches) high
Note: This is nominal
height.
Active suspension can lower this by up to 4 inches, or raise it by up to 12.
Roof Sensor modules:
Retracted: add 3" to the roof for a
total
of 10'
Extended : Add 3' to the roof for a
total
of 13'

She nodded, "Not only cane, but refined sugar in five and ten pound bags.
With
sugar rationing in effect, those should be a good trade item. Not to mention
I
can make chocolate chip cookies with it..."


Gross Vehicular Weight (unloaded) : 33,372 pounds / 15,170 kg.
(loaded/max) : 44,000 pounds /
20,000
kg


"Mmmm... Cookies... Sugar is definitely on the list. Canned goods should be
as
well, for people who are leery of the Citizen Village thing."

Power plant: 10 Solid Oxide fuel cells delivering 20 Kw each. These are
mounted
as 5 pairs, one per hull corner and one in the center. Each has a one gallon
reserve fuel tank mounted with it. Each fuel cell weighs 50 kg and consumes
1
gallon of hydrocarbons per hour. One fuel cell is needed to run all the
Beast's
parasitic functions (computers, air conditioning, radios, navigation
systems,
refrigerator, etc.) The fuel cells fully process the hydrocarbons,
producing
water vapor and CO2 as by-products.

"Right. Maybe a few bags of rice and beans, just as trade-staples"

Five 200kg lithium thinoyl chloride battery packs with an energy-density of
400
Wh/kg. Each battery pack can power the Beast's motive systems at full run
for
20 minutes, or one hour at "reduced power cruise." One battery pack is
mounted
with each fuel cell group. With charging losses, and max charge rate, each
set
of fuel cells can fully recharge it's associated battery pack in 8 hours.

An external umbilical is provided allowing the Beast to plug into 120VAC ,
220VAC or 440VAC power lines for battery recharge.

"Since we're in Isher, ammo here has no transport costs. We could stock up
on a
couple hundred rounds in different calibers as well."

Fuel Storage:
1 meter cube made of three millimeter DuPont "Tubranite"
carbon
nanotube plastic faced on both sides by 7mm of DuPont "Arachnaglass"
carbon/epoxy resin with spider-silk fibers. Inner wall is faced with 10mm of
DuPont "Lothweave" spider-silk bulletproof fabric as an insulator and
spall-catcher. Internal anti-slosh and flame-retardant baffles give a total
volume of 250 gallons (950 liters). This is 25 hours of travel with all
fuel
cells running, or 950 hours (39 days) at minimum consumption. Normal cruise
duration is around 53 hours (at normal driving speeds) before refuelling.

"That sounds like a good idea. They're also producing those knock-offs of
the
Hi-Point carbine. Maybe get two or three, with spare mags and cleaning kits,
to
give to folks with nothing better?"

Engine, transmission, braking:
Four powered axles. Three axles have two sets of "double
wheels" (semi-tractor style). Each wheel has a seperate pancake motor built
into
wheel the tire mounts onto. Connections in the center of the hub allow power
to
go to the motor, and air to go to the tire. Vanes on the wheels act as heat
sinks; when the wheel is moving, these vanes also act as air "scoops" to
force
air to the center of the wheel.

Total of eight superconducting pancake motors. Each has a
maximum power draw of 40 Kw (35 Kw motive output) and a maximum torque of
145
Nm. This gives a total power output comparable to a 5.7 liter GM LS-1
engine.
The advantage is multiple redundancies and the ability "partial run" to save
power.
All eight motors support regenerative braking to recharge
battery packs
All twelve idler wheels have electro-active polymer actuated
disk brakes

Maximum speed: 160 kph (99mph) Cruise speed: 115
kph
(72 mph)

"Dunno about that - nine mil doesn't do a whole lot of penetrating. But it's
better than nothing, I guess... Let's get one rather than two or three, and
get
a couple cheap nine mil pistols. Those folks can conceal until they're right
up
on the fella they want to shoot. "


Suspension:
Monaco leveling and suspension system, using electro-active
polymer filled pistons. Each "Shock" is filled with both air and a plastic
"goo"
that shrinks to one-half its volume when current is applied. This allows the
shock to collapse in on itself. There is a "scissors jack" style mechanism
on
the outside of the shock with another piston. This second one is filled with
EAP
that is latched to the ends of the piston. When the polymer contracts, it
pulls
the scissors jack closed, which opens the other side and raises the vehicle.
The
shocks can collapse by 4" or extend by 12" from the base height.


My wife smiled a weird smile - "Like that guy that shot up the post office
last
week? You remember, it was on the news?"

Turn Radius:
A) By putting the drive wheels on one side in reverse and
the
drive wheels on the other side in forward, the Beast can pivot on it's own
center, tank-style. This will abrade the tires, so it isn't usually done.

B) With the articulated back half being powered and having
it's
own limited steering via "drive by wire" control of the rear drive wheels,
the
turn radius is 15 meters (49 feet), a little more than a standard Unimog.


I remembered. It was funny and sad at the same time; a ninety three year old
guy, a Medal of Honor winner from Desert Strike, had gone into a post office
and
shot the mail censor and the guy that was in charge of Selective Service
registration. Then he'd yelled something about, "Uncle Sam taught me to
shoot
UnAmerican bastards!" before the cops caught him.


Cabin
Hull Construction: Three millimeter DuPont "Tubranite" carbon
nanotube
plastic faced on both sides by 7mm of DuPont "Arachnaglass" carbon/epoxy
resin
with spider-silk fibers. Inner wall is faced with 10mm of DuPont "Lothweave"
spider-silk bulletproof fabric as an insulator and spall-catcher.

Inner doors and lids made of polyester profiles with safety lockers

I shook my head, "Yeah, something like that. Weird. People are really
starting
to lose it out there."

Windows:
Driver's cockpit door
Passenger's
cockpit door.
Windshield
Bedroom
window
Kitchen skylight

All windows are made of two layers of ceramic
aluminum
oxide which has been fired to resist breakage from the outside (ie,
reasonably
bullet proofed).

She looked at me, then looked down at the floor. For a few moments, the only
sound was that of the mechanic messing around in the driver's seat of the
Beast,
looking through the documentation to find the right spot to install the new
antennas and how to link the comms into the Beast's LAN.
In between the two layers is a pane of BOS GmbH & Co. KG "SPD-Smart"
glass,
which allows on-the-fly control of the tinting of the window, from 5 to 95%
light transmission, outside to inside, and 70% to 0% transmission (inside to
outside)

The bedroom window and kitchen skylight have EAP actuated shutters that will
pull normal hull panels over them when a switch is pulled.

The windshield has a carbon micro-tub as an inner layer, allowing full color
high resolution display of information from the vehicle computer system

She finally spoke, in a soft, little-girlish voice. "I wigged out back
there,
didn't I?"

Hatches/doors:
Driver's cockpit door
Passenger's cockpit door.
Rear "Garage Ramp" that folds out to ground level, APC Rear
Hatch style
"Gangplank" door - starboard side, mid point.
Roof hatch for 40/50 Gun Mount
Kitchen Skylight can be unlatched and used as a hatchway.

"Uhm...." Sometimes eloquence eludes me. What I don't understand is why it
has
to at important moments?

Floorplan/Furnishing
fixed bed 2m x 2m (wall to wall in the back bedroom) with
storage above and below; sidebar "Nightstand" mounted on wall 0.5m above bed
level extends out 0.25m.
Kitchen table/benches fold into a bed, 2m x 1.2m, with
storage
below
Wardrobe, shoe storage, safe (30cmx30cm), Arms Locker (1.5m
x
.5m x.5m)
wine cellar in floor, with thermo-electric temperature
regulation and humidity control
Kitchen has stainless steel sink, two dual-use (electric or
LP
gas) stove burners, gas oven (5 liter volume), microwave, Refrigerator
(Thermo-electric) (75l), Freezer (60l) (electric or LP gas using built in
fuel-cell), storage and cupboard above kitchen counters.
Parquet wood floors

"When I saw the shooting start, I kicked the gas and brought the Beast as
quick
as I could. I could see the guy who shot you on milliwave, but I was too
slow to
stop him before he shot you. "

Water System / Heating / Sanitary
80 gallon (320 liter) fresh water tank
20 gallon (80 liter) "Grey Water" reclamation tank: fills
from
kitchen and bathroom sinks, is used first when flushing the toilet.
3 micron water filtration system for water intakes
50 liter warm water heat exchanger
60 liter wastewater tank
50 liter septic tank
radiators for central heating in living room and shower
water heating provided from either LP gas or waste heat from
number 5 Fuel cell pair.
It was my turn to nod and say nothing. I could just imagine how I'd feel if
I
had almost managed to stop someone from shooting my beloved.

She went on as I looked down at the table, "This rage just exploded in me
then;
they'd taken my grandchild, my child, and now my husband. Each time I'd been
unable to do anything about it. All the frustration of the last, what, six
months just exploded at once. "

I reached across the table and held her hand. She smiled, and we caught each
other's eyes for a moment - she knew I understood what she was saying.

"When that.... quisling... shot me, I knew I was bleeding. But it didn't
seem
like any really big deal; I'd thought I could take care of it later. I was
so
blooming angry that I didn't have room to feel anything else. "

She turned away for a moment, and then turned back to me.

"I've done a lot of thinking on it while I was in the hospital bed. It was
stupid to lose control of myself that way. I could have gotten both of us
killed. If I had dropped the Militia guys off first, then we would have been
caught in that parking lot when the next bunch of cops showed up. "

Determination showed in her eyes, and her voice was low and even. "I can't
promise that I've put all that anger behind me. I can promise you that I'll
try
to keep it under control and not get both of us killed doing something
stupid."

I nodded. A moment of solidarity was there, when we could both see the
other's
soul and know that we could depend on each other. Then the moment passed,
and
there was an awkward silence.

I broke it with, "Not getting killed doing something stupid.... But,
sweetheart,
that only leaves getting killed doing something smart. And if we're doing
something smart, then how can we get killed?"

She laughed more than the lame joke was worth, and we sat holding hands
until
the mechanic finished installing the new radio.

Then we did the thing women normally do to put an unpleasant emotional
moment
behind them: We went shopping.

Chapter 18

Do nothing that is without purpose.
Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings


Once more we were on the road, with a full larder, full tank of juice, and a
fully T&M enabled contract.

T&M are magic words for Consultants - it's been that way for ages. "Time And
Materials" is a code word that tells the client that they have designated
what
the goal of the project is, and now they need merely do three things in
order to
have things turn out correctly: sit back, keep their hands off the project,
and
keep the money coming.

The key from the Consultant's point of view is to get the project done
quickly
enough and do such a good job that they joy of having what they wished for
prevents full realization of how much money they shelled out. This way,
they
give 'references', which will allow you get bill their friends in a similar
manner.

Now that the Guild was "at war" things weren't quite the same as making
one's
livelihood by bringing the fruits of modern technology to some client that
was
in desperate need. The overall pay wasn't as good - for the most part, it
was
barely enough to pay for things that weren't "expensable." On the other
hand, it
was a job that allowed one to maintain a sense of individuality.

That sense of individuality was well in the fore when we briefly stopped
just
south of Vegas and plugged a data-bomb into an otherwise ignored telephone
junction box. Viva Las Vegas, baby! The city has near continuous phone
transmissions on a gazillion (it's a technical term) lines, making it a
perfect
place to lose tracks.

There was, of course, no immediate effect from plugging the Bomb in. It
would
take several days before things progressed enough that any effect would be
noticed. That didn't, however, stop me from having a huge grin as I hopped
back
into the Beast and continued driving south.

Our destination was a set of "pueblo's" outside a rural Texas town. The
place
had a history going back thousands of years, but the part that was actually
funny only went back about eighty or so.

Environmentalists had pushed and pushed for the local electric company to
develop "alternative power." The power company hemmed and hawed, looking for
a
method they wouldn't lose their shirts on. Finally they notice an out of the
way
mesa, the top of which had strong prevailing winds. "Ah," said the
engineers,
"perfect place to stick some windmills."

Lo, in the fullness of time, a herd of wind-turbines were installed... and
power
flowed. We all know, now, that when you add up the energy used by the
aluminum
refineries, and the companies that formed them, and add in the total cost of
construction, hauling it out to the site, installation, and running power
cables
down to civilization you would have been better off just building another
conventional power plant.... not only from a financial but from an
environmental
point of view. Consider the pollution and damage to the landscape done in
order
to set this 'environmentally friendly' project in motion.

Well, one set of environmentalists did eventually do that math, and they
demanded the windmills be shut down... and then realized how much more
damage to
the precious environment would be done taking the things down and removing
them!

About the same time, a bunch of paleo-American history buffs noticed the
cave
dwellings built into the Mesa, and got a court injunction against any more
travel through the archeologically sensitive area.

Two separate courts, in the middle of 2019, handed down tow decisions. One
court told the power company the land was off limits, and they would be
fined
every time one of their employees was there. The other court told the power
company that they would be fined for every day the windmills were there past
a
court-mandated removal date.

The company looked the situation over, and folded. They ceded the land to
the
National Wilderness Reclamation Agency for the sum of one dollar, provided
the
NWRA would handle the removal of the windmills.

The next year, the NWRA found an endangered desert rat nested in the base of
one
of the turbines. The turbines were reclassified as a terrestrial version of
an
'artificial reef', and the NWRA biologist who came up with the idea got a
promotion.

Meanwhile, "Enron Act" accountants went over the power companies business
records, decided that in light of the loss the company took on land
purchase,
windmills, labor and legal costs the construction of the windmills was a
"fiscally reckless act" and brought the power company under tight Federal
control. The CEO and CFO wound up in re-education camps, working on a whole
new
kind of MBA.

What got lost in the shuffle is a situation in which an area of ground was
un-patrolled, had electric power, deep caves, and a number of water sources
that
had been previously used in the time of the Roman Republic... but which
could be
brought back into usefulness.

It was a perfect spot for a quiet little hide-away.....


We pulled up about two hours before dawn, and circled the base of the mesa
twice
before we found the right spot - and found it only because there were a
couple
guys with flashlights waving us in to the cave. The GPS coordinates we were
given for the 'door' were 83 meters off from where the door actually was.
That
kind of error isn't the kind that a GPS makes... someone screwed up the
sending
of the coordinates.

The tunnel mouth had several boulders around it, so it looked smaller than
it
was. As we pulled closer, we saw a guy rolling a huge eight foot in diameter
boulder away from the tunnel mouth all by himself. Most of the big rocks
were
movie props. They looked real enough from a distance, but the use of them
made
the whole thing seem campy, like the 2056 comedy remake of "Batman" staring
Gerald Lewis.

The tunnel, I later found out, was designed to be big enough to bring a semi
in,
to unload supplies the village couldn't produce. Bringing the Beast in was
no
problem, but we didn't find one of the huge parking bays like Isher had.
There
was just a single, plain concrete loading dock and a couple doors going into
the
mountain. There was no room to turn around once inside, and they hadn't
told me
to back in, so I ended up pulling back out, turning around, and then backing
up.
Annoying.

Getting the meteor bounce commo hardware and software installed was the
trivial
process that Glendower assured us it would be. That was about the only thing
that went right.

My test message back to ***@Isher.com carried a portion of the Beast's
logs. The reply that came back included the information to program a handy
two
inch by four inch, golden bordered piece of smart paper, turning it into a
Guild
Voucher. Simple, straight forward. I now had vaulta to cover the things I'd
expended.

It was only 22:15 by the time the client signed off on the project. I went
back
down stairs and tried to spend the money in my hot little paw; and ran
straight
into a road block. No one was selling. I asked eleven different vendors.
Everyone said I should talk to Mr. Dillon in the morning.

I spent the night upset and irate. I'd wanted to get out and going before
first
light; the cooler air meant the Beast used less fuel, and I'd burnt near on
fifty three gallons on the way down here. I wanted to top off the tanks and
go.... but Mr. Dillon wouldn't see me until 09:00.

So my wife and I stayed up late, and then slept in, and at 08:40 I left the
Beast and walked to Mr. Dillon's office. A rotund gentleman with a ten
gallon
hat and tiny prescription glasses, he opened the door to his office and
ushered
me into a plush carpeted room, with wood paneled walls (rather than the
concrete
and stone in all the other rooms I'd been in) and warm halogen torch lights
rather than harsh fluorescents.

I sat in the overstuffed leather chair, and he sat in the one next to me,
using
a standard "Management Psychology" ploy to make me thing we were both on the
same side of the issue, just as we were on the same side of the desk. He
offered me a Coke, which was nice, but then he put ice in it.

Most programmers go very light on the ice in our drinks; there's a tendency
to
get buried in your work, and then reach for a drink and get a watery
tincture
that is not at all the taste you were expecting.

I sipped politely, and showed him my Voucher.

"Ah, yes. Guild Voucher. Great. What do you want to buy?"

