copyright (c)(copr) all rights reserved. This is a work of fiction, and any similarities to any persons living or dead are entirely coincidental. Use is made of existing landmarks, as public places which are known to exist. Some mention is made of assorted companies, facilities, stores and businesses, but this is not to be construed as recommendations or disparagements.
They'd been coming for awhile.
This was known, had always been known. The vast resources of the Americas were, in many ways, the most tasty of vast sitting ducks. That someone would eventually come for it had always been a given. Siberian nomads had come for it, nearly twenty thousand years ago. Later, others came behind them until the land-bridge submerged beneath the Bering Sea. There are tantalizing hints that others came as well, visiting briefly and then departing, leaving only cryptic legacies in the form of Celtic Ogham scripts chiseled into the rocks of Connecticut, traces of Roman triremes found beneath other, more recent wrecks in the port of Rio De Janeiro, and scholars of the occult would often wonder at some of the maps possessed by obscure Turkish, Portuguese and Welsh ship-captains. They'd always come. They always would.
Times changed, and with the rise and fall of the ocean tides rose other tides, and with the surge and ebbs of history came and went the flotsam and stormwrack of empire. The Siberians came, and they hunted the deep Northern woods, the central deserts and prairies and in the south came to another kind of forest. They raised their villages, and formed their empires and organized their forays and wars, and across the oceans, back in the Old World, tribes became nations and the nations did war.
Perhaps some ancient relic of a librarian discovered some hidden and blasphemous truth buried deep in some crypt of suppressed arcana, or perhaps the Renaissance simply returned sufficient logic to the world so that the conclusion was inescapable: this Earth is a sphere... and again to the Americas they came. The Spanish and the Portuguese went South, to the hot lands, and to the North went the Northron peoples, the French and the English and the Dutch and the Nordics. All brought with them a disease that slew most of the Siberians, but over the years, natural immunity built up, and intermarriages between the survivors and those who brought that which slew their parents produced stronger children. They could not at first fight against the superior technology of the Europeans, but they could and did learn.
After some three hundred years, the Americas were largely settled and the population again built to the point where the nations of the Old World could be threatened by the nations of the New, and they fought each other across the seas, but the nations of the Old World had waited a little too long, had too loosely held the reins of power. The New World fought free of the Old. And thus turned the tides of history.
Of the tides of history, we truly understand but this one thing: they turn, and always after time, turn again.
In Central Europe, powered by the writings of a German recluse who built upon the mystic propositions of earlier French, British and even Ancient philosophers, the tides of history smashed against the aristocracies, and they fell, not all at once, but in time, fall they did. One of the last to resist the inexorable flow of these tides fell more badly than did most of its predecessors, and the thing that rose in its place was more of monstrosity than of mankind. Lenin, and later Stalin, made Russia into the terror of the rest of the Earth, partly through having been strengthened by resistance against an equally alien state, the Third Reich. Both learned much from each other in the short time they were in conflict, but while Germany fell under the onslaught of the Allies, there was nothing to bring Great Russia down, and the security measures and apparatus which had greatly enhanced the Soviet military machine's initially-feeble resistance against Germany were more quickly turned to internal suppression. But to successfully oppress a nation so vast as Russia, one must have a proportionately vast cadre of policemen, informants, officious busybodies and jailers, not to mention outright spies. When at long last the Soviet Union fell under the weight of the depression of the Russian Spirit, the policemen usually remained on their jobs; every country needs police. The informants probably suffered the usual fate of the disempowered despised. The jailers, like the policemen, often remained at their posts; even in such an intensely politicized system as was the Soviet criminal-justice system, there are some people who really do need to be locked up for the good of all. Officious busybodies will always remain one of the more recurrent (if generally endurable) plagues of mankind, one can only try to make sure they do not rise to power. But what of the spies?
Soviet intelligence was efficient, far-flung, supremely organized, and despite the overwhelming poverty of the Soviets States in the final years of the Cold War, comprised of a phenomenal number of persons whose training was thoroughly comprehensive, and which persons did not rise to any rank at all without having demonstrated a level of ruthlessness and determination which most civilians would consider beyond feral.
