By Francis Marion – First Published January 6th, 2017
Dakota Free State July 17th, 2029
Joseph stood on the hillside above his pasture as the wind whipped through the buttons of his canvas jacket blowing it back against the side of his thighs and into his slender torso. With one hand on his worn and beaten black Stetson and the other grasping his Remington 700 Sendero, he surveyed the landscape stretching out southwest from the shallow cliff in front of him through to the horizon.
The wind was bitter cold for July so to pass the time and forget about the chill he thought of the house where Angela and the kids were and wondered what they might be doing. He figured the twins would be down for a nap and the oldest, Morgan, now four was probably helping his mother haul in some firewood from the woodshed so that she could start getting supper ready.
There would be hot coffee, biscuits, potatoes, mutton and gravy when he returned. If he was lucky there’d be desert once the kids went to bed. After eight years of wedded bliss, more or less, dessert was still his favorite meal.
Joseph smiled at the thought and scanned the rolling plain in front of him looking for signs of the wolf pack that had crossed through the night before, taking two of his more mature ewes with them. He pulled up a rock and took out a pair of binoculars from beneath his jacket and started to scan the countryside. Small pockets of brush dotted the gullies and knolls as far as the eye could see. “They could be anywhere,” he whispered to himself.
As he settled in to wait for sunset he could hear the familiar thump and hum of a chopper coming in from the northeast. He sat quietly glassing the skyline, the landscape now forgotten, looking for the source of the noise. As the Black Hawk came into view through his glass a few miles out he caught movement out of the corner of his eye to the south. The chopper had flushed a small herd of mule deer out from one of the folds in the land about seven hundred yards from where he sat.
Joseph took his eyes off the Black Hawk and pulled his laser range finder out of his pocket. 685 yards to the deer.
He pulled the turret cap off of his scope and cranked the elevation turret to seven. The wind was in his face but the shot was almost straight across in terms of elevation so he slid off his perch and took his jacket off to use as a rest on the uneven surface of the rock. Slowly and quietly he jacked a round from the magazine into the chamber and lowered the crosshair over the back of the buck leading the herd.
“Don’t miss dumbass,” was the only thing running through his mind. Ammo for his rifle was now nonexistent in the marketplace. Screwing up a shot was not an option so he took a bead on the lead buck and waited for it to stop moving and turn broadside.
As the muley topped the ridge it paused to check its back trail. Joseph exhaled and squeezed. The 300 ultra mag roared and a second or two later the buck teetered and fell over on its back, its legs flailed in a cloud of dust then settled beneath the grass into nothingness.
As he ejected the spent casing from his chamber the Black Hawk passed over a few hundred yards to the north behind him. He could see the yellow shield and the black coiled rattlesnake that had become the symbol for the Free State’s militia painted on the side of the chopper from where he sat. The Black Hawk circled the area where his truck was parked then as quickly as it had come it disappeared to his right heading south and west out of view.
As he wandered back to the truck with his rifle over his shoulder and his jacket in hand he could feel the wind blow through his light cotton shirt. It cut him to the bone. He cranked the key and the engine of the old Chevy roared to life as he jacked the heater to max. Cautiously, he steered the pickup around and followed an old cart and cattle trail along the ridge and down, then out, into the pasture he had been watching. When he figured he was about even with where the buck had dropped he put the truck in park and grabbed his rifle and jacket and headed west.
About a hundred yards from the track lay the buck. Probably three or four years old and a good size. While he looked over the deer he reached for his wallet to grab his license and tag but stopped part way through the motion. He did this regularly. It had been years since a license or tag was required to kill game in the Free State, especially on his own land. There was never a season in July anyways but old habits died hard. The past few years had seen changes the likes of which no one had ever expected back then, the absence of game regs being the least of them.
As he began to clean the deer he started to think about simpler times. Or at least times that were less uncertain. The days before the inferno had a routine to them that you could depend on. In a sense, they were happier, at least for some. He and Angela were still newly married and he was working with his dad on the ranch and going to school. It was simple. Work, earn, eat, fuck, sleep, repeat. Security was family, community, state and country. The rule of law, or at least the illusion of it, seemed to pull it all together.