"I'm under T&M, and part of the voucher is supposed to cover 53 gallons of
diesel."

"Sorry, can't sell you any."

"What? You don't have any diesel? At all?"

"Oh, of course we do. Ten thousand gallons on hand, per our arrangement with
the
Rebellion to be a Reserve War Materials Storage Site."

I blinked. He actually said it in such a way you could hear capitals in the
sentence.

"Okaaaay... so you have ten thousand gallons of diesel?"

"Yes."

"And you won't sell me any?"

"Right."

"Because?"

"Why, if we sold you the fifty three gallons you want, we'd only have
nine-thousand, nine hundred and forty seven gallons. Our arrangement says
we'll
keep ten thousand on hand."

"On hand for Rebellion vehicles to use, right?"

"Exactly."

"And I'm part of the Rebellion, right?"

"Sure ya are!"

"So my vehicle would be a Rebellion vehicle?"

"Yep."

"So you could sell me the fuel, since it would be going to a Rebellion
vehicle!"

"Nope."

"Why?"

He looked at me the way a parent looks at a four year old who just doesn't
get
it. His reply was spoken very slowly and distinctly: "Because we're a fuel
reserve."

"Reserve?"

"For emergencies."

"What the hell good is a reserve if you don't use it? Sell me the
fifty-three,
get another fifty-three from your normal supplier!"

"No can do."

"Why?"

"Because this is the twenty-eight of the month." He said it so matter of
factly,
like it explained everything.

"And this figures in, why?"

"Because it'll take a week to get more fuel.... which means the shortfall
would
show up on our month end reports." He spoke 'month end reports' the way some
people say, 'permanent record' or 'final transcript.'

"Okay, fine. How about food? Can I get Strike Rations? " Strike rations,
unlike
MRE's, actually tasted like food.

"We've got ten thousand cases of SR's.... but there's a problem."

"Lemme guess..."

"Ayep. It's part of the reserve, so we can't sell you any."

We went through a half dozen other commodities I would have liked to
acquire.
Every one ended in the same way.

"If you won't sell anything, then why do you have vendors in the
marketplace?

"That way we have full employment of all the people who live here. It looks
good
on our quarterly reports." Again, that religious reverence....

"Just out of curiosity," I asked him, "what did you do before you gained
command
of this place?"

He smiled proudly, "First, I was in the US Army. I was a Lt. Colonel. "

"Quartermaster Corp?"

"Yeah, how'd you guess?"

"You said 'first' - what next?"

"Then I joined the environmentalism movement as a logistics advisor. I was
one
of the folks that organized the marches against the power company."

This kind of stupidity couldn't be natural - it had to come from something
else.
There is just no way a person could not only be born this incredibly dumb,
and
then could gain followers who considered him smart enough to be their
leader.
The old cliché of "maybe there was something in the water...." came to mind.

I looked down at the glass of Coke in my hand, the ice slowly melting. A
very
scary thought occurred to me - I'd seen him pour the Coke out of the can,
but
the ice was from the small fridge in his office. It was local water....

I put the glass on the end table between the two chairs, and scooted it
towards
him.

"That's nice. I'll just top off my tank at my next stop. Sorry to bother
you.
Bye!"

I rushed back to the loading dock where the Beast was parked, and yanked out
the
Umbilical, yelling for my wife over the 49Mhz link - "We're outa here -
let's go
- now!"

I know it was psychosomatic, but I could feel IQ points slipping, and
couldn't
get the thought of the melting ice out of my mind.

One of the service guys was trying to tell me something. I signed the PDA he
was
holding out, and we bolted.

I'd driven twenty miles into the desert before my eye noticed the fresh
water
tank on the Beast was full. I asked my wearable for a copy of what I'd
signed,
and it showed me a receipt for power and water while we were parked.

For the next three days, as we drove west, I cringed each time I turned on a
faucet.



Chapter 19

POLICE ANCHOR: You've been convicted of 27 moral crimes, Plissken. The
murder of an Internal Revenue agent. The

kidnapping of a bank president. Gun fighting for profit. The list goes on
and on..."Escape from LA" John Carpenter

And Debra Hill
We evaded the normal check points, avoided interstate intersections, and
eventually found ourselves on the borders of "The City Of Angeles", Los
Angeles.


Going into a major city is a non-trivial activity. There are checkpoints on
the
major roads, and roving patrols on the others. You don't simply drive into
the
center of town without someone asking for your ID repeatedly - which was
something we'd been avoiding for the past few months. Now, however, we had a
problem.

The address we were supposed to deliver to was in the middle of Watts.

I didn't like the idea of driving into a major city, not in the least.

I didn't especially like the idea of driving into that part of the city,
either.


We parked in Perris, on the eastern edge of Los Angeles, in a rented RV
"U-Stor-It" place. I spent some time cooking up NatIDs, and then checked the
local newspaper website.

My wife would stay in Perris, with the Beast, and be ready to bail me out if
I
needed it. Mostly, she was there to watch our home, as I didn't want to take
it
into the city - it was a bit too conspicuous when among lots of humans.

I bought a car from the Perris classifieds - a fifteen year old Toyota that
made
a sound implying the CV joint would be exploding soon - and drove from
Perris to
Carlsbad, on the edge of San Diego. There, I traded the car to a fellow on
the
docks, who wanted to pull the engine and use it for parts for his boat. In
exchange, I got a lift on one of the regular "Cocaine and Colts" runs
bringing
in drugs and firearms from south-of-the-border. One of the conditions of
the
lift was that I'd help them fight their way out of any trouble they met.

We set sail, a short cruise about 4 miles off the coast, then east toward
shore,
where we were intercepted by a Coast Guard boat. Everyone aboard our vessel
was
relaxed, and took it matter-of-factly. The reason why was revealed in a few
moments: the Coasties were on the take. My hosts bribed some folks, and
pulled
up at Marina Del Rey, paid more bribes - and I paid my share as well - and
then
I was hailing a cab and heading into town.

When we were as far into Watts as the cabbie would go, I slid my "Robert P.
Schlange" NatID through the "pay here" slot and got out of the cab. I was
wearing Blacks, which didn't quite fit in with the area, but I'd still not
bought new clothes, and as far as bullet-resistant wear, it was Blacks or
CUs,
and looking too much like full-on military would draw the wrong sort of
attention.

Attention was drawn my way, in spite of my attempt at fashion sense, a
couple
blocks later. Here I was, walking through Watts at ten o'clock at night in a
suit and tie, carrying a briefcase.... yes, there are stupider things one
could
be doing, but, as I said, my 'blend in' wardrobe was limited.

I came to a street corner, and a half dozen dis-advantaged youths came over
to
greet me. I'm not exactly sure what they said - over a half-century of
Ebonics
as a recognized dialect meant that English had fragmented the way Chinese
had.
After a few tries, they shifted to a variant of the language I grew up with.

"Jet the case, Homer, plant face, show props, pronto!"

I raised my eyebrow. The whole job was safe delivery of the case. Well, I
was
working, so why not try what worked with my other clients?

"Addendum Four, gentlemen. You're in danger of violating Addendum Four."

This was met with a bunch of blank looks. They exchanged glances trying to
figure out what I was babbling about. Falling back on tried and true
methods,
they began what an anthropologist would call a threat display. Reaching
under
jackets, they pulled knives and nun-chucks, short steel pipes and one
primitive
looking zip-gun.

"The case is a delivery to one Chlamydia Washington. I've a short list of
people I'm supposed to give it to - let's see if you're on the list."

I reached back under my jacket.

They looked at me as if I were totally insane. I wasn't panicking in the
face of
overwhelming force. This was not in the profile for the normal business
man.
They came to their decision point - I'd dissed them, and it was time for me
to
be taught my place.

"Don' need no fuckin' list - give the case, Homer!"

The modified Glock 17C came up out of the belt holster in a smooth arc, and
my
wearable knew how this game was supposed to go. Just as the gun pointed in
their
general direction, I began seeing targeting data on my glasses, and was
pulling
the trigger, tossing off quick double taps and three or four round bursts.
The
nineteen round magazine went dry in a few heartbeats, but by then I was the
only
one standing as the echoes of the gun shots died out.

The big secret of gun fighting, they say, isn't so much shooting fast, as
the
problem that if you shoot fast, you tend to shoot inaccurately. Getting
around
that problem requires a lot of practice - there were people in the last
century
who could fire off six rounds from a single-action revolver in less than a
second, hitting the target every time. Being able to do that, however, was
the
result of thirty or forty years of doing little but shooting.

Consultants, however, specialize in cheating the rules. I only had to wave
the
gun back and forth, and pull the trigger when the pip in my field of view
was on
the right spot. The wearable knew how much I would heel the gun when I
pulled
the trigger, how much it was wobbling as I moved it, how much recoil was
throwing me off, and even the typical delay between my seeing the pip where
I
wanted to hit and my finger actually squeezing the trigger.

Best of all, those calculations were invoked just by bringing the pistol
into
something near firing position. No fumbling with switches, dials, sights
and
knobs - the kind of fumbling that would get one killed.

I looked around - there were a couple witnesses who were rapidly
disappearing.
In this area, being interviewed by the cops was likely to get you busted for
something as well.

As the locals were high-tailing it, I figured, "When in Rome, do as the
Romans
do." I reloaded as I walked.

Two blocks later, I ran into another group, dressed and acting much the
same.

"You guys have got to be kidding me," wasn't what they were expecting me to
say
when I saw them. It let me get out a second sentence before they got a word
in
edgewise.

"I'm just here to deliver a package. If I'm going to get mugged on every
street
corner, I'll end up depopulating this neighborhood before I can do my job. "

They looked blankly, and it slowly dawned on them that I was somehow
associated
with the earlier burst of automatic weapons fire.

"Guys, just let me pass. You don't need the trouble."

There was a mental flipping of coins, and apparently it came up heads,
because
they faded back, and I continued on my merry way, considering the merit of
'honest' citizens having concealed weapons being a deterrent to street
crime.

I arrived a few minutes later at an old house - beat up, dingy - but with
two
guys on the front step. I stepped up, and they looked at me. I was expected,
and
with a nod of the one on the left's head, I went inside. The door opened on
a
much nicer interior decor than the exterior - deep shag carpet, fine wood
furniture, a full-wall TV showing the Travel Channel.

Looking around,I found - unexpectedly - a black guy in Guild Blacks sitting
on
an old "pit group" couch with a couple of gunsels and three fine looking
women.
The Guildsman rose, and walked up the steps toward me. He looked very
sharp -
shaved head, neat, tidy. Immaculate clothing, unlike my which was beginning
to
look a bit ratty. He held out his hand and introduced himself, "Richard
Roundtree, how you doing?"

There's a game Guild members tend to play - call it a twisted version of
"what's
my line" - where you're expected to make a witty comment about the other
person's current nom de guerre. It's an outgrowth of those early training
classes with the wearable, finding out what you can about a person in a few
heartbeats.

I shook his hand, my eyes flipping back and forth on the displays in my
glasses,
letting the retina trackers make selections through the hyperlinks.

"I'm doing better than Bumpy. Robert Schlange. You working as the private
dick
here?"

"Yeah, I'm the computing machine for all the chicks..."

He paused, and I noticed the fingers of his left hand were performing an
intricate dance... he looked frustrated for a moment, then (I'm guessing)
decided to see if there was a multi-language pun involved.

"Snake, man, I heard something about you getting caught in Cleveland? What's
up
with that?"

"Call me Schlange."

We laughed - it was even funnier, because the others sitting on the couch
then
turned and looked at us like we'd totally lost it. There's just something
about
an "in-joke" that is irresistible, I think. One of the pleasures of being
in
the Guild is being able to watch old, politically incorrect movies in their
original, pre-"Office of Media Accuracy" revisions. Sometimes, sitting in a
hotel room after a long day of coding, being too brain-dead to even want to
go
out and explore the town, that's all there is to do. Play an old MPEG file,
and
jell out, winding down until you fall asleep. Being able to talk with
someone
who has shared the same experiences is a rare treat.

"You've got the box there - new comms, right?" as he spoke, I got a long,
encrypted message on IR, passing me enough Guild codes to confirm he knew
people
I knew, and thus we vouched for each other.

"Yes. Got an install spot?"

It took less than a half hour to get everything installed... and another
hour of
waiting before we got a good meteor stream. Finally, we'd tested it, and
show
that it was, "functioning as designed", and the client signed off on it.

Easy as pie....

Except that once again, I had a problem: I wanted to buy about eighty
gallons of
hydrocarbons, and while they were willing to take Guild Vouchers, that
wasn't
something I could carry with me. After meeting the formidable Chlamydia
Washington (a woman who would be forever cursed with the results of her
mother
naming her something that sounded good, without looking up what it meant
first),
and a brief half hour of negotiations, I found myself with a stack of EBT
cards,
all brand new and un-embossed, and a file that was IR'd to me containing a
set
of valid numbers. With the embossing and mag-strip encoding machines in the
Beast, I could set up IDs for those cards that were tied to the accounts in
the
file - and emboss whatever names would match whatever NatID I was using. I
also
picked up a stack of un-embossed, un-encoded NatIDs to replenish my stash.

With that, I could buy fuel and food on the regular market - which made
business
much easier.

Escaping from the city, now that I'd done my job and was paid, was the next
task. Ms. Washington had one of her gunsels bring the car around, and give
me a
ride back toward the marina.

We were half way there when things started getting freaky. The gunsel was
pulled
over for a routine ID and Location Check. The cops scanned our ID, and then
stood there looking intimidating. They asked me how long I'd been in town -
"About a week... got in Tuesday night" - what I was doing on the 'wrong'
side of
town - "I work for the President's Office for Power Reclamation, and we're
considering doing some studies on that area. I needed to do some monitoring
of
the power grid during night time usage, and this gentleman was my guide."

The questions went on a little longer than normal, and the gunsel cracked
under
the pressure. He pulled a sawed-off 12 gauge up, and triggered it into the
first
cops face. I was left in a bad position at that point, and was forced to
kill
the second cop. Both went down, but there were sirens nearby. I bailed out
of
the car, and ran down a dark alley way, then started taking random turns
away
from the area.

I made it about eleven blocks, and then saw the flashing lights of a
cop-mobile.
I hid behind a dumpster, and the car parked at the corner. Lying flat on
the
ground, I could peer around the edge without being seen.... and saw
something
that shocked me.

Getting out of the car was three C-O-P's, and one guy in what looked like an
old-fashioned business suit... very much like my Guild Blacks, but instead
they
were slate-grey....

There was a burst of gunfire to the south-east, and I intercepted a police
report that implied my driver's flight from capture was over.... along with
his
life.

I looked at the guy in the white suit as he slowly turned in a circle, like
some
old-tyme psychic trying to home in on the spirits... and suddenly, my the
packet
radio system in my wearable came on, sending an ACK to an inquiry message.

I killed all my comm systems, cutting off in the middle of receiving a
message.... a message on the short-range, local communications band. I
wasn't
quite fast enough, though.

The guy in the grey suit turned straight toward me - and I recognized the
ex-Guildsman I'd seen at the air park months ago. He took two steps
forward,
then stopped, thought better, and pointed at the dumpster. The C-O-P's with
him
came running at me, AR-15's held ready.

I braced the Glock 17C on the pavement, and then opened fire. Three double
taps,
at eighty meters. There was no way I'd have made the shot without the
wearable
helping, but the burst of milli-wave to do it definitely attracted the
attention
of the Guy In Grey.

A moment later, milliwave went away in a blinding burst of hash and static -
I
could, of course, home in on the source of the jamming... Grey.

I stood up, and walked slowly toward him, reloading the '17C as I did. We
were
alone on the street - for the moment. I caught the edge of an encrypted
burst he
sent out just before he began jamming the comm frequencies as well.

He started down the sidewalk towards me. At a hundred meters, I got an audio
stream over IR, and accepted it, making sure the wearable would reject any
data
packets that might try to virus my system.

"The days of the Guild are over. You must see that; the time of Chaos is
ended,
and you should now join Order. "

With magnification, I could see him, in his clean suit, carefully pressed
pants,
starched shirt and all. Even his tie was spotless.

"The Guild isn't dead, not by a long shot, and the ideals that created it
will
never die. People were never meant to be owned. Society must never be Big
Server/Thin Client, but Peer-to-Peer. "

As I lowered the 17C to my side, he slowly drew his pistol, holding it by
his
side as well. It was like looking into a twisted mirror as we walked toward
each
other.

We stopped about ten meters apart.

"There will never be peace, or safety or sanity without a strong central
force
to guide the people. Every flock needs a shepherd. "

"Before there were shepherds, there were still sheep.... and somehow, they
managed to survive and prosper enough to make them attractive enough to be
fleeced. How much more wool would they have if they weren't fleeced
regularly?"

"The shepherd lives in a house - and the sheep live out in the fields, in
the
rain and dirt. I know which I'd rather be."