Western Intelligence uncovered plot after plot, many of them discovered only after the figurative fox had made off with the chickens. Some of the plots were well-understood, such as destabilization ploys, attempting to infiltrate and pervert to Soviet goals such needful and desperate revolutions as in El Salvador or Chile. Other plots and projects were suspected, and while well understood in concept, could not be effectively countered simply because of the scales involved, in both fiscal resources, the investments in personnel that would be required to successfully counter the ploys. One of these was the "Travellers" scenario, which everyone admitted was possible, but against which none could develop reasonable opposition programs. Stated baldly, the Travellers were the fabled "sleepers", a multi-generation project in which the best of the cream of Soviet foreign intelligence would infiltrate America (a free country is always open to infiltration), live and work as Americans, and raise children who were as dedicated to the Motherland as were any of their parents, but who would be perfectly attuned to the ways and mores of the target country.
The children of the sleepers certainly could not be detected through discovery of improprieties in their documents, they were after all born in America, went to American schools, and married other Americans - who were also the product of this multigeneration scheme. They voted with a fervor and regularity which was inspirational to their countrymen. They moved themselves into the forefront of local politics, leaving no point of penetration unexplored. They contributed substantially to revision and reform of educational practices, public health, and social reform. They got involved. They were Americans, plain and simple... and while they did not particularly feel that they owed much, if anything, to the Soviet Union, which was at any rate tottering on the brink of economic and political collapse, they were a very loyal part of their artificial extended family... a "family" which loosely girdled the globe, and where their family was concerned, they most definitely had an agenda.
To the south of the border, though, in Central America, in South America, in Africa, in the rest of the world, the Soviets were less circumspect and seemingly benign. They toppled governments, and the United States expended vast resources to prop up tin-pot dictators to counter them, which did absolutely nothing to stoke any admiration or love for the Yankees.
They fomented revolution, started wars, armed insurgents, and throughout most of the Third World, such technology as was possessed by the locals was either a Soviet assault rifle or an American or British (and later Japanese) tractor or motorcycle.
In Coastal Central Africa, the Soviets destablilized Angola, and in other places, armed rival tribes, to let them fight each other into near extinction simply to have less people to bribe for rights to valuable mineral resources. They also, wherever they went, spread their ideology and the best educations to be had, promoting those local intellectuals-to-be to their universities in Moscow. Many an African received their Baccalaureate from the USSR, and many went home to return their skills to the betterance of their people, along with preaching a little revolution.
In South and Central America, the Communist ideology took on a life of its own, often being subverted by one or another Chinese/Maoist revisions, leading to the formation of such insurgencies as the Sandanistas in Nicaragua, the Shining Path Maoists in Peru, and other less-definable revolutionary movements throughout the Latin Americas. The traditional corruption of Latin-American regimes did nothing to slow the growth nor decrease the popular support of such revolutionary movements. When at last the Soviet Union crumbled, there were possibly more dedicated hard-line Communists in the Americas than there had been for years in the USSR or its satellite states.
And to the vast sitting duck of North America, with its fat and happy populace, corrupt and decadent in the absence of any real opposition, protected from overseas incursion by its nuclear arsenal, to North America with its vast resources and superlatively-developed industrial machine, to sleepy North America with its practically non-existent borders, at last, borne along in the froth of the tides of history, again, invaders came.
They came through Houston, they came through Louisiana, they came from California and Arizona in droves. Always the Rio Grande had been a river most easily navigated by the poor, and for a person speaking Spanish to find another on the other side, it was never so difficult.
Others came through Seattle, through Vancouver, British Columbia, and in other regions, they were occasionally found adrift in the hundreds and once in the thousands, adrift in converted scows and tramp steamers which had run out of fuel (and occasionally food and water) scant miles from their destinations. These were the people displaced by the incomprehensibly-complex politics of the great Indian subcontinent, and also there were many who fled from the Red Chinese, massing at the east of Shiangtze and looking with greedy eyes to the island of Hong Kong. As British Commonwealth citizens, or under reciprocity agreements with other British Commonwealths, vast numbers of Asians fled east to Canada, rather than come under the yoke of Beijing.