Then near the end of President Wilder’s second term, around 2023 things started to go south. Wilder got sick. Deadly sick. He got pancreatic cancer sick. As in the kind that you get and then say goodbye. Wilder was gone inside of eight weeks from the time of his diagnosis. He remembered his dad had once called the president a “cigar-smoking, bourbon drinking, overweight, stoic, son of a bitch”. His enemies hated him. Or more accurately, they loathed him. But his supporters loved him. His dad respected him. As for Joseph, he was too young and to focused on other things at the time to really care too much.
When Wilder found out he was done for he went in front of the nation. Joseph could remember the speech playing in the living room on the big screen, “My fellow Americans. For many of you, for the doubters, the haters, the wannabe Che’s and marxist idolaters today is a momentous day. For I, President Abraham Wilder, am dying.”
You could hear the cheering from the university campuses, the entertainment industry, the media and the civil service erupt across the nation. The problem, of course, was Vice President Samuel Martinez. Martinez, who replaced Wilder, was a staunch Hispanic Catholic whose conservative politics made Wilder’s look moderate.
Wilder was a business man. He was a bombastic, rude capitalist who was in bed with big industry and the big banks (the really big ones) but Martinez was a career politician who was authoritarian in his very right leaning religious and political views. This was the nature of vice presidents it seemed. In a sense, they were presidential arm candy meant to fill out the edges of the ticket during an election. Much of the country on the right, both Hispanic and Caucasian loved him. Racially and culturally he had wide appeal to a huge cross-section of voters. He was well educated, intelligent, fearless and intimate with the ‘ins and outs’ of Washington. He was a religious, borderline zealot in a position of political power who spoke his mind regarding issues like abortion, gay marriage, welfare and any other left leaning sacred cow you could dream of.
After Wilder passed it was only a week before someone took a swing at Martinez. They missed the first time. A pistol-wielding feminist from the University of San Diego who made the fatal mistake of yelling at Martinez and calling him a “Misogynist piece of shit!!” before pulling a gun on him got double tapped for her trouble by the Secret Service. Joseph remembered seeing it on CNC, it was surreal. The nation had watched it unfold real time on someone’s phone cam, brain splatter and all. “Scratch one loonie feminist,” he recalled thinking at the time as he pulled the windpipe and the lungs of the buck forward to get at the diaphragm.
There were a couple of more attempts. None of them professional. Not until the last one. It happened during the 2024 presidential race. Martinez was the front runner. He was popular, at least as popular as Wilder had been. Maybe more. The right loved him. The left wanted him dead and outside of official party business, they made no bones about it.
Martinez never made it to election day. It happened during his campaign before the election around the beginning of March while he was giving a speech somewhere in Ohio, Joseph couldn’t remember exactly where. A rifle shot rang out from a distance and the Vice President folded. Somehow, the perp was never found but a left-wing ‘anarchist’ group calling itself “Democracy 2024” took responsibility for it online.
A day or two later another video surfaced on Youtube from another group claiming it had evidence that domestic intelligence agencies not only had advance notice of Martinez’s assassination but were complicit in it. It came with hacked emails from individuals within important political and law enforcement departments that implicated them in the crime. It all appeared legit.
The government and the media were silent on the accusations. No one was sure how to proceed, so like earlier scandals, the modus operandi was to deny, obfuscate and redirect. The mood of the nation darkened even more. The country was trapped in a sociopolitical death spiral. Radicals on both sides of the political spectrum threatened one another while the nation seethed in frustration. Few were able to remain oblivious to what was happening. With social media and the web, in general, running on all cylinders and the media trying to redirect, it was nothing short of a complete and utter all-out information war.
A week and no official response to the accusations later the same anonymous group that had posted the initial video pointing at domestic intelligence issued a warning, “Weed out the guilty or there will be hell to pay.”