His milliwave jamming tripled then, and there was a quick series of
secondary
pulses. I dodged left, wanting to throw off his shot, but it was no use. His
big
.357 revolver came up, I felt the bullet hit the '17C, and it flew out of my
hand, and then I heard the boom.

He resumed his slow walk forward, as I cradled my right hand across my
chest. I
was numb from the wrist down, but feeling was beginning to return.

He stopped about 8 feet away. "Shut down your wearable, and surrender. I'll
give
you a good job with a fair wage, and when the country is once again stable,
you'll be a respected member of the community."

I nodded, and reached into the vest under my jacket. I'd just had a gun shot
out
of my hand, I was shut off from being able to cry for help, I was blind to
most
IR and EM, and I could hear the police sirens a few blocks away. It was time
to
do something I'd always hoped I never would have to do.

In five and a half years as a Guild Programmer, I've never drawn my Glock 19
in
anger.

Even I can make a head shot at 8 feet without computer assistance.



He hit the ground, hard.

I hit the ground a moment later - he'd gotten one shot off with the .357 as
I'd
drawn, and hit me in the chest. The Guild Blacks had stopped it, but I was
bruised inside, and it hurt with each breath.

I took shallow breaths, and crawled over to him. I avoided looking at the
mushy
part of his head, but did manage to reach inside his jacket and unfasten the
buckles on his wearable. It stopped transmitting when I pulled it off of
him,
and my senses returned to normal.

I took his machine, threw it over my shoulder and made my way to the police
car.


The engine was still running, so finding the keys was no problem. I patched
my
wife in over my wearable, and she started feeding false info to the LAPD. I
made
it to one of the lesser-used checkpoints without the police figuring out
something was amiss.

There was an APB out for me though - the result of the Traitor's last
transmission - which had a picture of my face and orders to immediately
print
it, and use the printed version to visually check each person at the check
point.

I parked four blocks from the checkpoint and bailed out of the car. Getting
into
the LAPD computer system and squashing the file containing the photo wasn't
hard, and I managed to squash it before the image was sent to any other
systems.... but it had already come off the automatic printers at all the
city
checkpoints and the fax units in the patrol cars.

What is on paper isn't something I could manipulate.

I sat and mulled it over, and couldn't find an elegant solution to the
problem... and a solution would need to be found fairly quickly, as sitting
here
on the side of the road would eventually lead to being caught.

In the end, I resorted to the course of action programmers always take when
they
get stumped. If you can't figure out a way to do something in a few clean
lines
of code, code it dirty and rely on lots of processor power to get you to
where
you need to be - this is the solution that made Microsoft the largest
corporation on the planet.

I sat waiting until the time was right. I spent the time cooling my heels
invading the Grey Wearable, bypassing its processors and plugging its
storage
directly into my machine, pillaging the information I needed.

I slowly drove toward the checkpoint, coordinating with my wife along the
way.
When she got close enough, she destroyed the checkpoint with WP and HE from
the
Beast's secondary guns, and a few well placed shots with the 40/50, then
brought
the Beast in at high speed.

When I heard the shots, I used the data I'd pillaged to send distress
signals
from every checkpoint in the city, and mimicked the "Officer Down" signal
generated by the comms worn my cops. The legitimate distress signal was lost
in
the confusion.

I rammed the gates at the checkpoint, and the police car was totalled in the
process. I clawed my way clear of the air-bags and ran through the debris,
making it to the Beast as my wife spun it through a one-eighty and took us
screaming down the road.


Chapter 20

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Act I, Scene ii
Shakespear, Julius Caesar

You may have heard in the news this week that a fellow named Robert Jordan,
who
was one of 500 or so who wanted to become Connecticut police officers, found
out
that he was broomed from the list because he scored 33 out of a possible 50
on a
12-minute IQ test.
Steve Urbon
http://www.s-t.com/daily/09-99/09-12-99/a10op042.htm


The confusion through the LA computer systems was sufficient
to
keep anyone from being sent to pursue us as we fled, and we started cruising
north. Our next stop was in Michigan, in the "U. P.", a nice long drive. I
wanted to dog-leg north to confuse the travel records, though, so we went
all
the way up, heading toward Seattle.

We drove through the first night, and the next day, taking
back
roads and avoiding checkpoints as usual. The drive would have been much more
fun
if we could have just stayed on the Pacific Coast Highway, but we decided
that
"fun" and "jail" - which the checkpoints could lead to - were incompatible.
As
dusk came the following night, we parked in an RV park that catered to rich
Californians who vacationed in their land-yachts. Around 21:00 we tried to
patch into the meteor bounce network. After waiting around a while, we
finally
got a mail packet sent, explaining what had happened, and passing on the
information about the grey-clad ex-Guildsman.

The response that came back was a routine acknowledgement,
with
a note that we should remain where we were for a while - another message
would
be coming back, once the people on the other end debated it.

So we sat for a while. My wife and I went to bed, parked in
an
RV park in Washington State. The additional false NatIDs and EBTs we'd
picked up
were working fine, and we were planning on doing some serious stocking up at
the
RV park's mini-grocery and gas station before we left.

I was still very shaken by the shoot out with someone who
was
once "one of our own." The fighting of the last few months had made me a
bit
numb to the other killings - it was a war, after all. I'd have dreams at
night
that made me wake up sweating, but the shooting of the ex-Guildsman kept me
from
sleeping at all. After a couple hours, I gave up and went to the workbench
in
the forward section of the Beast, laid out the grey wearable, and began
working
on a more detailed pillaging of its contents.

The files, in some cases, were encrypted. The problem was
that
since they keys for those encrypts were typically longer than a human being
could carry around in their head, they keys were stashed elsewhere in the
wearable's storage. Not many people can carry around the exact sequence of
eight
thousand ones and zeros needed for an 8k PGP key.

In a couple cases, the Grey had done what I do - put the
keys on
another system, so that he'd have to establish a comm link to get his "key
chain." With the Beast well out of range of whatever other system he was
using,
that was out of my hands. I suspected they were 8k PGP also, and copied the
files to the Beast's storage, then cranked up the Unix box I use for big
processing. The hefty IBM RISC box spun up, its high speed drives making an
ominous sound in the night, and the coolant pump making its normal
"lump...lump...lump..." sound. After booting for five minutes, it informed
the
Beast that it was ready to begin brute-forcing the decrypt.

I don't power that computer up very often; for one thing, it
was
made for running off 'mains' power, and the Beast didn't like running it off
fuel cells. Here in the RV park, that wasn't an issue. The other reason I
don't
power it up very often is that the thing is overkill for most applications:
one
hundred twenty-eight processors running in parallel, each on a 2500-exahertz
clock is a lot more processing power than you need for running the latest
video
games.

Normally, the IBM gets cranked up about once a month, and it
grinds for a day or three, setting up the AES II encryption used on NatID's
to
make sure they're real. I normally spend an hour or so a night making up
false
personalities and backgrounds, and then saving all the pertinent
information.
All that info in plain-text, though, is not what the little smart-chip in
the
NatID is looking to store. It wants the info compressed and digitally
signed -
and creating that signature is not a trivial computing task. The National
Department of Identification (under the Bureau of Standards) says that the
average personal computer, running at 20 terahertz, would take eighteen
months
of continuous processing to generate one NatID. Thus, the digital signature
is
"Secure", since it would take longer to make a false one than would be
practicable.

Servers like my IBM are a restricted purchase item - proof
of
need, background check, all that good stuff that is administered by humans
who
tend to be underpaid and willing to skimp on their jobs in exchange for help
with their kid's college tuition - which means that there is simply a bit of
extra price added to it. Roughly 15% of the servers cost as a 'gratuity',
just
as if you were patronizing a restaurant, is a good rule of thumb to follow.
.

While waiting for the server to grind new keys, I routed the
TV
news to my wearable so I could watch without waking my wife.

The top story of the day was about a retirement home in
Miami,
Florida. Apparently, through some kind of mix-up, Social Security had
decided to
lump-sum pay the back benefits that the resident's (deceased) spouses would
have
accumulated between time of death and last Friday. The residents has
thought it
over, and then hired the retirement home staff to help them abscond with the
money. Rumor had it they had paid smugglers to both launder the money (so
the
Fed's couldn't take it back) and sneak them out of the US to some unknown
location - probably the Free Port Islands in the Bahamas.

There was no mention of the gun diversion program, but there
was
a note that the UPS shipping center in Atlanta had been raided by street
gangs.
Apparently it was an inside job - they got a few people who worked there to
let
them past security. Curiously, only one room in the whole warehouse was
pillaged, but all the packages in that room were taken. The newscaster did
mention that this was the second such robbery in the past two weeks; the
first
had been in LA.

There was also an announcement that Ford/Rover/Jaguar/Lexus
wanted the public to know that the recall on tires was false; please do not
show
up at your dealer demanding new tires.

Proctor and Gamble also wanted people to know that rumors of
a
"soap recall" were false, and there was nothing wrong with any of their
soaps,
so please stop mailing them to the corporate offices.

There was a comedy/human interest story. Apparently, someone
in
the Seattle City Government had accidentally emailed the list of animals up
for
adoption in the Animal Control Shelter to the State Board of Elections,
where
another paperwork error had registered them all as voters. The mistake was
noticed when "Fluffy", "Rex" and "Mugsy" had been pulled for jury duty.

"Speaking of paperwork errors," was the segue into the next
story. I raised my eyebrows - the newscaster's voice was a little more
stressed
than you'd expect as he asked everyone in the area to please ignore and
delete
an email from the Seattle Police Department. "It's an easy email to find -
about
thirty megabytes- and every good citizen will delete it without reading it."

Well, now, that's practically a demand that I do read it!

I connected through the phone connection provided by the RV
park, then hit a series of anonymizers, and finally hit one of the email
servers
the Guild had set up years ago. These things were installed in rural areas,
were
solar powered, and did nothing but archive email that went through them....
provided the email was from a source the server found interesting. Think of
it
as Carnivore for private citizens.

The Seattle PD email was there - along with some from other
PDs
and Sheriff's Departments as well. What was included was a full resume for
each
cop, along with their Internal Affairs dossier. Very interesting to read
through - a quick skim even showed where an IA investigation had been ended
on
orders from the Mayor's Office, and a copy of an email saying, "The city
does
not need the negative PR that would result from prosecuting this case."

What made the email a real hoot was that it was titled "Know
Your Officer", and the wording of the cover letter portion was almost
word-for-word the news article from a month ago about the new "Know Your
Customer" program being pushed for all retail stores. Someone had a twisted
sense of humor.


I stayed up all night, waiting on the IBM and watching TV or
old
movies, or reading news articles. The morning TV news got my attention
though -
there was a huge stink about both the New York Times and Washington Post
reporting that Food Stamp buyers would now be able to get a new meat food
for
only $0.50 a pound (compared to chicken at $2.95 a pound, a bargain!) The
new
food, Soylent Green, was supposed to be available in stores within the next
two
weeks. There was a website there for more details
"http://www.usda.gov/soylent.html" and one of the links off it was a "Search
the
Web for more about Soylent Green" button. A few folks hit it, and then
called
the TV News.

The newspapers were going nuts with denials - they said the
stories weren't in the layout of the paper when it was first ready to print,
the
space where the story was was supposed to be an ad for - of all things - a
software consulting company. Gee, imagine that.

I hopped out to the internet again, surfing Usenet. The
conspiracy theorists were going wild, convinced the news stories were real,
and
that the retractions were the result of the government leaning on the
newspapers.

After a while, I wanted to get up and walk for a bit. My
wife
woke up as I was getting dressed, and we chatted for a bit. She started
making
breakfast, and I went down to the campground store, picked up various
foodstuffs
and drinks, as well as one of each of the newspapers they had.

When I went up to pay, the old man behind the counter was
reading USA Today, and was ticked off. Page 3 had an article about "New
program
for Food Stamp Buyers" detailing an array of new foodstuffs mentioned. None
of
them were Soylent Green, but there was mention of several 'meat substitute'
items, and 'Textured Vegetable Proteins." I saw the little TV running in
the
corner, with the sound turned down, the picture alternating between the
talking
heads of "Good Morning America" and clips of little green discs on a
conveyor
belt.

The old man looked me straight in the eye as he rang up my
purchases. "Yessir, " he said, "what you're buying here is real food. None
of
that Soylent Green crap. Think they can fool me by retracting it... I'd bet
you
some reporter for the Times is dead in a ditch right now. Some poor boy's
been
Fostered for doing his job."

I nodded, "It wouldn't be the first time, that's for sure.
Well,
eat healthy!"

He smiled. "Keep an eye on the 'pork', " he joked back.

I returned to the Beast, and we had a pleasant enough
breakfast.
Sometimes it's nice to read the newspaper on real paper. Nostalgic, so to
speak.


We had just about finished up when the IBM got my attention.
I
pushed the plates out of the way, and pushed the files to the tablecloth.

Reading through them, I saw a sad history come to view.

Twenty three months ago, a group of Guild Programmers took a
government contract. That wasn't terribly unusual - happened every now and
then
when some agency really needed something done, and was willing to turn a
blind
eye to who did it. In this case, the job was more than that; the programmers
were basically being lured into a position where they could be seduced.
Information was handed to them - and looking at it, it strongly implied that
there would soon be no more Guild, no matter what was done - and offers were
made.

In the end, they came to a compromise. Rather than fully
surrender themselves, they formed a Company. It operated under many of the
rules
the Guild did, but its sole customer was the Treasury Department, via the
joint
auspices of the BATF and Secret Service. They would investigate firearms
crimes
and securities and exchange issues, including counterfeiting of government
documents and data.

In exchange, they would be well paid, and had Presidential
Pardons in advance for whatever crimes they might commit in the course of
their
investigations. What a deal.

Picking through it, the notes implied that the original
Company
had been nine people. Very Tolkien-esque, if you ask me.


The rest of the data was in files that were still
decrypting. I
decided this was something that needed to be delivered back to the base at
Isher, and decided to stop there on the way to Michigan. It would throw off
the
schedule for delivery of the other meteor comm systems, but due to travel
issues, that schedule was a little vague anyway.

We tanked up at the RV park's station, and headed out before
noon. I'd waited all night for a reply, and I wasn't going to stay too long
in
one place, just in case. I planned on trying to contact them again when we
stopped for the night. My wife drove while I dozed in the "shotgun" seat,
finally being able to half-sleep, but being woken up by dreams of those few
minutes on a sidewalk in LA.




Chapter 21

While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened--there came a fierce breath of
the
whirlwind--the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight--my
brain
reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder--there was a long
tumultuous
shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters--and the deep and dank
tarn
at my feet closed sullenly
Poe



The drive back to Isher was relatively un-eventful. I shut down the IBM
during
the drive, so not much more was decrypted. The Beast's normal processors
kept
working on it, of course, but it was like a two year old kid at the beach,
trying to use his pail to bail out his sand castle of the water from the
rising
tide.

Glendower was not pleased to see me when I arrived. He didn't meet me at the
parking area, and wasn't in a happy mood when I showed up at the doorstep of
the
rooms he lived in - bearding the tiger in his lair, so to speak.

First, he was upset that I'd blown the delivery schedule; apparently there
was
something in the works, and they wanted input from people I was supposed to
have
already made deliveries. My deciding to abort and come home blew that out
of
the water.

When I handed him a light grey wearable, he looked confused. When I hit him
with
an IR slug containing the data I had decrypted, and he touched the earpiece
he
war as his wearable began reading to him. His face went from pink to bright
red
as slowly the look of confusion was replaced with a towering rage that had
me
stepping back a few paces.

"Why didn't you radio this to me?" he demanded.

I was so surprised to hear that my reply was in an almost flippant tone of
voice. "I did. It was receipted, and I was told to wait for a reply. After
two
days, I decided to come in person."
I had my wearable beam him the message receipt.

That did nothing to calm him down.

After a moment, he regained his composure, and a single word left his lips:
"Who?"

The receipt just showed Isher had gotten the message, not who at issue had
received it.

I shrugged, "A geek by any other name will write code of equivalent value on
the
brix scale."

Glendower looked at me, thought about it, and smiled, "'Tis not just their
names
that are my enemy. My ears have not yet drunk a thousand words of that
machines's " - he hefted the captured wearable - "utterance, yet I know the
sound. Are they not vile traitors and thus not Guildsmen?"

I smiled. It was a classic Guild habit - buying time to regain one's
composure
by playing the "reference game." I'd started it by accident with my offhand
remark, but now I was half-obliged to continue it for a bit.

"Haste me to know who, that I with wings as swift as meditation or the
thoughts
of love, may sweep to my revenge."

Glendower paused at that one, then smiled. "You changed plays, you know."