Some came from Cuba. Castro had once dumped a very large chunk of his prison population into the Mariel Boatlift, and doubtless within this hodgepodge of that island's human refuse were scattered and well-hidden various spies.
In America, they integrated, or at least set up shop. Of course, those who are raised speaking a certain language tend to seek out others sharing the same culture. Chinatowns grew, and in almost every major American city there was a Little Cuba, a Little Egypt, and Little Vietnam, you name it. There was an enclave for every group of expatriates that you could imagine.
Often the enclaves were organized by people who, conveniently enough, had superior-quality forged documentation available to newcomers. Often, though, the newcomers were already in possession of forged documentation, supplied by a burgeoning overseas industry. One operation in Honduras was known to have produced and distributed more than one hundred-thousand top-quality forged passports, with associated forged US work-permits and Social Security cards. The US Immigration and Naturalization Service struggled mightily to halt the influx and track down the forgers, but the scope of the operation was orders of magnitude larger than their budget and staffing could adequately counteract. The influx of illegal aliens had become an extraordinary migration of proportions which would be considered, militarily, to be of main-battle-group scale.
Many of those who gathered in these enclaves had seen enough of the horrors of war. Some wanted to never see war again.
Some couldn't wait to start one.
Bob Twiling was a down-on-his-luck bum, a ne'er-do-well, a scum-of-the-earth sort of guy. At least that's what people told each other when they saw him rummaging through the dumpsters in many an American city. Bob didn't care much for hanging around town very long, not in any of the cities where he had for a time stayed; if you hung out anyplace long enough, you were bound to get into trouble, with the other homeless and streetlife, if not with the cops. He'd been moving along, a hopeless if mostly-harmless drifter, for nearly ten years now.
This was one weird town, though. He'd been hearing tall tales about the place for a long long time, and had until now stayed away from the Nation's Capital. Even when whiling away one of the luscious verdant summers in Boulder, Colorado, listening to hushed whispered tales of the reputed werewolves of Denver, he had remained more impressed by the tales that circulated concerning the District of Columbia. Gangland violence? Ridiculous government power in a city full of Welfare losers? Seriously mutated homeless? Tourists welcomed? A city government on the edge of complete collapse, so ridiculously badly managed that the Federal government was brought to its knees by a simple snowstorm? He'd no desire to weather a Colorado Rocky Mountain winter, but some of the locals assured him that Denver dealt quite well with the profligate snowfalls that swept across the towering Front Range. What the hell was going on in Washington? Finally, with fall coming on, he'd decided it was time to leave before snow buried the town, and he had wintered down to Texas. Come the end of "freezin' season", the generosity of the Texans seemed to run out with the finality of a headman's axe, and he left the Lone Star State to the sound of doors slamming behind him. No real legal problems, but when every cop you saw told you to head out of town, you started to get the picture real-quick-like.
Arriving in the District was like arriving in a dream. Riding up the Interstate from the south, you passed through the typical scruffy Southern clumpage of road-border scrub, which began to get a bit taller and then suddenly, you crested a hill and there it was. Crystal City, they called it, and it was imposing enough, but it wasn't until you rode right past the Pentagon that you saw the city itself, or actually, the back sides of some fairly imposing squat marble mountains. Things changed though, as the bus cut across town and finally dropped him off, nearly in sight of the Capital, and he emerged from the bus station with the same bemused air that can be seen on the face of every first-time visitor to Nairobi: This is a Nation's Capital? It didn't help that most of the voices who offered him cab service were filled with a deep African lilt. A short walk along the tracks and he was at Union Station, and the look went away. This was truly grand. The setting late-April sun cast a glorious rosy glow deep within the marble of the Capitol and after a few minutes of admiration, he turned to face into the setting sun, and headed down the hill along Constitution Avenue.
He soon enough found his way to Lafayette Park, no longer the gathering place for the homeless and the political relics of the 1960s. The few people hanging around who he felt comfortable enough to address kindly directed him to Dupont Circle, which was filled with all sorts of people. Bicycle messengers filled the benches near stacks of scrupulously-maintained bikes, and at another edge of the park, homeboys jived and bragged. Far and away to the other side, he saw chessplayers moving their pieces and slapping their clocks, and in the center, the wildlife played hackeysack. He saw a gathering of mostly-white poorly-dressed folks near the center as well, and he moved to join them.