The video made its rounds racking up over fifty million views in less than a week. Behind the scenes there was chaos. The media was still silent on the videos and the accusations. It was apparent to almost anyone with a pulse it had an agenda. The government and its intelligence wings tried to make sense of it all. But there was too much corruption internally. No one could trust anyone. It was an internal cluster fuck of epic proportions. The people, having long since forgotten about the election cried for justice. Both ideological sides threatened violence, speakers on both sides of the aisle called for calm but were helpless to stop the inevitable.
Another week passed.
And the anonymous posters delivered.
The first data dump was massive. Hundreds of thousands of emails, pictures, and videos. Much of it being straight forward and implicating thousands upon thousands of people in places of power and influence including government, entertainment, media, academia, and finance in crimes and indiscretions previously thought of as conspiracy and fiction by the majority of the population.
But it wasn’t the size of the dump that was the catalyst for what followed. It was the nature in which it was dumped. It seemed random at first but in retrospect, Joseph figured it probably wasn’t.
As he pulled the guts from the muley onto the ground next to the carcass he kept going over the events from five years ago in his head. As he pondered it he grabbed the rear and front leg of the buck and pulled the deer in the opposite direction of the gut pile to flip it so the blood would drain from the chest cavity.
No, he figured, if someone had just set up a web page or a blog to expose it all it would have been covered up and most people would never have seen it. It would have been buried. But that’s not what happened. At first, it appeared the data was being dumped randomly into people’s email and social media accounts. Pictures accompanied by emails, text messages, and social media communications exposing various crimes started to appear in people’s inboxes and on their profile pages. Some of it was simply criminal. Some of it was treason. Some of it was downright evil and immoral. The type of shit normal people cannot unsee once it is seen.
Social media giants tried to shut it down but whoever or whatever had hacked them was always a few steps ahead. They couldn’t pull the plug, they couldn’t distract anyone and the media, when it finally spoke up and questioned the data dump’s authenticity, was completely ignored.
The nation was stunned. Liberals, conservatives and everyone in between were gobsmacked. The information spread like wildfire from account to account from outbox to inbox and out again. It couldn’t be stopped.
For a short time, as the nation took the time to process what it had seen, there was silence.
Joseph thought in hindsight that if the Chinese or the Iranians had dropped a nuke into downtown Manhattan it would have been a better scenario. It would have been less painful and the suffering would have been over faster.
But from the silence there came anger. The country was without leadership and its moral compass was destroyed. Every arm of every institution in the nation was touched. Nothing, nobody held any level of legitimacy anymore.
So the inevitable happened.
While the media called for calm a lowly private on an Airforce base somewhere on the west coast snapped. He had recognized a photo of his nineteen-year-old brother, a meth addict who had disappeared a year prior to the dump. It was a photo of his brother, stripped naked and hanging by his feet from a large tree with a single bullet hole through his chest cavity. A well known General who frequented the base stood next to the corpse holding a rifle. The caption, “A good hunt!” was written beneath the gruesome picture.
That incident was like the first jet of water breaking through an already weakened dam. After that came another and another until finally the dam just burst.
Joesph sighed, eyed up the buck and looked back towards the truck. At least 100 yards from one to the other. He thought, “Should I split it in half and carry the pieces out or should I drag it whole?”
He grabbed an antler and started to pull.
As he yanked the carcass through brush and bits of rock he remembered his Dad’s words at the outset of it all. He’d said:
“Funny isn’t it son? For years we’ve all been talking about what it will be that eventually ends this experiment. A financial crash? Terrorism? Another war? Who’d have thought that TRUST, the most fundamental thing in all the world, whose violation is now on full display for all to see, would be the one thing to bring it all crashing down.”
And that it did.
With the buck loaded in the back, he turned the key and the Chevy roared to life once more. He was turning northwest back towards the ranch when the Black Hawk appeared from the south moving in a straight line towards the pickup. It cut across the rancher at a few hundred feet and as it did Joseph stuck a friendly hand out his side window and waved. A moment later it banked northwest. The sunlight reflected off the bright yellow shield on its hull as the chopper once more disappeared over the horizon. As he watched the Black Hawk vanish in the distance he grabbed a CD from the seat beside him and turned on the stereo. The music played. For some reason, it seemed fitting.
As the old man always used to say, “It is what it is. And all it is is dirt.”