"Yes, but I could really use some 'wings' swift enough to finish decrypting
that
thing " - I nodded at the wearable he still held - "and then I'd like to try
and
compare it's data to what we have in your and my files on other Guildsmen.
There's eight left, but who are they? "

"There needs no ghost, my friend, come from the grave to tell us this. I can
call wisdom from the Briney Deep."

"And you gave me a hard time about switching plays. There's two in that!"

He smirked, then decided to continue.

"The clock rate is out of joint: O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set
it
right! Nay, come, let's go together."


With that he strode off down the hallway.


Fifteen minutes later we were back in his rooms, and he was cranking up his
big
computer. He'd already used one of his smaller machines to pump the
wearable
and write the scripts the bigger machine would run to crack it.

Apparently he'd lived here at Isher for a while, as his machine was a
monster,
something that you couldn't carry along with you. There's a limit to the
physical size of a super computer - at high clock speeds, distances within
the
machine have to be short enough to allow the electricity (moving at the
speed of
light) to get from one side of the circuit to the other before the next tick
of
the clock. Normally, the method of getting around this was to use multiple
parallel processors that were not engineering nightmares to build.
Glendower's
wasn't one of those.

I'd heard that Sun had built a few machines, working in conjunction with
Intel,
in which electron disposition tooling had been used to make chips with many
more
layers than normal. These allowed a more "three dimensional" array of tiny
transistors, and meant that a single processor could be used since the
limiting
factor was no longer the distance from corner-to-corner of a chip but from
center to edge of a sphere.

Such machines had their own drawbacks, of course. These run to the support
mechanics to keep the machine functional. Instead of the normal cooling
system,
it used a centrifugal chiller to run an aqueous solution through pipes,
shedding
the heat produced by a machine that gave off microwave radiation as a
harmonic
of its clock rate. Power consumption wasn't that high, but the harmonics
bouncing around inside the metal cage that kept them from slow-cooking
people
who spent too long nearby had to be carried off.

I was impressed at the hardware. Then it slowly sunk in what kind of
aqueous
solution it used, and then I groaned.

"It really is the Briney Deep, isn't it?"

Glendower looked at once both embarrassed and pleased to be able to finally
share the joke. "I can call data from the Briney Deep... Deep Thought,
anyway."

I grunted, "Now you're quoting Adams. You're losing it, my mentor."

He ignored that and bent forward in the chair he'd ensconced himself. He'd
taken
a book out of his coat pocket, and unfolded it revealing that it had
smart-paper
pages. After a bit, nine small mug shots appeared on the page.

" Shall we do a courtesy to our wrath, which men we may blame, but not
control.
Who's there? The traitor?"

I pointed at one of them, "He's the one I fought...."

"This in the public eye?"

"In the common street, where they exercise."

Glendower didn't like that.

"Then the police know it, and have now prepared their accusations."

"'Tis done already, but the messenger was stopped before it had gone. I
managed
to purge the APB before it was widespread... But the traitor did give orders
the
picture of me be printed, so they may have scanned the picture and tried to
send
another. I left Daemons in the system to intercept that and make my face
unrecognizable, but who knows. I may be made, and it might be a thought to
keep
me away from the Guild, just so you're not blown further."

"That ever I should call thee castaway! No, I doubt they'll kill the
face-recognition hacks - they'd be hurting themselves if they did, since it
would mean opening up the system to non-Guild and non-Company geeks. Too
dangerous for them in the long run."

"If not denounced against us, why should not I be involved in person. Sure,
that makes sense - both factions still want a way to skitter out from the
Feds
if need be. "

Glendower nodded.

"So, who are the other eight?"

He looked a little let down that I'd spoken without a reference, but I was
truly
curious at this point.

"While I am yet in Isher, my power goes out in such distractions as beguiles
all
spies."

The eight pictures rearranged themselves on the page, with a brief blurb
about
each person below. My wearable got a copy of a much larger file, detailing
more
about them. One picture, however, had a blinking red line under "last known
location."

It said, "Isher Arms, Arizona."

Glendower returned to his prior look of anger, muttering; "Now could I drink
hot
blood, And do such bitter business as the day Would quake to look on."

I wasn't so much on the 'hot blood' side of the fence - I was doing the
'cold
chills down the spine' executable. All that kept running through my mind was
an
eerie little girl's voice saying, 'They're Here!"



I fled Glendower's suite, running down the hallway toward the rooms the
person
who used the name "Celephias" as a Guild handle called his own. It was late
at
night, and the tunnel lights were subdued as I pounded on the door.
Glendower
was behind me, still in his room for some reason. My fists hit the door a
few
more times, and then I tried sending data to his door lock in an attempt to
finagle it. That didn't work either.

Glendower came up to me as I stood there wondering what to do next, shooed
me
out of the way, and slapped a small block of grey putty on the door.
Stepping
back, he pointed the IR emitter in his ring at the small black plastic box
on
the gooey block, then pushed me about six meters up the hall.

The "boom" was subdued, less than I'd expected, but still enough to blow the
door off its hinges and drop it into the room. I drew the Glock 19, and
Glendower drew a pistol from his vest pocket - a Browning, it looked like,
one
of the tiny .25 ACP ones. I looked at the gun, and he shrugged, then we
rushed
through the smoking doorway.

Into an empty room.

The decor was spartan - a cot, a small trunk. No computer system. There
were
none of the accoutrements that a Guild Programmer would normally keep around
the
house in order to do his job. This room was for sleeping and grooming and
that
was it.

"Has he fled the complex?" Glendower asked.

"Hmmm... ", I stalled, then, "Computer ping wearable Celephias"

My wearable came back with, "Celephias on net, pings 5 for 5 successful."

"He's on the network," I said.

"Local?"

I looked up at the display in the corner of my vision. "The pings were
pretty
quick. Could be."

Glendower put his Baby Browning away and began moving his fingers in the
patterns his wearable recognized.

"He's coming in over one of the wireless connectors three levels down...
down in
the utilities section of this place."

And then the lights went out. Worse, the ventilation fans stopped as well,
the
quiet whirr that you get used to then ignore then forget coming back to mind
when you stop hearing it.



Chapter 22

'Who builds stronger than a mason, a shipwright, or a carpenter?'

'....'a grave-maker: 'the houses that he makes last till doomsday.

Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, Scene I

It was dark in there, dark as... well, I won't say it lest it jinx me next
time
such a thing happens.

The thermo graphic sensor's I would have used in such a case were part of
the
CUs - and I was wearing my remaining set of Blacks that hadn't been scuffed
and
stained over the last few months. I was pretty sure that by then end of the
day,
this suit would look as ratty as the others. I considered cranking up the
milliwave so I wouldn't walk into walls, but also figured that would be a
beacon
when I went downstairs. Sometimes radiating EM is just like wearing a big
sign
saying, "Shoot me" - and I needed that like I needed a hole in the head.

I should rephrase that.

As I stood there dithering, Glendower did something, and a moment later one
of
the rings he was wearing let off a pale blue light, bright enough to read
by,.

He looked up from his hands to me, and said, "The ventilation is off.
Catch!"

With the word, he slugged an IR packet to me - as I pushed it to my glasses,
I
saw it was a map showing the quickest route from here to the Utilities
level,
and it had markers for where Celephias had been last, as well as a marker
for
the controls to the backup ventilation system.

After looking at it, I nodded, and Glendower continued, "I'm going to go see
Colonel Jackson, and get some troops headed that way. You get down there,
and
get the air back on. Don't worry about Celephias, other than to make sure he
doesn't shoot you. We need the air more than we need to catch him."

I nodded, and then fumbled in my pockets for a moment. In the watch-pocket
of my
vest I found the little AAA Mag-Light I carry. Normally, it's handy for
lighting
up the back of a tower PC when lying under the desk, trying to see which
plug
goes where. Now, it was a piece of luck I still had it.

I felt like a melodramatic idiot running down the hallways with a tiny
flashlight in one hand, and the Glock 19 in the other. There were a few
people
milling about, here and there, with flashlights, trying to decide what to do
next. It dawned on me that if I were a super-spy who'd invaded the enemy
base,
and now was in danger of being caught and using sabotage to create a
diversion
so I could escape, then I would have radioed for help. I tried to send an
email
to Glendower, but there was no network to send it over. I yelled to a few
of
the more militant looking folks to make sure no-one was pounding at the
gates
outside, but they looked at me like I was nuts.

I finally found the narrow, cramped little chimney-tunnel that led down
several
levels. I put the gun away, and carefully stepped over the blackness to get
my
feet firmly on the rungs. I had this sense of depth below me - the map on my
display said the chimney went down forty meters - ten levels, total - but
looking into the darkness, it felt like it was four hundred. I could just
imagine missing the rung and falling.... tumbling... bouncing off the walls
on
the way down.

With that cheery thought in mind, I stuck the Mag-Light - still on - into my
watch band so that I'd have both hands free but still have some light. Then
I
began carefully climbing downwards.

There's a pair ring-laser gyros in my wearable - both are beautiful work,
about
the size of pinheads - that drive the Inertial Navigation System. Indoors or
underground, GPS coverage can be spotty. The INS slowly accumulates errors,
but
so long as it gets synced up with GPS every few days, they don't grow much.
That system now was feeding the wire-frame map in the upper left hand
quadrant
of my field of view, showing me the directions I needed to go to get to the
Auxiliary Control Room.

Really a nice navigation system, if I do say so myself. I'm proud of having
written it, so excuse me a second for bragging.

What it didn't do, however, was map out all the problems in life. I got to
the
hatchway for the Utility Level, and it refused to open. I pushed hard, but
something heavy was on the other side, something that didn't want to budge.

I stood there for a second, thinking "Why me?"

I was balanced on what amounted to a big iron staple, stuck into the wall of
a
tunnel more suited to Saint Nick than me. I was holding onto another big
iron
staple with my left hand, while my right shoved on a metal door that would
wiggle, act like it wanted to open, but not move more than the resilience of
whatever was propped against it. I could feel the cool air below me moving
as
natural convection drew it up from the lower levels, and it only served to
remind me of the image I had of free-falling down this stupid tunnel when I
first stepped into it.

You'll understand my reluctance to really lean into my shoves against the
door?

Finally, I hit upon a plan. I climbed up a rung, putting my feet level with
the
hatch, then stretched my right leg out and pushed.

Nothing.

I held on tight with both hands, and did something incredibly stupid.

I kicked the door as hard as I could. Swinging to the side, I actually hit
it
with both feet.

Then my left hand slipped on the cold iron.

I scrambled to get a couple more limbs on the rungs, and that squirming
caused
the light to fall out of my watch band. I saw it tumble, twirls, and blink
as it
alternately faced toward and away from me.

Now I was in a narrow, confined, dark, windy tunnel.

I stood there for a bit, both hands locked onto one rung, both feet firmly
on
the other, alternately thinking, "What am I going to do now?" and "At least
things can't get any worse."

That was a mistake.

I felt a vibration through the rungs I was white-knuckle gripping. It was
like a
series of drum beats by a drummer who wasn't quite in rhythm; small pauses
between beats that were a bit random. They grew stronger, though, and I
stood
there wondering what was going on until I suddenly felt a rain of dust and
small
grains of rock dust my head.

I was in a position where standing here was no good. One last try at the
hatch,
and then I'd climb back up.

I reached a toe out, carefully, and found the lip around the edge of the
hatchway. Carefully, I shifted until both heels were on the lip, my hands
still
on the rungs. Then I slowly leaned back, my whole weight against the
hatchway.

There was a sliding sensation, and I heard something shift. The door slowly
edged open, and the stench of death came in. Along with a warm, glowing
light,
like a campfire's light.

I pushed on the hatch-frame, continuing to lean on the door, and it opened
enough for me to slide through.

I stepped out onto the bodies of the crew that normally worked down here. By
the
fire's light, I could see them lying there, glassy eyed, stiff with death.
Someone had stacked the bodies up to block the hatchway.

Looking farther up the hallway, I could see the fire, spreading. A large
pipe
about a meter off the ground was spilling some kind of liquid from an
irregularly shaped gash. The liquid was at least marginally flammable, as
it
burned rather than blazed, but the pool was rapidly spreading. Following the
pipe with my eyes, I could see the cut-off valve for it - well inside the
boundary of the pool.

I looked around - there was a fire extinguisher on the wall. And a second a
few
feet away from it. Both, however, were inside the fire's domain.

I drew the Glock, and by the fire's light sighted the closer one. I fired a
single shot computer assisted shot, hitting the pressure gauge and
destroying
the release tube. The contents, under pressure, rocketed out, making a plume
of
dust that settled over the pool of flame. A second shot hit the bracket
holding
the thing, and it fell, rocketing around inside the viscous liquid, jetting
flame retardant as it went.

Two more shots did the same for the other extinguisher.

After a few seconds, both ran dry. On the other hand, there was an area
where
the flames were significantly less. I ran forward, and jumped over the edge
of
the pool, then made it to the shut-off valve. I was smart enough to pull the
cuffs of my jacket over my palms before touching the hot metal.... but was
stupid enough to stand in the middle of the fumes as I shut the thing off.
If
I'd been thinking, I would have wrapped something over my face before doing
this.

By the time the flow of fuel had stopped, my throat and lungs were burning
and
full of mucous, my eyes teared over.

I squinted and guessed, and made a quick run, then slammed into the door for
Auxiliary Control.

It was, of course, locked.

Three shots from the Glock convinced me that whoever designed the locks for
this
place knew what he was about. Unfortunately.

I slapped in a fresh clip - who knows, the Traitor Du Jour might be about -
and
pondered. Briefly, as the fumes were still rising, and the flames still
spreading as the viscous goo slid across the floor.

There was a fire hose and ax on a wall bracket. Knowing enough not to use
the
hose on what amounted to a giant grease fire, I ignored it, but the ax...

The door was steel reinforced. But someone had put a wooden frame along the
stone wall... and that wood frame was ax degradable.

Six strokes later, the impervious lock no longer had a frame to lock into.

I kicked the door open, and rolled inside. Rolled, because around whack
number
four, the flames had gotten onto my back, and rolling would put them out.

I got up, singed, and pushed the door closed behind me. It would, at least,
stop
some of the fumes.

There was an industrial first aid station there, visible under the battery
powered emergency lighting. I quickly used the eye-wash and stopped tearing
all
over the place. Once I could see, I grabbed the emergency O2 canister and
drug
it along with me, huffing off it as I went.

I found the panel for ventilation easily - it was the one where the fire ax,
twin to the one I used and obviously from the wall bracket inside this room,
was
lying on the ground. The ax's blade was nicked and scarred where it had been
driven through the controls repeatedly. Nicks and scars on the ax blade,
along
with scraps of flesh and dribbles of blood, presumably from the fellow who
used
to operate this panel.

The panel was totaled, of course. There was not a single control intact.

I slumped to my knees then, stunned, worn out, beaten.

The lack of sparks from the control panel implied that whatever fuses went
through those controls, they'd blown. Which meant that even jiggling wires
at
random wasn't going to work. Repairing it would take more time than I had,
as
the fumes were already coming around the edges of the door.

I knelt there for only a second or two before the blood pooled on the floor
soaked through the knees of my pants. The cold, sticky, icky-ness of it
shocked
my back to my senses.

I got up, looked around, then scavenged from the tool-bin. A filter-mask,
the
kind one uses when working with hazardous fumes. A hard hat with a light. A
pair of fire extinguishers.

I sliced off the end of the O2 hose, stick the filter mask on, and wedged
the
hose-end under it. Put the hat on, turned the light on. Then pulled open
the
door, grabbed an extinguisher in each hand, and used them to spray a path as
I
ran for the hatchway I'd come from.

I made it almost all the way before they gave out. Dropped them. Flames were
hotter now as I sprinted the last 5 meters.

The O2 bottle hose melted, and pure O2 jetted out. I ripped the bottle out
of my
belt and tossed it away just before it became a bomb.

I got back to the hatchway. The convection currents were carrying the smoke
and
fumes up the chimney... I still had the filter mask, and no other options. I
climbed, my breath becoming short and the world getting darker with each
rung.
Finally, I was back to the parking level.

There was another string of vibrations, sharper this time, louder. I
realized we
were being bombed from without as well as burnt from within.

The hatch at the parking level gave easily, and I got out of the chimney
feeling
like my name should be "Slim Jim."

I drug myself toward the Beast, visible in the helmet light. My wife came
running out and half carried me the rest of the way inside.

Once in, she sealed the doors and yelled, "Beast! En Bee Cee Defense!"

The blowers and filters came on, filtering out the smoke that was beginning
to
fill the parking area. The lights were still off, the network still down. I
couldn't raise Glendower by either wearable or by the Beast's stronger
radios.

More people came into the parking area, and thank goodness some of them knew
how
to release the tunnel doors. They opened, and we drove the Beast down the
miles
of tunnel to the outside world, exiting beyond the fence and the area that
was
being bombed....

directly into an ambush.