He was always the quiet type, who preferred listening to talking, and he introduced himself and basically shut up. He asked a few of the folks about hotels, about rooming houses, about the local rents and, aghast, about the shelters. Even more aghast, he decided to hie himself off to the countryside, such as it was. It took him a long time to even find it.
By the time he'd managed to find a storage-space rental to leave most of his duffel, he was damned near out of money, and hadn't slept in two days. Having hung out and listened to the people around Dupont, he had decided that it wasn't a good idea to fall asleep downtown, and some damned strong espresso had kept him up for long enough to find out which way the suburbs were (he hadn't at all liked the look of Northern Virginia as he passed through it, scanning the grim and hapless faces of the trafficjammed rush-hour commuters). Arriving on train and bus in Maryland, he decided after looking at some maps that this nice little patch of woods off of Georgia Avenue would probably be a good place to camp. He'd gotten very good at camping near-tracelessly. There was a fairly good choice of stores nearby, at the twin shopping centers, and conveniently enough, they had a public storage place there. He didn't much care for the looks of the people who ran the place, but they charged a reasonable fee for the lock-up, and besides, they had offered the longest hours of access of all of the places he'd called. They also had a very nice aerial-photography map on the wall, and when he'd remarked on it, they'd grinned at him and offered to sell him a high-quality map book which contained a photoreduction of that photomap. He went ahead and bought it.
He stowed most of his duffel, keeping out only three changes of fairly light clothing, and his 'Nam Hammock. The jungle hammock was a truly wonderful piece of equipment. It was designed for very hot summer conditions, but no matter the weather, it did a great job of keeping out the wet, and the camouflage had saved him from arrest countless times. He kept his toiletries kit out as well, and stowed them all into what he thought of as his "town-pack". He tossed in a few cans of tuna as well.
He exited the storage facility, and walked around the block to climb the hill to the shopping center of which the storage place was the basement-level. Traffic was steady, a fourlane flow that seemed to be never ending. It was a lot easier to climb the hill than to try to cross to the other shopping center across the street. At the top of the hill, he overlooked the shopping center, and saw something he took to be a drug-store at the far corner. He headed for it, cutting across the parking lot on a diagonal.
He couldn't help but notice that he was being checked out pretty thoroughly by everyone he could see. Maybe they had a problem hereabouts with transients. Remembering the people he'd met downtown, who'd seemed pretty rough even to him, he wouldn't be much surprised. At the Rite-Aid drugstore, he was surveyed with open suspicion as he shopped for toothpaste, some alcohol (for his camp cook-kit), bought a few colas and some snack-pies, and the local newspaper.
As he paid, he seemed to feel a shadow behind him, and when he cautiously looked behind him, he saw nothing. But as he turned back to receive his change, it seemed to him for a moment that the cashier, an African by the accent, was in the process of rapidly withdrawing his hand from the region of his face. An illusion, it must be. He took his change and left the store, with a feeling of unease beginning to gather.
Outside, he blinked in the sunlight (the windows of the drugstore had been very heavily-tinted) and as he paused to gather his bearings, he saw across the main highway (Georgia Avenue) a very imposing building. It must be a mausoleum, for almost blocking the view was a sign that said "Gate of Heaven Cemetery". He decided to spend some time searching for the remains of his late departed cousin. He'd pretend to, anyway... It'd give him a chance to check out the woods which lay beyond, in which he intended to camp.
The mausoleum was certainly impressive as such things went. But why did the place seem to poorly maintained compared to the grounds? The landscaping was very impressive; with the central drive laid out so that from the air, it looked like a huge cross. The grounds were immaculate, bordered by a sturdy-looking green chainlink fence, which had to be all of ten feet high, fine-meshed, with a triple strand of razorwire at the top. He damned sure wouldn't like to try climbing it. Bob knew cement though, and it seemed that this structure had been built to last by people who also knew cement. So why were there a lot of seemingly hastily-applied patches on some of the surfaces? He shrugged and forgot it, and meandered towards the back of the greens, being careful to try to appear to be hunting for a specific grave.