I could see the whole team we'd worked with in that rescue mission -
Mister's
Red, Orange, Yellow, Green , Blue, Indigo and Violet. The Rainbow Coalition
was
blazing away with heavy weapons, trying to cut a whole in the fire sack for
us
to get out. Someone in the opposition launched a couple RPGs at the Beast,
both
hitting, blowing chunks off her sheathing.
I gunned it, driving straight at the folks who'd fired at me, figuring that
would keep them from reloading. I know I ran one over.

My wife's fingers were dancing over the console at the passenger seat, and I
think we unloaded half the ammo we had on board in a few seconds. I know the
40/50 went empty almost immediately, shooting down hovering gunships.

I drove like a madman, rounding some desert rocks, and then the Beast slewed
across the ground, an awful tearing thunder all around us. Looking to my
right,
I saw a tank, it's railgun glowing red as it paused in its fire while it
swapped
to the next ammo cassette so it could fire another 50 round burst.
Something
was grinding, heaving and bucking in the Beast's suspension, and then the
ground
shook. The Beast began yelling about "Radiological Attack" in addition to
the
horde of other alarms going off - both rear fuel cells were off line, one
starboard drive motor wasn't answering, fire detected in master bedroom....

The earth continued to convulse, and then a great fissure opened in the
desert
floor. Both sides of the battle changed their priority from fighting or
fleeing
human foes to fleeing nature's wrath. I'm guessing that at least one of
Isher's
fission reactors had been damaged enough to go run-away, and had melted its
way
down to the water table, creating a vast, sub terrain explosion.... which,
in
turn, caused the heavily tunneled area to begin collapsing.

I honestly don't remember what happened over the next hour or two, other
than
vague, confused impressions.

I do remember sitting in an abandoned gas station - the place must have been
out
of business for two decades - and finally remembering to take the filter
mask
I'd put on in the Auxiliary Control room off. We'd pulled the Beast under
the
shaky roof that was still extended over the gas pumps, and parked, slumping
in
the seats as the adrenaline left our systems.

I looked over to my wife, as she sprawled in her seat, and she whispered to
me,
"The House of Isher is fallen."



Chapter 23

A real programmer puts a glass of water and an empty glass on his nightstand
before going to sleep. The full one is used if he wakes up thirsty during
the
night. The empty one is if he wakes up, but isn't thirsty. This is called
'coding for the error condition.' -- Russian Programmer's Proverb.


After a time, we regained our senses. I got out to explore the gas station -
there was a sign on the door that the place was closed due to "Environmental
Reclamation" of the area, and another sign indicating the station was left
as a
historical site, contents untouched at the time of its being seized from
it's
prior owner, as a warning to future generations not to despoil natures
beauty.
Taken together, the two notes made no sense at all....

Looking over the Beast, I was genuinely surprised that we were still alive,
and
that the thing had made it here under it's own power.

The last three meters or so of the Beast's hull looked like a colander from
the
outside. Some of the holes were large enough that you could plainly see the
interior. On inside, it was worse. The bedroom had caught fire when the
tank's
projectiles had dumped energy on the way through. The foam mattress of our
bed
had swollen up from the KE pulse, and then started smoldering before the
Halon
and N2 floods put it out. A thing that looked like a slightly over-toasted
marshmallow, 5 feet on edge perched on what was left of our bed frame.

That was the least of it - most of our personal belongings had gone up in
smoke.
The gun cabinet was made of another layer of armor, and it had been hit
glancing
blows, so only some of the fire had ripped through it. Half of what was in
there
was now shattered metal, wood and plastic chunks. Luckily, my rifle and my
wife's PDW were intact, although the '91 now sported a scar along the
antique
wood stock.

Both of the aft fuel cells were total write-offs. The metal cases around
them
had spalled and shattered; when I slid under the Beast and unbolted the
inspection plate for the starboard one, the cell literally spilled out -
none
of the pieces were larger than a quarter.

The drive wheel that had failed wasn't as bad as I'd feared though - the
control
and power cables to that axle had been sliced clean through. If I were to
splice
them back toether, the Beast would have her normal acceleration, until the
battery packs started draining. I'd spec'd her to run normally on four fuel
cells, figuring that anything that took out two cells would be unsurvivable
for
the passengers. Happily, I was wrong. Having the rear of the vehicle blown
up
was survivable for people in the front of the vehicle.

That did leave the question of what to do next, however.

Was it better to sit tight, repair the Beast, and then scoot away at reduced
speed but with most of our possessions in hand, or to abandon the Beast and
try
to sneak out on foot?

In the end, the determining factor was that we were out in the middle of the
desert, and neither of us could figure out how to carry enough water to let
us
walk out, much less the more time (and thus water) consuming "escape and
evade"
that would be needed to sneak away from the remaining Feds. The old
survival
saw about "stay with your vehicle" was, surprisingly, in force.

Repairing the control run that had been cut took a couple hours. While I was
splicing, my wife was using a welder she found in the gas station to chop
off
chuncks of the metal catwalk in the station's garage and weld them over the
holes in the Beast's flanks. Our two buckets of epoxy/graphite paint had
melted
during the fire -one being struck by a projectile, splattering all over the
place, then melting into black, tarry goo - so the patches would be bare
metal.
So much for the Beast's stealthy profile.

Our work was not particularly demanding, but the constant threat of being
discovered by a Fed patrol did wear on our nerves. One of the major
decisions we
made was that both of us would work on patching the Beast, rather than one
work
and one stand guard. The hope was that the shorter time sitting still while
doing repairs (and thus the lower chance of being found at all) balanced out
the
chance that if we were found, we'd be caught flat-footed.

We played with the idea of breaking radio silence, and trying to contact
other
survivors, maybe rally the fugitives and try to fight our way out as a
group.
The thought that shot down that idea was that with Guild members in the
enemy
camp, there were no pre-arranged codes we could use that they didn't already
have in their computers. We could arrange a meeting, only to find that we
were
'rescuing' a platoon of armor.

So we spent a day, a night, and another day in a stifling hot, closed up,
garage. We wore CU's, with the Peltier Threads turned to "MAX COOL" and we
drank
water to match the sweat that rolled out of us. The Beast's three remaining
fuel
cells ran, powering the welder my wife was using and dumping more heat into
the
oven the garage was becoming. Inside the Beast, my IBM machine ran, fixing
new
ID's and EBT cards which we put into envelopes and added to the escape and
evasion supplies. If we did manage to make it somewhere there were people,
we'd
be able to buy food and rent an apartment. For a while, anyway.

We transferred what was salvageable of the ammo stores into the Beast's
40/50
and her secondary weapons. It wasn't much, but it was better than the
magazine's we'd run dry during the panicked, nightmarish escape.

At dusk on the third day we were there, we'd repaired what we could, and
patched
what was patchable. We decided to 'splurge' and took a cool shower, using up
a
chunk of our water reserves... but what was in the tanks was more than we
could
carry if we abandoned the Beast, and what was left after the shower would be
enough to carry us out of the desert, provided we weren't shot while trying
to
leave. In short, we'd either be clean and free or clean and dead, but we
wouldn't be thirsty. Besides, the drain from the shower goes to a "grey
water"
tank that's used to flush the toilet - and that tank was low enough that a
shower would do it some good.

Once night fell, it was time to leave. We drove north east, cross country,
at
about 25 miles per hour through the desert night. My wife and I were both
wearing CU's, long guns next to our seats and bail-out bags next to the
door. If
we were caught again, we'd run for it.

The drive, fortunately, was un-eventful. We did pick up a couple helo's on
passive sensors, and then sat still hoping they wouldn't see us. That used
up
about three hours of our potential driving time. An hour before dawn, we
were
looking for a gully to hole up in for the day.

It didn't take long to find one - more good luck, to a degree - and pull the
Beast into it. A moment later, we were swarmed by infantry.

My finger was on the switch for the beehives, and I almost hit it before I
realized none of them were shooting at us. Most were slapping the hull like
you'd slap an old friend on the back. It slowly sank in that we'd found
other
survivors.




The next few hours were hectic - we stripped the bedroom and the ATV garage
to
bare metal while we were in the garage, so we had room to bring the wounded
aboard and get them into the air conditioning. We gave half our water away,
filling canteens and bladders so that the folks in the cave were topped off
again. I even valved off half the "grey water" tank to a hose and improvised
sprinkler, producing a mist of water droplets cooled the air and helped
stave
off heat stroke for the folks outside. I even dug out the three surviving
solar
tents and set them up, helping to charge the batteries while providing shade
for
our new friends.

Late that afternoon, there was a meeting, there in the gully. Athenian style
democracy -everyone got to speak, everyone got to vote. The situation and
what
to do next were bandied about between one hundred and sixty two souls, and
the
choices boiled down to surrender, or sneak into a city and "go legit", or to
hide in the cities and bide our time, or to just take this attack as the
thing
that kicks off the Big Fight.

Surrendering had no guarantee of protection under the law, and no one really
like the odds there.

Some folks - especially those with kids - wanted to hide in the cities. I
couldn't blame them, I guess - taking kids into a war is not a thing most
parents can rationalize. Some of them decided not to go along with what the
meeting had decided, and I wished them the best of luck. I even slipped each
of
the four groups that would be leaving us a packet of NatIDs and EBTs that
were
programmed to "sync" to the first person that used them. They might come in
handy; there wasn't much of a balance on any of the accounts - a nights
hotel
and a meal for a family. The NatID, though, might slip them into somewhere
safe.

The general consensus by the time dusk came, though, was that continuing to
bide
our time would work against us as the Federal Cantonment Program came up to
speed. Fighting was the best long-term choice, even if in the short term it
was
the least survivable.

I'd had the Beast spend the day doing radio intercepts, and trying to pin
them
down. With the rear sensor suite turned into a collection of pebble-sized
pieces
of silica, aluminum and plastic, triangulating signals wasn't possible, but
getting bearings and plotting them did collect some info. The Fed's had set
up
a temporary base to our south-east, a point where tanks could pull up and
'pray
for manna' in a somewhat safer environment. There seemed to be a number of
refuel/rearm trucks there for the helos as well.

After nightfall, Misters Red, Green and Blue (who I was happy to see had
survived) set off to eyeball the place. The rest of us spent the night
moving
due south, heading for an area where one of the people in what we were
calling
"The Horde" had cached supplies he was willing to share. We fell on one
patrol
during the move, and smote them mightily, the Beast jamming their
communications. I didn't even see any of the fighting directly, just the
spikes
in the EM band as the soldiers radioed for help. Our flanking patrols
handled
the encounter in a sudden, sharp (and very 'professional') burst of gunfire.
The people who had survived the Fall of Isher were highly trained, highly
motivated, and well armed. There was something of a Darwinistic process
about
the escape - the few that were left were very good at what they did.

Dawn saw lifting supplies out of a hole in the rocks. None of the ammo
would
fit the Beast's guns - not unexpected, since the Beast used some odd
rounds -
but it did go a long ways toward re-supplying our impromptu infantry. Even
better, the gent had buried three plastic, food-quality, fifty five gallon
drums
of fresh water. All the canteens were refilled, with the remainder going
into
the Beast's water tanks. There was a fourth drum full of stabilized diesel
fuel
that went into the Beast; the only other vehicles in our caravan were four
motorcycles that were strictly gasoline drinkers.

The tents were again set up, guards were posted, and we battened down for
the
day.

Our scouts reported in around 16:00. There was a Fed encampment about 6
miles
away, on the other side of what you could call either a small mountain ridge
or
a series of hills, depending on how generous you were feeling. There was a
tank
platoon of four tanks, another half dozen IFVs, and a bunch of tents and
soft-skinned transport vehicles. In addition, there were some fenced-in
areas
where they were keeping prisoners. All told, about a hundred and fifty
enemy,
but only half or so were fighting troops - the others were mechanics,
refuellers, medics and such.

Small teams went out immediately, spreading out ahead of our main force and
taking out sentries. The main force crossed the ridgeline at sundown, the
sun
behind us and in the enemies eyes. The way was too steep for the Beast,
which
was full of wounded anyway, so my wife stayed aboard, providing cover for
our
non-combatants. That left me on foot, on the ridgeline, shooting Land
Warriors
and moving between shots.

Sixty people charged down the hill, in the complicated dance of fire and
maneuver, half moving as the other half fired to keep the defenders heads
pinned
down. The tank crews had dismounted their tanks before the beaming process,
planning on getting a shower and a meal probably. Doctrine called for the
tanks
to be parked far enough away from the rest of camp so that no one was caught
in
the microwaves... which meant that the tank crews had to send a code message
to
the tanks so that the beaming would be stopped prematurely, then they'd have
to
run across the open space between the camp and the tanks to mount them.

My wearable was at it's extreme range to block the 'cancel recharge' signal,
but
I tried anyway. It was an expected move on the Feds part, and I was ready
for it
in two ways : first, the wearable. Second, a team of four snipers positioned
to
cover the approach to the tanks.

By the time the main force was hitting the wire fence around the camp, the
tank
crews were slaughtered.

The fighting was bloody, dirty, and by moonrise it was hand to hand as we
went
through the tents. A lot of it involves things I don't want to remember, so
I
won't go into it here.

Suffice to say that by midnight, the camp was ours, along with four tanks,
five
IFV's (the sixth was burning), a bunch of softskin transports, 11
salvageable
Land Warrior suit, and enemy wounded.

We shackled the wounded to cots in the tents we left behind, a canteen of
water
with each one, and left the unarmed Fed medics to care for them. Everything
else
became part of our column, moving out into the sunrise.

Soon after dawn, a flight of airplanes attacked. JTFs, nearly a hundred
years
old but well maintained. Congress had declined to build newer aircraft,
citing
that the USAF was already so much better than what the rest of the world had
it
would be gilding the lilly. So the USAF made do with planes that were three
times as old as their pilots.

Someone must have assumed that we wouldn't be able to unlock the guns on the
tanks; bringing aircraft into line-of-sight of railgun armed vehicles is
suicide.



Chapter 24
"Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the
consent of the governed..." Declaration of Independence, 1776

"The only idea they have ever manifested as to what is a government of
consent,
is this --- that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot."
(Lysander Spooner)

"Sparticus 6, Sparticus 3. Ridgeline looks good, go ahead and bring them
up."

We were showing a lot more EM emissions than we should - most of it radio in
the
clear even. I'd wanted to get everyone on some kind of secure radio, but
there
just wasn't enough gear to go around.

I shifted my feet a little, leaning against the kitchen table as the Beast
turned to continue up the hillside road. A gent by the name of James was
driving, and I was in the back with a couple of folks that served as
Lieutenants. Somehow the raid on the Fed camp had made people think I was
the
Man With The Plan - and suddenly I found myself in charge of a small army.

It was a very small army two companies of foot infantry, augmented by four
motorcycle scouts, an armor platoon and a mech infantry platoon. There
wasn't
even enough soft-skin transport to move all the grunts, so we were tied to a
marching pace.

I flicked the transmit switch, "Sparticus 3, this is six actual. Moving."

As my finger came back off the transmit key, the speaker crackled to life.
Instead of the acknowledgement I expected, a new voice came onto the net.
"Sparticus Six Actual, this is Nazgul Four. Please reply."

Nazgul? Not one of our call signs. Nazgul... hmm... Tolkien. The Ring
Wraiths.
Oh.

I shrugged. If they knew the frequency, then they knew where we were anyway.
No
point in not replying.

"Nazgul four, go ahead. "

"Sparticus... You're not going to make it, you know. There aren't any pirate
ships you can board to sail away. Give it up now, man. "

"Nazgul, I don't have that option. you may have happily traded your life for
a
shiny ring, but that's not something I'm going to get into. "

I winked at my wife, forward in the passenger seat, and she gave me a thumbs
up,
then motioned for me to keep him talking.

"Sparticus, you've not even heard the answer. No crucifixions No
repercussions.
Amnesty for your troops. They disarm and move into the Federal Villages, and
life happily every after. You and your wife to be given positions equal to
your
old Guild Status in our organization. Good pay, safe housing, no more being
on
the run. What do you say? "

I looked up at my wife, who was still motioning that I should keep him on
the
line. Darn. My reply of choice at this point would be "Nuts!" but I knew
she'd
be upset if I used it.

"Nazgul - Dental Plan? Health Benefits? Federal Retirement Account?"

"Sparticus, you're messing with me. I'm making you a serious offer - you're
going to get a lot of people killed, most of them your followers. If you've
got
any real concern toward their lives, then now is the time to settle for
peace
with honor, and let everybody go home while they're still breathing. I'm
offering you fair terms. You can end it now."

I sat there for a moment pondering. I could probably save the lives of a lot
of
these people - but I'd be condemning them to life in prison. True, it would
be a
comfortable prison, but no matter how gilded the cage, it confines the same.
Everyone here had made that choice more than once though, and decided to
live
free or die. I'd not refute that decision.

I looked up at my wife. She smiled and flashed an "OK" sign with her
fingers.