At the rear of the grounds, he found that there was also a fence which would block him from the woods. But this fence had been raggedly cut open with bolt-cutters, it seemed. He approached cautiously, screened from the front of the lot by some scrubby pines. He examined the ends of the links, and the cuts had been made some time ago. They were rusted well behind the edges of the plastic weatherproofing. This was certainly odd. He passed through the break, and decided to not follow the rather beaten-looking trail that led into the woods, and instead fanned off to the right.
After passing through some scrub, low-lying wild roses interspersed with berry-brambles, he came upon what was obviously an old trial, one which didn't seem to have been travelled much recently. It led to the top of a small rise, where evidently there had once been a house. He found a foundation, and scuffed about a bit, contemplating the place as a campsite, but he decided that this was just a little too close to the edge of the woods. He'd get a better idea of the lay of the place before he set up the hammock. Past the old foundation-remnants, he found that the trail rapidly vanished into what might have been a game trail, the sort that wild pigs or perhaps deer might make. He followed it and soon found himself overlooking a drop of about ten feet, a sudden little cliff that held a smallish creek at the bottom. This was, he decided, a good place to drink a cola and fix those back teeth, which were a'-floatin'.
A minute later, he sighed a contented sigh, and sat down, and cracked the top of his bottle or soda and drank it down. Here, even a mere few hundred feet into the woods, it was quiet enough to hear more birds than traffic noises. He decided that this might be a good spot to camp after all, and conveniently enough, there were some suitable trees right in front of him.
He slung the hammock to that when occupied it would be about seven feet off of the ground at the lowest point, and then piled his day-pack into it. Then he clambered down the side of the gully, and headed upstream. He hadn't gone far before he noticed the trash. It was everywhere. Little bits of cellophane, tin-can lids, all of the generic trash that one sees when careless campers leave behind them more than footprints. Footprints he saw, too, in plenty, and he did not like the look of them, most seemed to have the characteristic tread pattern of military jungle boots. Maybe this had been a hobo jungle once, the sort of place where drifters congregate to drink away the evening. If it had been cleared out recently, he had better watch his step, because if the cops ever got the idea that it was again a hobo jungle - well, rousts could get pretty ugly.
As darkness fell, he lay in the hammock, listening with one ear to the evening sounds of spring. Much of it was familiar, and some was peculiar to this locale. He'd never before been in this part of the country in this time of year. With his other ear, he tried listening to a tiny jogging-radio, at low volume. It made a strange mix. As one ear would track some night chirper, with his mind masking out the sound of the passing cars which were, after all, not that far away, the other ear would pick up something from the radio, and his mind would almost twitch. There was something about the announcer's monologue that had been wrong, but he hadn't caught it. Still, he decided that he didn't like this station much. Soon enough, the night deepened to a complete blackness within the woods. He tried to glimpse a familiar star through the canopy of the taller trees, but they were strangely backlit by the orange glow of the ubiquitous sodium lights. He was dozing in a few minutes, dozing with that fitful sleep that he always experienced on his first few nights in a new place. After years drifting, he'd developed a great many interesting sleep-management skills.
He was almost dreaming when a new dream started to intrude on the one his mind was trying to produce. He fought the familiar fight to wakefulness, though of long habit he continued to mostly doze. Still one eye cracked open to see flashes of light, out toward the cemetary. Still half-dreaming, he decided that it was none of his concern, and began to drift back off, to consider this (if he remembered it) in the morning.
But when the thump of boots hitting asphalt, not the sound of running feet but the sound of a man in boots hitting the ground with the force of a fifteen foot fall, he did not wake up - instead, he went into a much deeper dream.
Dreams are the mind's method for sorting out the multitudinous impressions of the day. When the mind has been through some event so fraught with impressions that it cannot be sorted successfully in one night's dreaming, the dream persists; it may become a recurrent dream - or a recurrent nightmare.