"Nazgul, I have a message for Sauron. Message text starts: Nuts. I spell as
November, Uniform, Tango, Sierra. Message text ends. Please forward message
intact. Thank you. Sparticus Six out. All Sparticus units, change to next
programmed frequency."

LT Red (formerly of the Rainbow Coalition) looked across the maps we'd
spread
over the kitchen table and shook his head.

"Dude, the vibes for this job keep getting worse. You're, like, linking with
the
wrong motif."

I raised an eyebrow at him.

"First, this whole Sparticus thing. ..."

"It wasn't my idea! They just started using it as a call sign, no matter how
much I objected!"

"Yeah, I grok that, man, but Sparticus, like, wiped out anyway. He lost, ya
know? And then this Bastogne thing... dude, that's some heavy karma"

"Just remember one thing, Red.... The 101st ended up winning."



-------------------------


Chapter 25

The day was going, and the dusky air was taking the living things that
are on earth from their fatigues, and I alone was preparing to sustain
the war alike of the road, and of the woe which the mind that erreth not
shall retrace. - Dante's Inferno

We turned more south as we rode, hitting towns along the way. Some
greeted us like French villages welcoming Allied soldiers in WWII. Some
greeted us like Russian villages welcoming German soldiers in WWII.
Most were somewhere in the middle, an apathetic bunch that seemed to
believe that no matter how the world changed, they'd still have a boot
on their neck.

If I had to guess at the proportions, that latter group would be about
two-thirds of the whole, with the remaining third split about 50-50
between the pro-Rebellion and the pro-Establishment camps. Of those,
only about one in twenty would even think of either joining up or
shooting at us. Fortunately, the ones that were willing to shoot at us
had also swallowed the line about gun control, and found themselves in
an awkward spot.

The police generally took one look at what had rolled into town, and
then declined to try issues with us.

Our helicopter gunships ranged across our flanks, giving more warning
and sometimes squashing ambushes as they started. We were brutally
efficient in that regard; so long as we held the high ground by
controlling the orbital cameras, we exploited it. No ground vehicle
came within a bubble three miles in diameter without our leave.

We kept a core of tanks in close with the convoy as air defense, and
the railguns fired a couple times a day, ripping the sky apart with
glowing red-orange bars as the iron coating on the trajectiles burnt
through the air and smote a low-level recon plane from the sky. I was
glad that the SR-71 program had ended a century ago when the NRO decided
to stick with orbital cameras rather than high-altitude aircraft.
Railguns are pretty much line-of-sight, but SR-71s might have been too
difficult a target even for them.

It took six days to reach Texas. Two days were a detour around a FASCAM
mine field, laid by artillery 40 miles away. The Feds had apparently
decided to try to contain us by laying mines in a box around where they
thought we were, then search the box. The artil had launched thousands
of little mines the size of your fist which sat on the road, ground, in
the ditches, and hung from the few trees in that part of the country.
Fine silver threads shot out from each mine, then hung across the
terrain like a deranged spider's web, and anything disturbing the web
caused the mine to explode.

While we were sitting still, trying to decide which way to break, the
tank turrets turned on their own and opened fire, tracing a grid of
those bars of light across the sky. As we all dove for cover, we
realized the sensors in the mines must have picked us up, and sent a
message back to the guns they were launched from, causing a flood of HE
and WP shells to rain down on us. The tank computers were smart enough
to try to intercept the larger of the falling objects and try to zap
them as they came over the horizon, but we ended up doubling back and
playing hide and seek with artil launched sensors and artillery fire
until one of the Guildsmen working for me got deep enough into IVIS-II
and took control of a MLRS missile unit. He uploaded a 'code fix' to the
vehicle's computer, and it elevated and launched its rockets while on
the move. Launching while on the move flipped the MLRS, and likely
killed its crew. On the other hand, his code did end up covering the
artillery that had been pummeling us with ICM bomblets, which took them
off the network, either destroyed or damaged to the point where they
weren't usable.

After that, we were left alone for thirty six hours, presumably while
the folks on the other side tried to come up with a plan on what to do
next. The use of major artillery in "America's Heartland" was an
admission (by both sides) that the kid gloves had come off. I honestly
believe that one reason the pause was so long was that the high-ranks in
the Pentagon were busy worrying what the long-term effects of not
stopping us would be. I know I was; I'd never planned on fomenting a
full-out rebellion, much less leading one. The exchange of artillery
fire reminded me too much of Fort Sumter for my comfort.

I had a plan in mind, a long term set of goals that required us to be
better supplied than we were. My logic behind visiting Texas was to make
use of an emergency reserve cache the Guild and Isher had established
here. Last time I tried to draw from it, I'd been told it wasn't an
emergency. This time I wasn't planning on asking.





The Mr. Dillon that met me in Texas was a very different man from the
one that kept me waiting in his office and blew me off when I wanted to
buy fuel for the Beast. Now, he was the soul of cooperation. He met us
outside the pueblo, under the soft moon light, PDA in hand and ready to
take a list of what we wanted. I think he knew which side the bread was
buttered on, and was willing to part with quite a bit so long as we left
quickly and without an argument.

By morning, we had re-ammo'd and re-fuelled, and everyone had a hot meal
and a 4 hour nap in a non-moving bed. That last is an important thing
that most people forget; being well rested makes you so much more
efficient than the fellow who spent the night tossing and turning in the
back of a moving minivan.... or IFV, for that matter.

My sleep was interrupted twice by radio messages. While the loss made me
yawn the next day, I have no regrets over taking those calls.


By noon we were eastbound on I-10. Every couple hours I said a brief
prayer of thanks to whoever the engineer was that came up with the
improved design that our tracked vehicles used: trying to do this trip
with older M1s would have been murder. The old doctrine called for
moving those by rail or by semi-trailer when not in combat because of
the short track life and to avoid wear and tear on the suspension.
M-30's were rated for three thousand miles between refits rather than
the three hundred that M1s were.

We took 10 until it tried to turn south on us, then switched to I-12. I
had no desire to spend time on bridges....

By dusk, we were heading into a trap, and we knew it. Cruising along
the interstate let us make good time, but also made where we were going
pretty predictable. Intercepting sat data didn't work very well when
dealing with the normal everyday traffic sensors, and we had too many
vehicles that had standard transponders rather than the Guild modified
ones that let the Beast and other Guild-owned vehicles ghost down the
road.

Sat recon showed the firesack of tanks and HUTs near the Homeland
Customs Checkpoint where I-10 and I-59 meet. They'd taken over the truck
stop as a logistics base, and someone had gotten smart and issued brand
new IVIS data-keys that we were still trying to break. There was
scattered radio intercepts from the Slidell police department as they
evacuated the northern half of town - and I was glad for it. It would
minimize the number of innocents that might get hurt. We actually slowed
a little bit so that the non-combatants would have more time to get out
of the way.

Intercepts of Slidell Public Services radio showed there were a bunch of
other problems for the town; the cops were all complaining of being low
on ammo, and that they didn't have the goods they needed to put down the
riot that had started as some people decided to postpone evacuation
until after doing some looting of the emptied homes and businesses. Some
people, seeing or hearing about the looting, had barricaded themselves
in their homes, and were using a variety of different weapons to prevent
anyone - cop or looter - from easily digging them out.

What was particularly disturbing was that the Slidell police were
hampered by a communications system that was melting down. Over half the
transmissions we were picking up were on the old CB frequencies rather
than on the UHF spread-spectrum with digital encryption that was the
norm. Response time for our attempts to hack into the digitial comm
system stank, and the thing actually tried to upload a half dozen
viruses to the Beast's computer when we did get in. All the virii
crashed when they hit the firewall, of course, but the automatic
post-mortem showed that they were spawned from one of the LAI's released
by the databombs we'd spread.

We didn't pause when it was time to head into the fire. Two platoons of
tanks, moving fast, were our center, followed by the IFVs and the Beast.
We'd spent time replacing two of the Beast's secondary launchers with
Wyvern man-portable anti-tank missiles, and we and the IFVs salvoed on
the hull-down tanks waiting to ambush us, feeding the missiles initial
targeting info from the sat feed the Beast had downloaded and
distributed to our missile equipped vehicles. The missiles were smart
enough to hug the ground - and thus evade anti-missile fire - until the
last moment, then climb and dive into the thinner top armor on the
tanks.

All that was our first diversion, though. When our tanks gained
line-of-sight to the enemy, the triplets of HUTs that we'd dispatched
ahead of us had already circled to the flanks of the Federal position.
Two of each triplet were armed with normal anti-personnel weapons to
keep police, C.O.P.S. and rioters off the third... which was armed with
a light railgun.

We were at the mouth of the fire sack when we broke right, south, going
off road to avoid the emplaced mine field that had shown up on
milli-wave. Of the eight tanks we started with, only 4 were still
moving. Two had suffered "loss of mobility" and were now sitting in the
interstate firing frantically, trying to kill enough to end the fight
while they were still alive. Two were burning wrecks.

With the tanks railguns tied up with inter-tank conflict, the skies were
briefly safe for air travel. Our four Seminoles went out to kill the
artillery that was beginning to pepper us with ICM, trying to kill our
soft-skin transports. Meanwhile, a dozen Seminoles came heading in to
kill our tanks and the Beast.

As the horde came in from above, I tapped the mic and said, "Beast,
transmit Phase Two."






The night before, I'd been awakened to the sound of the Beast's
voice.... and it sounded oddly excited.

"Boss, my sister is on the phone, " it said to me.

That was a message I never really expected to hear.

I nodded, and the Beast routed the comm to my wearable.

"Fallen Star to Beast. Fallen Star to Beast. Reply as arranged." I was
awake instantly; sadly because of male hormones. The Fallen Star had
been programmed with a honey sweet, smooth, sexy, breathless female
voice that trickled in through your ears, and then slid right down to
your. . . heart. . . and got your pulse racing.

When I had acquired the Beast, a second one had been built and shipped
over with it. The programmer who'd handled the shipping and I had had a
long talk, and decided to make a pact that when one or the other of us
really needed the other, we'd come to help. To facilitate that, we'd
buried some special encryption and communications software in the
computers of both machines.... and hadn't used it at all since then.
The communications were ULF - Ultra Low frequency - with the very slow
bit rate that went with it. It was basically a telegram that was
reconstructed using pre-recorded voice samples to make it back into a
verbal message.

Apparently, tonight, he needed me.

"Spartacus.... is that what they're calling you these days, David? Heck,
either way, you're on the small side of the fight, aren't you? Well,
listen: there's a bunch of us outside Little Rock, and we're as pissed
off as you are. I've got the same sat feeds you do, and I can see the
nightmare you're heading for as well as you can. I think I've got a
little something you'll like though...."

I guess I was wrong about who needed who.




When we turned south, trying to get around the flank of the Fed
position, the northern edge of the U-shaped fire sack broke cover and
began to pursue us, trying to get around behind out tanks for the easy
kills. At the same time, a second force of eight tanks and twelve IFVs
rolled out of the warehouses to the northwest where they'd been hiding
and tried to pin us from behind, out right side toward the Gulf of
Mexico.

"..... you know I've always been into robotics, where as you've been too
busy with your wife to focus on the Art like you should. Yeah, I know,
if I had a wife it would be different. Anyway, I've got a dozen of the
old tyme UAV Predators, fitted with Vengeance anti-tank missiles and the
computers upgraded to handle a decent LAI. I'm parked south east of
Little Rock, and the script file at the end of this message will detail
how to route your targeting information to my birds. "


In ones and twos and threes, a total of forty eight missiles left twelve
small, stealthy aircraft and spread themselves out over thirty nine
remaining armored vehicles. The attack was from above and behind - the
thinnest part of the armor - and came from a source that had not
revealed itself by transmitting milli-wave or lidar. Forty four of the
forty eight missiles hit.


After that, it was a matter of mopping up. Our side still had the Beast,
two mobile tanks, four IFVs and some HUTs. The enemy had a few HUTs, no
artil support, and a bunch of trained infantry.

We lost almost all the green troops, and by the time it was over we had
a tank that wouldn't go anymore. And the Beast, even more beat up than
it had been in the past.

The one other thing that was left was the seed for the nightmares I
still have.

In the end, the battle was a Pyrrhic victory from a military stand
point. We'd destroyed the largest Federal force deployed for a single
task on US soil. However, we'd lost the ability to retain the offensive.


From another stand point, though, it was just the kind of victory the
cause needed. Beelzebub - Fallen Star's owner - had arranged for an
upload of all our gun-camera data, copying it to the major TV networks
with tags implying it was a legitimate news feed. The whole US saw the
shattering of the Federal Army, and saw it from the perspective of
those of our units that had survived the fighting - implying that many
more of us had survived than actually had.

It was a "Big Lie" style of propaganda - but it worked. Rioting began in
major cities across the US, and much of the Homeland Army and National
Guard were tied up trying to put the rioters down.

Over the next couple days as we licked our wounds and then continued
east, the riots expanded and blossomed into a full blown rebellion.

What had I done? What I'd unleashed made me sick, but now it was a thing
growing on its own, getting larger and larger and even more out of
control....


----------------------------------------------------------------

Chapter 26


Domestic carnage, now filled the whole year
With feast-days, old men from the chimney-nook,
The maiden from the busom of her love,
The mother from the cradle of her babe,
The warrior from the field - all perished, all -
Friends, enemies, of all parties, ages, ranks,
Head after head, and never heads enough
For those that bade them fall.

William Wordsworth

When the fighting was over, we tried to pick up the pieces.

The one tank that wasn't burning had taken damage to one of the tracks,
but Mr. Green had served in the Army and coached the crew in how to
"short track" that side. The thing made an awful sound, and moved
poorly, but it moved well enough for us to get it onto a low-boy semi
trailer and haul it into town.

I wasn't much help; the smell of roasting meat from the burning tanks
and IFVs had me vomiting. Over the last few weeks I'd learned to cope
with a lot of things I'd never seen before, but the stink of burning
flesh, plastic and metal was something I couldn't handle. Hail the
victorious general, worshipping at the porcelain shrine. Remember,
Caesar, thou art - bleah.

Our 'army' - what was left of it - was scattered, wounded, and
battle-shocked to one degree or another. Part of me wanted to get moving
again, put this place behind us, and be far, far away. Another part
realized that we needed time to put the troops back together and figure
out how to use what we had left.

We bivouacked what was left on the grounds of the Clinton Presidential
Center, turning the park into a campground. The guards surrendered
quickly enough when the Beast and Fallen Star drove up and opened fire
with their secondary weapons.

One of the roads in the park was pressed into service as a runway, and
Bee managed to recover nine of his aircraft. One had crashed and
immolated itself, and two others had been turned into confetti by rail
gun fire before their missiles had reached targets.

Our softskins met up with us soon after, turning a lot of park into a
parking lot. The semi's that transported all the supplies we needed to
keep fighting had stayed well away from the fighting itself, and met up
with us once the coast was somewhat clear.

During the pillage of the supply base in Texas, I'd found a set of
crates containing one hundred rounds for the 40/50, plus ammo for the
Beast's other odd-ball weapons. The person who'd put the order in to
have those goods stockpiled was Glendower, and he'd done it without my
even being aware of it. Essence of a true professional, I guess,
planning things months or years in advance.

Now we unloaded crates of food, ammo, medical supplies from those
vehicles, and refueled others. The whole process took the rest of the
day and well into the night. During it, Bee took the Star and some
troops to the city's National Guard Armory and pilfered the spares that
had been meant to repair the Federal tanks, should the Feds have been
victorious. Mr. Green, upon seeing the new tracks, promised they'd be on
our remaining tank by morning.

I'd started the drive east with the intention of pushing all the way to
DC, crossing the Potomac (Rubicon?) and entering the city to force a
resolution of the situation. Taking the Capitol would not have been a
military victory, in that the Homeland Army would still be in the field,
but it might have been enough of a victory to short-circuit the war.

With what we had left - two armed motor-homes, some UAVs and a bunch of
infantry - a charge to the east would be a forlorn hope. The Beast and
the Star could probably ghost their way into Virginia, but they just
didn't have the might to force their way through the fortifications
around Washington.

That evening, as people scurried around disbursing supplies, I sat on
the step of the Beast's door, pondering and absorbing the info coming
from my wearable. The news feeds we were still getting showed that
instead of people pulling together and making this a "Freedom vs
Tyranny" fight, they were thinking the Feds were toppled - and with no
law, deciding to settle old arguments. An example would be the fighting
between RePals and New Zionists in New York City that had leveled a good
chunk of Brooklyn. Apparently the NZ's had a bunch of people in the
National Guard who had been called in when the riots started, and who
ended up taking their tanks and IFVs back to their own neighborhood to
clean things out while they had the chance.