In the morning, as always, no trace of the nightmare remained. As usual, he was first aware of the false dawn, opened an eye a crack, listened for the first birds, and if possible went back to sleep. It was a quiet Sunday morning, and traffic was totally absent. He closed his eye again, and tried to drift off, but sleep wouldn't come. He paused to wonder why, and that thought, as always, brought full wakefulness, with no start, no sudden movement. That reflexive stillness had saved his life a few times before. He slowly raised one corner of the rainflap of the hammock, and looked out. He saw nothing out of the ordinary, just an early false dawn,with dew just starting to glisten on the leaves. He listened, and he heard no birds. That, in his experience, was always a bad sign. It meant that something was on the prowl, something the size of a coyote or bigger. He listened for its footfalls. He'd once had trouble with a pack of feral dogs, and this sort of small woods was certainly the sort of place that one might expect to find them. He thought for a moment that heard something, but he could not be sure. He sat quietly for almost an hour, and thought that he had heard more stirrings, but uncertain as to the nature of the beast, he remained in his hammock, moveless.
Eventually, first nearby, and then answered from farther and farther away, the local birds began again to sing.
This had been a good camp, and he decided that although he would (as always) pack up his hammock and summer bedroll for the day's travel, he would return in the evening for another night's rest. But on his way out of the little copse of trees, he would also prowl around a little and try to determine with whom he was sharing his little domain. He tidied up his camp, and scuffed the leaves and twigs about to leave less trace of his presence, and clambered down the small escarpment and crossed the tiny creek.
He had gone about fifteen feet when he saw, deep in the mud, the prints of boots, a type of boot with which he was all-too-familiar... paratroop boots.
He hated paratroop boots, hated them with a passion. He had once worn them. he had worn them first by choice, and then by career, and for awhile, again by choice. But after the first time he'd been, homeless, kicked awake by a pair of paratroop boots, he'd decided that no matter that they fit his feet quite well as a result of eight-years familiarity, he wasn't going to wear them. As his attitudes had changed from those of a gung-ho maybe-lifer in the Big Red One to those of the anti-authoritarian drifter, so had changed his taste in clothing and footwear. He wore light sneakers himself, generally the flat-bottomed deck shoes that stuck well to the pavement but had no really distinctive tread. It had taken a week for the distinctive tread of paratroop boots to fade from his face after that on-leave marine had kicked that damned bum, but it would take alot longer for the marks of paratroop boots to fade from this small patch of woods. There were a lot of them, and they made quite a trail. He took a quick look up and down the trail, noting the depth of the ruts, and decided that he'd seen all he needed; he backtracked carefully and quietly into the brambled underscrub of this oversized thicket. As he backed, he made sure that the light tracks left by his deck shoes disappeared under the carpeting of leaves.
It had to be a roust. He'd been in one before, and it had been much like this one, but what had brought this roust about? This was highly unusual... not that the raid had been at daybreak, this was common. If one wanted to arrest a lot of alcoholic drifters, one was more likely to be able to catch them if they were still stupefied by the remnansts of last night's dance with demon rum. What he found strange was that in his short survey of the area, other than the trash he'd seen (which had looked pretty old, mostly) there hadn't been any of the usual signs of a hobo jungle, no remnants of fires, no signs of burnings, no smell of unburied human feces, nothing of the sort. Cops usually only came to arrest those who caused trouble, who literally created a stink, generally the stink of a real danger to public health and sanitation. But he'd done nothing, had in fact been circumspect enough that the rousters had walked damned near right past him without noticing him. His particular mode of camping did indeed tend to make it harder to find him, but he thought that if it had been him for whom those early-light intruders had searched, they would have found him. No, he thought, these were searching for someone else... and another thought came, as parts of himself he had thought long dead began to return to life: THey were not searching for anyone, or they'd have been spread out instead of marching in file. They were going someplace. Cops would have simply taken the highway, and wouldn't have been here if they hadn't been searching. These guys weren't searchng, and therefor weren't the cops.
Who were they?
He took his time in getting out of the thicket, and was very cautious about it. Four different times, as he explored the perimeter of the little woods looking for the safest way out, he returned to the interior, as there were people loitering near the edge of the woods, people whose positions couldn't have been better chosen had they been assigned to watch the border between this little patch of wilderness and the rest of civilization.
Or go on to part two, such as it is. Even more paranoia for those who like that sort of thing.