In some areas people were actually getting their act together. Many of
the folks who'd been Isher customers in the past had banded together
over the past few months and trained themselves into passable militias.
They'd taken over the local city hall and declared for the Rebellion.
That would lead to Fed air strikes on the city buildings... but that
also brought Fed aircraft into the range of the Rebel weapons.... which
then caused the plane or helicopter to crash inside the city, often
leading to further loss of life.

International news was skimpy - as usual, due to censoring - but it
appeared that Mexico was having a sympathetic revolution and that the UN
envoy to the EU was asking for the EU nations to contribute to a
peacekeeping force in the US. I suspect the rapid decent into begging
for troops had something to do with there being fighting within a mile
of the UN Building in New York.

I'd unleashed something that I didn't know how to control, and I could
no longer use as a diversion to generate the end-game I'd wanted. I
wasn't even sure if the end-game I'd first envisioned would even work.

The sound of breaking glass broke my melancholy ruminations. Looking up,
I saw a group of people smashing the windows of the Presidential Library
and throwing things out on to the ground below, or into the water. A big
bust of Clinton flew out the window and splashed into the river.

I stood up and yelled for Red.

"Yeah, like, 'sup? "

"Red, those people are trashing the place."

"So? B-J Clinton was one of the Neros that made the wave we're surfing.
Except he wasn't fiddling. It was more like.... "

I interrupted Red as he made an obscene hand gesture, "I'm not going
to argue that one. What does bother me is that it's a part of our
history - we've got to remember not to elect people like him in the
future. On another level, though - destruction for destruction's sake
isn't the point here. We're trying to move forward. "

"Forward to where, man? Everybody's fighting against the Feds, but
nobody's fighting for anything. These people just want to trash the
dudes that have been ripping them off."

I stood there looking at Red. He was right - all along, the fighting
had been revenge, or against a certain injustice - but no one had stood
up and said, "This is the end-goal."

I was standing there open-mouthed as Red's point sank in. Over his
shoulder, I could see a man spray painting "Latrine" on a statue of the
first female president and then 'baptizing' it.

"You're right, Red. You're right. Listen, though, we're not barbarians.
No burning, pillaging or looting, OK? Round up some people you can trust
and get those folks calmed down and acting as if they were civilized."

Red looked at me oddly for a moment, and then nodded. It was only after
a moment that I realized I'd just used the threat of force to restrain
what I was thinking of as "my people." My, how quickly the ideals of
freedom fall to expediency and the wishes of those in power to 'do the
right thing.'


While Red was straightening things out, my wife came out, took me by the
hand, and led me over to a picnic table. She put a couple Styrofoam
cups down, and poured wine from a box. Sutter Home white zinfandel -
good, but I still missed the Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc. One of the
casualties of the escape from Isher was the wine cellar; even though no
projectiles had gone through it, the shockwaves of the near misses had
shattered the bottles and all our crystal glassware. Only the boxes of
the "cheap wine" had survived.

She sat across from me, and soon we each had a cup of wine in one hand,
and a spouse's paw in the other.

"I heard you and Red talking. This isn't your fault - these people have
never been really free before, and they haven't learned to handle it.
They have spent their whole lives living up to rules someone else made,
and never practiced making their own. Now they believe there are no
rules - which is almost true, from a certain point of view. "

"Sweetheart, that defines the problem, but what the heck are we going to
do about it? Raising one little girl was hard enough; I just do not have
the patience to do it 300 million times. "

She sipped her wine, laughed, and shrugged.

I went on, "Looking back on it, a good portion of the time Glendower
spent training me wasn't just the technical issues, but the self
control. Just because I could raid computers with near impunity, I
didn't need to do any more data-raiding than was necessary to survive.
Just didn't seem right, so to speak. It took months for those ethics to
get ingrained, and for me to grow out of the ethics and rules that
society had us living in before I became a consultant. Now, we've got a
lot of people who aren't being guided around by the hand, and we don't
have months to teach them to guide themselves. "

She grinned, and said, "How did Glendower de-program you? What one
moment made the difference?"

"Oh."




I waited until dusk, making arrangements for a few bonfires near where
we'd parked. The Beast's PA would echo me so they could all hear.

Just after dinner, I climbed up on top of the Beast, stood with my hand
on the barrel of the 40/50 (the retractor was blown, and we couldn't
stow the gun) and turned on the PA.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. I'd like to ask you a question. Why are you
here? What are you fighting for?"

There was a gabble of replies, but one guy stood up and yelled back,
"Because I'm sick and tired of the government telling me how to run my
own life."

"When we win, who's going to tell you how to live?"

The one guy in the crowd yelled, "Nobody!"

I shook my head. "Wrong."

People in the crowd turned and looked at me. I could feel the press of
eyes.

"You - and you alone - are going to have to tell your self how to live.
You're going to have to decide if you're going to be a decent person or
not. "

I paused. The crowd had gone from that initial burst of panic - would I
take away the freedom they fought for - and was now looking at me more
speculatively.

"Every government humanity has ever formed has eventually become
oppressive."
"Every government humanity has ever formed has eventually decided that
it needs to handle more and more details of your life."
" Every government humanity has ever formed has eventually taken up more
and more of the burden of your day-to-day thinking."

"Why? Not only why did we let this happen, but why did it happen at
all?"

"It happened because there were enough people voting to be stupid. There
were enough people doing the wrong thing that everyone else decided they
needed to be protected from the criminal, from the thief, from the
rapist, the murderer - or from the people who loot buildings and destroy
property."

"When enough people decide to act in a manner that everyone else views
as 'destructive' or 'wrong' or 'evil', then society decides that it's
worth devoting some full-time employees to preventing those kinds of
actions. If crime occurs once in a lifetime in a given area, someone
handles it. If crime occurs often enough that it's worth hiring a cop to
deal with it, then you can be damn sure that a few months later there
will be a mayor that the cop answers to, and a tax collector to pay
them. Then somebody will complain to the mayor about the state of the
roads, and before you know it we're back where we are now. "

"Now keep that in mind. I want you people to know the truth - the most
basic truth that matters in regards to where governments come from. "

"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for taxation."
"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for SWAT teams shooting
women who stand in the doorway of their own home, holding a baby in
their arms."
"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for getting a body cavity
search because you want to fly home to see your Mom at Christmas."
"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for an overweight, drunken
son-of-a-bitch Congressman's ability to rape a woman and get away with
it."
"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for the cop at the door in
the middle of the night, wanting to check your fridge for contraband
food."
"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for the Citizen's Sugar
Ration."
"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for the BATF's Search
Warrants, and the War on Guns."
"Every time you commit a crime, you're voting for DEA agents being
allowed to shoot ten year old children and get off scot-free."

"I'm not going to stand up here and define what a crime is. I'm not
going to be Moses passing down the Ten Commandments. I don't need to.
Each one of you, when you commit an action, knows if what you're doing
is morally right or wrong. Each and every one of you already knows how
they should treat everyone else, how they should treat property and
people. Passing a bunch of laws and putting them on the books is just a
cop-out, and everyone here knows it. You put laws on the books so that
there's loopholes to slide out of if you get caught. You put laws on
the books so you can fine people when the law is broken, so that the
city, or the State, or the Feds can pick up a few extra bucks. "

"You are sentient people. You understand right and wrong. You need to
decide which way you're going to live. "

I paused, took a deep breath and let it slowly out. Took a sip from the
water tube at the collar of my CUs.

"I'm a Consulting Programmer. My view on life is that when you solve a
problem, it should stay solved - unless the client screws it up. "

I turned and pointed at the statue that had been spray painted earlier -
"That, my dear clients, is someone screwing the deal up. "

"The way this war is going, we're either going to die or win and gain
our freedom. If we die, " I shrugged, "then this whole speech isn't very
important."

"If we win, if we push out the politicians, the lobbyists, the tax
collectors, the Homeland Security Guard - then the next fight is not
just to gain our freedom, but to keep it."

"The only way to keep it is to make crime such a rare thing that no one
decides that an elected group of professional criminals is better than a
bunch of amateur, free-lance criminals. "

"If you loose track of who you are, if you become brigands - then the
backlash will create something even worse than what we're fighting
against now. People will say that freedom doesn't work, that the common
man really does need to be controlled by the State so that he stays out
of trouble. God help us, if you let that happen, the people will vote
for a State so controlling and so powerful that a hundred years from
now, your grandchildren won't even understand the words I'm speaking. "

"Each and every one of you needs to decide, tonight, right now, what
path your life is going to take. If you're going to be an adult,
someone responsible for their own life and who will take care to protect
their own honor, then I'll see you in the morning. If not, then leave
now, go take the amnesty, live in a Fed Vill, because that's the path
you're dooming your grandchildren to. "

"Good night."


I climbed down. The crowd was silent, sitting. Roughly three hundred
people out there, and all I could hear was the snap and crackle of the
bonfires.

I went down, went back in the Beast, and took my wife in my arms. I was
shaking with fear; either I had changed the course of history, or I had
led us down the road to damnation. She held me in her arms until I fell
asleep.


---------------------

Chapter 27

Now was that wrong? And let me say that it was wrong. I'm saying,
incidentally, that it was wrong, not just illegal because it isn't a
question of whether it was legal or illegal, that isn't enough. The
question is "Was it morally wrong?" - Richard Nixon, "The Checkers
Speech" 9/23/1952

Bee woke me up at 06:00 with a knock on the door. My wife let him in
since she was closer to the door. She tends to wake earlier than I do,
and she was already dressed as well.

The look on her face was one of mild shock after Bee came in, but he
motioned her to sit down and not speak. He looked so insufferably
pleased with himself that I think he was worried she'd spoil whatever
surprise he was about to spring on me.

"Alright, you devil, what have you done now?"

"Moi?"

"Don't give me that French stuff. Bee, I know and you know you're the
one that put the flight simulator easter-egg in the VA Hospital bedside
software. And then you had the nerve to add a hotlink for 'send thank
yous' to my email address. Do you have any idea how many 'I was so bored
until the guy in the next bed told me about your addition to my bedside
terminal, now I love to fly my F-38 against the other people in the
hospital' messages I've gotten? "

Bee smirked. "You can't prove it was me."

"No, I can't. To be honest, based on the number I got, I think you may
have done some good in the world, even if it did have me tearing my hair
out."

Bee nodded, "See, sometimes I do things that vex you, but they always
work out in the end."

I could feel the blood leaving my face as I paled. If he was setting me
up like that, whatever he was so tickled pink about had to be absolutely
horrid. What had he done lately that might... oh, no, please...

He was still trying to break it to me gently, "You know, many news
agencies don't change their network encryption coding but once a day?
I'd spent a lot of time generating code keys for the news network, and I
just happened to check last night to see if the keys I had still worked.
"

I started shaking my head. I really didn't want to hear this.

"Boy was I surprised when they still did! Then, as I sat there logged
in, I wondered if there was anything newsworthy happening that I could
pick up a few bucks by Jimmy Olsoning."

I put my hands over my face. No, I did not want to hear this at all.

"Then I realized, 'Hey! We'll either die or win, there's no going back
to running. So he won't care if he's on TV!' and I had this file my
wearable had made after dinner last night......"

I stood up, "You didn't!"

He just smiled and looked smug.

"No, you're pulling my leg. Please tell me you're pulling my leg."

His smile became a smirk, "It's not like you're in charge or anything.
We're all sentient individuals, making our own decisions about right and
wrong. Addendum One says I have the right to free expression, and that
would include public communications, right?"


"What in Babbage's name have you done?"

He laughed, and said, "Let's go outside. There's something I want you to
see."



I threw on some clothes, and we stepped out the door.

The place looked like a militant version of Woodstock.

Probably seven or eight hundred people, all armed, were camped out
through the park. Most were in a variety of different clothing, but off
to the right was a group of olive drab tents set up inside a laager of
eight IFVs. Past them a platoon of tanks were parked.

A man in CUs stepped out from around the corner of the Beast, and
offered his hand with a cheerful "Good Morning, Sir, I'm Major Arnold,
formerly of the Arkansas National Guard."

I took his hand, bewildered.

Bee stepped in, "They rolled in around 04:00. Seems that about a third
of the National Guard weren't happy with the way the merry-go-round was
spinning, but they weren't sure how to get off of it. Last night, a
number of them decided to defect. The rest of these folks are all former
Isher customers, or of similar back ground, and when they caught the
news, they decided to join up with us."

I felt light-headed, euphoric, panicked.

"How many?"

Bee responded, "Already here, or who have indicated they're on their
way?"

"Both." The bastard was enjoying this way too much.

He consulted his wearable for a moment.

"Seven hundred forty two irregular infantry. Another hundred and
eighteen with their own transports. Eighty regulars, plus another
sixteen as crews for eight IFVs. Sixteen as crews of eight tanks. Thirty
truckers, with their semi's full of supplies we'll pay for later. All
that's in addition to the folks we already had."

"When do they all get here?"

"Oh, no, those are the new additions that are on site. Call it double,
maybe triple that who are on the way and expected to arrive in the next
24 hours. Another double of that, that are on our side, but can't move
from where they are because they're already engaged with the Feds."

Both Bee and Major Arnold looked insufferably pleased with themselves.

"You're serious about a one third defection based on a speech? "

The ex-Guard Major answered that - "Sir, most of us were uncomfortable
with the orders we were given. We signed on because we believed that the
nation needed to be protected from terrorists, that there was a solid
outside threat that merited an internal security force. Over the last
couple months, being ordered to force people out of their homes at gun
point, round them up, and send them to relocation camps while their
Vills are being finished.... Its been hard on my men. We signed on to
protect innocent people from being blown up by mad bombers, not to yank
a family out of a nice three bedroom house and stick them in a tent
behind a razor wire fence."

He paused for a moment, his look like he was unsure if I understood what
he was saying, and then looked at me, with an expression of not knowing
what to say next.

"Major, it does me good to hear you say that. You and your men did the
morally right thing, even if it wasn't the legal thing. I had to make
that decision myself, a while back, and I won't pretend that it won't
prey on me until the day that I die. I don't doubt you'll have the same
problem, but as this goes on, now and then people will say to you the
kind of thing you just said to me, and you'll know that you're not alone
in your decision. That you're not the only one who has had enough, and
can't stand by any longer, can't hide from what is just plain wrong any
longer. "

The Major perked up a bit, nodded, and his face set back into the mask
of a professional soldier.

"Let's go inside, get some breakfast, and decide what to do."



The old table in the Beast had seen a lot of meals, but never had it
held up a breakfast of Strike Rations. Unlike the old MRE's, the ration
packs were either brown with green dots (morning) or OD Green with brown
dots (evening). The idea was that this would make it easier to select
meals when you were packing your ruck.

I pulled mine open, unfolded the tray, and then the little foil drinking
cup, putting it in it's slot on the tray before filling it with water
from the canteen my wife had put on the table. Our good water pitcher
was so many pieces of blue glass dust, and I still wasn't used to the
plastic canteen.

I then filled the little water intake on the tray. Inside, a battery
would be activated by the water, driving several peltier junctions.
After a minute or so, the memory foil of the drinking cup had denatured
with the heat, becoming as solid as a Dixie cup. I added the contents of
the instant coffee packet and let it warm a little more.

As usual, the bacon was a little greasy, but that grease could be mopped
up with the biscuits, which made them taste a lot better. The omelet
still wasn't so great - I don't know what kind of cheese they use, but
its not one I've ever been fond of.

We all fiddled with our food for a bit, making breakfast and using the
time to think. Bee softly spoke just before he started eating; not to
us, but a quiet grace over the meal.

My wife started the ball rolling with, "Major Arnold, is you unit from
around here?"

He looked over the informal setting, and said, "Call me Ben, ma'am. No,
ma'am, we're from Tennessee. Just outside of Birmingham. We were
supposed to be part of the fighting yesterday, but we were having all
kinds of supply line problems that delayed us for a day. "

He looked at me - "The last few weeks, none of our ammunition deliveries
have arrived. The computer system would accept the order, and then say
that the ammo was on hold by the shipper. Don't suppose you'd know
anything about that?'

I smiled and replied, "I really can't say."

He nodded, "I thought that might be the case. Finally, I took my unit to
the regional supply dump in Nashville and took the gear and munitions we
needed, and then turned west to head for the battle. Going out of our
way made us a day late for the fight, and now we're on the other side of
the war. It's a strange hand life deals us. "

Bee said, "Amen. On the other hand, life is short. "

Major Arnold raised an eyebrow slightly, replied, "But the years are
long."

I was looking at the two of them like they were nuts, and my wife
shrugged as well.

"Not while the evil days come not."

Both looked rather surprised, but not displeased.

I decided to interrupt the conversation before the two of them slipped
fully into the Twilight Zone.

"Alright , gentlemen, when one considers that half of the remaining
Federal forces are trying to put down riots, or are pinned down doing
security work, we find ourselves sitting in a situation where our usable
forces are about the same as the enemy's. My original intent was to
attempt a coup de main by taking Washington, and thus forcing
negotiations. "

Major Arnold shook his head and said, "I don't think that would have
worked. You could have captured the city, but that would have brought
some of the old Executive Orders into play, and legally put things in
the hands of the President. Same thing as if the Chinese had dropped a
nuke into the city back in 30's, in Cold War II. We would have had
Queen Chelsea I rather than just President Clinton III."

"Oh. I'd hoped that the troops would give in at that point."

"The Oath is to follow the orders of the Commander In Chief. I'm not
sure what would have happened, but I don't think it would have been
good."

I shrugged. "Okay, that's peachy. What do we do?"

"It's not a question of what you can do, but what you're capable of. You
realize that with what we've got, we could strike vulnerable economic
targets and destroy the US as an industrialized nation?"

"That's exactly what I don't want to do!"

"It's what President Jack McClain has nightmares about. You've got
enough military strength that the threat of using it may be enough to
bring them to the table. "



--------------------------


Chapter 28

"Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on
a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of
it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common
people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that
matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the
leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a
simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a
fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.
Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of
the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are
being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and
exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

- Hermann Goering, Nazi leader, at the Nuremberg Trials after World War
II


An old quote from the late 1940's kept rolling through my mind,
something about how easy it was to goad a population in to war-time
sentiments. I kept wondering if the principle would work in reverse.




The conference was a first of sorts - the President of the United States
addressing a number of Guild members over an NSA-Resistant
communications link. I'd opened contact with the Nazgul, and they'd set
up the contact with President McClain.

Firsts weren't an uncommon thing for McClain - he'd been the first
president elected from the "American Unity Party" - a third party that
had formed thirty-odd years ago as an alternative to the traditional
two. However, rather than taking the traditional third party tactic of
generating a platform unlike the other two, it operated under a platform
that can be defined as splitting the difference between the Democrats
and Republicans.

The motto of the party should have been "Even More Of The Same!" rather
than "Common Values For America!"

The AUP had grown quite a bit over the last decade; at times, I felt
like they were rubbing the public's collective nose in the fact that
there was no meaningful difference between the platforms of the other
two major parties.

McClain's face glared at me from the main display in the Beast's
'cockpit.' Along the bottom edge of the display were icons noting the
Guild (and Company) people listening in on the conversation; I didn't
mind that, as what was said here would affect their lives as well.

"Good Afternoon, Mister President, " I opened.

McClain's glower eased a bit, and it appeared he decided to be polite.
"Good Afternoon, my fellow American."

"I'm glad you see it that way, that we are fellow Americans. That is
exactly the thing I was hoping to discuss with you."

"I thought we were going to negotiate an end to your insurrection."

I smirked. "Insurrection? Yes, I guess the word is technically accurate.
Rebellion would suit better, though. "

He shrugged impatiently, not willing to play word games. "Either way,
what will it take to call you off, have you stand down and turn over
your weapons?"

My smirk got larger, "Hell freezing over. Turning over weapons was the
first step that led us to today. Unless there is parity between the
government and the people, then you aren't ruling by consent of the
governed, but in spite of the lack of consent. What's it going to take
for you and everyone who works for you to resign and get a productive
job in the private sector?"

He laughed, "Alright, we've both thrown out our opening pitches, given
the party line. What do you really want? I can set you up as Czar in
charge of Reconciliation or something, cool fifty million a year salary,
plus perks. "

"You're right, that was just the opening pitch. How about if you add the
ability for that Czar position to be able to hold tribunals and execute
people for crimes against the Constitution? I figure I could behead most
of the ATF on Second Amendment grounds, then start in on the Committee
for News Accuracy concerning the First. Within two years, things could
be cleaned up fairly well."

He wasn't pleased by that gambit.

"You can't possibly be serious."

"You've heard the speech I gave - as far as I'm concerned, government is
the penance we all have to suffer for sins other people enjoy."

"You can't seriously expect me to just shut everything down."

"I don't expect you to like the idea. On the other hand, I'm now sitting
on enough military capability to put things into a full scale civil war,
one in which there won't be a 'North' and 'South' with fighting on the
border of the two, but one in which I already have a 'fifth column'
inside your country capable of destroying your infrastructure in ways
you can't imagine. Even if my side lost, you'd be reduced to ruling a
third world nation, and likely have UN Peacekeepers as the power behind
the throne. "

"You'd go the sour grape route? If I don't turn the US over to your
control, you'll destroy what you can't have?"

"Once again, you're missing the point. I don't want the US. I don't want
to rule here, I don't want a huge salary and perks paid for by someone
else's money taken on threat of imprisonment or death by IRS Raid. I
want the system that killed my daughter and grand-daughter shut down so
that no one else's kids are burnt in a school. I want to be able to pick
up the newspaper and read the truth for a change. I want to keep the
money I earn by honest labor without having to become a criminal to do
so. None of those things are options so long as there is a strong
central government. Hence, I want the system shut down."

"You're totally nuts. You really expect the slobs on the street be able
to take care of themselves? Those people are idiots. They've let
themselves be gerrymandered into voting for who we want them to vote for
without a squeal - hell, most of them are too damn stupid to figure out
there's no difference between any of the three parties. You can't expect
idiots like that to be able to feed themselves, much less control their
own lives. "

"Putting most of those morons in the Villages is a kindness; we should
be putting them into concentration camps so we can do something about
getting the losers out of the gene pool. Those mouth-breathing droolers
elected me twice, and they haven't picked someone not part of the 'inner
circle' for over a hundred years now. Jesus, they elected members of the
Clinton family seven times, and Bushes five! Shut down the system and
let them live without supervision? That's a crock. Give me some thing
real we can talk about. You're not leaving me anywhere to negotiate."

I frowned, then said, "I'll give you the same option the US gave Japan
back in World War Two. Unconditional surrender, or we destroy everything
you have. I'll give you until morning to think it over. "

"Are you threatening to treat Washington like Hiroshima?"

"I didn't say that at all. I'm not in favor of using Weapons of Mass
Destruction. I know that with the current positioning of my forces, you
can't use them without taking out the things you want to protect as
well. I'd just as soon neither side escalates to that position. Is that
one thing we can agree on?"

"Yes, although I do think you're bluffing. "

I shrugged. "That's your call. I think you should consider the vast
number of governmental systems the Guild has compromised, and then
decide how likely it is that your strategic weapons are infiltrated, or
that the inventory records for plutonium removed from nuclear power
plants has been altered. Your people will have, by now, determined that
the Isher complex was atomic powered, and I'll even let you know there
was a breeder reactor there and the reprocessing equipment for handing
radioactive materials, as well as the people skilled enough to do so. "

He frowned at that.

I continued, "However, I would say that as a first step to peace, I'll
agree not to use WMD's unless you do. I don't want civilian casualties.
I want this whole thing resolved as bloodlessly as possible. "

He nodded, "I have no desire to be President of a nuclear wasteland.
I'll agree to that."

"I'm willing to declare a twenty-four hour cease fire while you decide
what to do next. If you agree to surrender, then I'll extend the cease
fire while we work out the details of an orderly transition of power
back to the populace in general. "

The President snorted. "I'll agree to the twenty-four hours, but don't
expect more than that."

"I'll talk to you tomorrow then. Think on it, Mister President. Thank
you for your time."




He closed the connection with another snort, then the conversations
between the folks monitoring went wild. I listened for a few moments,
enjoying the byplay, then closed the connection and turned to face my
wife and Bee.

Bee was grinning. "I'll have the propaganda version of that ready by
tomorrow's six o'clock news. 'Drooling Mouth Breathers' indeed. "


I passed the word for the cease-fire, then we sat back and waited. The
time wasn't wasted - we continued training our troops and handling
logistics issues. We just didn't start any fights.

When I tried to contact the President the next day, I was told he was
"unavailable."

I was a bit miffed, but Bee was thrilled. "All that work would have been
wasted."


My wife and I sat together and watched the news - and there was no story
about the negotiations. I kept wondering when the spot would be, and I
almost missed it anyway.

The commercial opened up with the old picture of "Uncle Sam Wants You!",
and then switched to the President, replaying the "Drooling" portion of
his reply during yesterday's conversation. This was followed by clips of
people in Federal Security Service uniforms, the golden "FSS" symbols on
their collars sparkling in the sun as one of them said, "We're here to
help you figure out how to live! If you're a moronic, drooling, waste of
flesh, you'll support the people who tell you how to live."

The commercial closed with "FSS - We're here for YOU!"

Bee was right - it would have been a waste not to air it.

But I would have been just as glad if things had been resolved without
having to go to plan "B."






---------------


Chapter 29

"Citizens may resist unlawful arrest to the point of taking an arresting
officer's life if necessary." Plummer v. State, 136 Ind. 306. This
premise was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in the
case: John Bad Elk v. U.S., 177 U.S. 529. The Court stated: "Where the
officer is killed in the course of the disorder which naturally
accompanies an attempted arrest that is resisted, the law looks with
very different eyes upon the transaction, when the officer had the right
to make the arrest, from what it does if the officer had no right. What
may be murder in the first case might be nothing more than manslaughter
in the other, or the facts might show that no offense had been
committed."

I couldn't bring myself to give the order to begin the systematic
destruction of the infrastructure. I could not justify it, morally -
the idea of destroying businesses just to make a political statement
didn't sit well with me. Ruining people's lives in the name of improving
them wasn't something that sounded completely rational. Goodness knows
enough businesses were being ruined as it was; with large portions of
society working poorly due to strategic data bombing, and the
non-electronic portions hindered by the rioting that was still going on,
America surely didn't need me doing more damage.

We planned a series of operations that would attack military bases, or
military convoys that we had knowledge of. With a fair number of Guild
folks joining up, we were getting enough info on supply routes and
schedules that we could interdict most of what was being moved to stock
up the bases we were planning on attacking. One by one, they fell. In
some cases the fighting was hard, in others there was just a token
exchange of gunfire before the surrender.

The biggest targets for us were the data centers - IRS, FDA, DOT,
Medicare. We'd go in and wipe the data, shutting down the system,
blinding the government to the location and condition of people.
Further, we'd shut down the ability to collect withholdings from
paychecks. People were surprised to get almost double the take home the
following pay day, and often they would begin to change their minds with
regard to the Rebellion when they heard the extra change clink in their
pockets.

That worked fairly well in conjunction with Bee's continuing propaganda
war. As we liberated an area, we would shut down the local Office of
Media Accuracy, giving the media back to the people who owned it.
Sometimes the reporters would have a liberal bent, and there would be
scathing stories calling us terrorists. More often, though, Bee was well
received and the news staff would be so tickled to be out from under the
thumb of a censor that they would agree to sell us advertising time so
we could run our Prop-Agit pieces.

When we'd leave a city, the populace would again be fairly well armed -
and there would be a small garrison with veteran troops who had heavier
weapons that could deal with Land Warriors and Tanks. Usually, one of
the first businesses in the liberated that showed a real boom were the
machine shops that we had given CAD files for a variety of firearms....
including the Mosin-Nagent design I still carried around. With a good
armor-piercing rifle in a quarter of the homes in a city, the Knights in
Kevlar Armor found that trying to regain control of the cities was a
dicey business - one with a casualty rate that caused officers to go dig
up info on the German side of the Warsaw Ghetto story.

There were lynchings here and there - IRS, FSS, FDA officials who had
been too heavy handed and had built up lethal levels of resentment. The
Guild tried to prevent them, offering to adjudicate the grievances that
the people in the area had. In some cases, it worked. In others, we
arrived too late or the amount of force we would need to use to stop the
lynching would have caused a lot of 'civilian' deaths. In more than one
case, the Guildsman who was adjudicating decided that the mob was right,
and the lynching had a degree of official sanction. In most, the
vehicles, weapons, and office equipment of the department in question
were auctioned, and the money used to pay restitution to the victims.

Many of the adjudication sessions were televised live, as part of Bee's
propaganda plan. I didn't like that - they caught on like the "court
reality shows" of the late twentieth century had. That bothered me, as I
kept thinking it was what the French Committees For Public Safety would
have done, had they had television.

Slowly, over the course of three years, we managed to win the war
without too much unnecessary bloodshed. President McClain and a number
of other high-ranking officials boarded Air Force One, Two and Three
late one night and skipped out of the country, several billion in
government funds having been transferred to Swiss bank accounts hours
earlier. We didn't pursue them - it was worth it just to be rid of them.

I think the clue that told them it was time to go was the regularly
scheduled Presidential elections. Voter turn out was only 11%.... and
more than half of those were write-ins for "Spartacus."

After that, thing improved fairly quickly. The Guild called for new
elections, and we held them on the first Saturday in January - a
weekend, when everyone could get to the polls. I found myself running a
caretaker government, disbursing the assets and shutting things down. It
was like being the executor of an estate.

We auctioned off over half the Air Force's cargo and transport aircraft,
as well as the tens of thousands of small planes that had been seized
from General Aviation owners. Most of them went to people who were
buying between one and five planes. Three months later, we had six
national airlines using large aircraft, and over four thousand charter
services.

With travel restrictions removed, and many competing airlines, tourism
returned as a business, and trade blossomed. The removal of fuel
rationing and taxation caused the prices to fluctuated wildly for a
couple months, but then steadied at about half what people had been
paying, and travel and trade blossomed again. Cheaper transport meant
lower shipping costs, and prices dropped. With twice as much
disposable income, and lower prices, demand took off through the
ceiling. More businesses opened to try to meet it.

We ended up re-activating the vehicle tracking system as part of highway
maintenance. We sold the roads to the pavement companies, and then each
month sent bills to the homes of the people who had used the roads. The
proceeds were divvied up according to which road was used and sent on to
the company who had 'bought' the road the travel had occurred on. The
government skimmed 5% to cover the cost of doing paperwork, and the
companies set their own rates for each road. We made sure those were
published - and people had the opportunity to decide if they wanted to
take the expensive, well maintained road, or the cheap, low maintenance
route. A few companies tried the "expensive, low maintenance" combo,
and ended up getting brought before a Guild Arbitration Board by irate
drivers. One company decided to go the ultra-cheap route, and just
bought right-of-way and put hardy weeds in, then aimed their
advertisement at the SUV/Off roading crowd. Surprisingly, they're still
in business.

Local charities came back in a big way. With everyone suddenly feeling
"rich", they were more disposed to help out when they saw someone in
need. That covered more than half of the people who couldn't work, and
the rest we lump-summed disability payments to, with the advice that
they invest it and live off the interest.

As far as the people that wouldn't work.... The inner cities became
bloodbaths for a few months at the beginning, then finally settled down.
A lot of businesses moved out, or were burnt out in riots, and the
owners decided to move elsewhere to rebuild. For a while the transition
was brutal, much like the things you read in history books about the
breakup of the Soviet Union and the transition to capitalism.

We haven't fully solved the crime problem - there's still a lot of
ex-cops working as security guards or private detectives - but we're
close. Crime is down 75% from five years ago, and from this years
statistics, it's still dropping.

All in all, it's worked out fairly well. People seem to believe they
have control over their own lives again, and seem to have a stronger
sense of self-worth. I think that translated to their dealings with
others - they feel that if they are a valued individual, then the other
guy might be too.

I'd have to call it a completed project. "



I stopped talking then, looking across the room at the woman who had
appeared in the darkness late last night and asked me to tell her my
tale. She finished sipping her tea, impassively, then grinned. The old
lady got up from the Lazy Boy, put her teacup on the counter, and
nodded. She thanked me for telling her the story, then pressed a button
on the arm of the silvery jumpsuit she wore and spoke into the air :
"Kropotikin to Base. One to beam up!"

A blue spark danced in the middle of the room for a moment before
becoming an azure disk about six feet in diameter. She stepped into it,
disappearing from view. The bright blue light filled the room for a few
more moments, and then shrank back down a spark before disappearing.
Strabo
2005-07-11 19:32:49 UTC
Permalink
In The Consultant, complete on Sun, 10 Jul 2005 14:49:31 -0700,
Post by Ray Keller
Here it is.
Saved and compiled from posts to misc.survivalism.
Subject: OT : The Consultant
Got it!
Gio Medici
2005-07-12 14:10:33 UTC
Permalink
Post by Strabo
In The Consultant, complete on Sun, 10 Jul 2005 14:49:31 -0700,
Post by Ray Keller
Here it is.
Saved and compiled from posts to misc.survivalism.
Subject: OT : The Consultant
Got it!
Before I download 10,000 lines, what is 'it'?

Gio
Strabo
2005-07-13 19:43:54 UTC
Permalink
In Re: The Consultant, complete on Tue, 12 Jul 2005 08:10:33
Post by Gio Medici
Post by Strabo
In The Consultant, complete on Sun, 10 Jul 2005 14:49:31 -0700,
Post by Ray Keller
Here it is.
Saved and compiled from posts to misc.survivalism.
Subject: OT : The Consultant
Got it!
Before I download 10,000 lines, what is 'it'?
A story.
Post by Gio Medici
Gio
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