City of the Dead – Part III – Fugitives & Outlaws

By Francis Marion – Originally Published on January 13th, 2017

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Photo Via Arty Ng Via Flickr

UN Permanent Executive Authority, California Territory July 17th, 2049

Anthropology Department, University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Myron Little Jr. sat at his office desk turning his pencil over and over, staring at it intently as the eraser swapped ends with the lead tip. His left leg pumped up and down nervously and unconsciously from his foot to his knee as it often did when he was stressed or anxious. For the third time in fifteen minutes, he paused, threw the pencil onto the desk and leaned forward to check his phone.

“No messages. That’s good. Or maybe bad. He’s late either way. Maybe I should text him? No, that would be a bad idea. I’ll wait for five more minutes.”

Little grabbed his pencil again, leaned back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. A collection of sharpened yellow HB’s were stuck in a nice tight grouping in the white fiber tiles above his desk. For a moment his leg stopped shaking as he pushed backward on his chair. He closed his left eye, aimed and…

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Son of a bitch,” Little yelled as he fell forward back into his desk, “Jesus Artie, you damn near gave me a heart attack!”

 
Dr. Arthur Roman was standing in Little’s office door with a small black backpack slung over his shoulder and a raised eyebrow, “Pay closer attention and avoid the risk,” he replied with a smirk.

Little collected himself and sat up straight in his office chair, “You’re late. Do you not own a phone or a watch?”

“I don’t own a phone anymore. Gone as of yesterday. You know that. I have a beautiful Rolex that my father gave me for graduation thirty years ago. I don’t use it. It’s too nice and besides the links in the metal band pull the hair out of my wrist whenever I wear it.”

Little sighed. He’d known Roman since before the fall of the republic. Artie worked in the biochemistry department and now more than ever was married to his work. Moreover, as far as Little was concerned Roman had some quirky social issues. Oddly, Artie probably wouldn’t have disagreed with that assessment.

“Sorry, I forgot about the phone.”

“No worries. Are you ready to roll Myron,” Artie asked in his monotone way?

“I think so. Jesus Roman, I keep going over it all in my head. What if we get caught? They’ll ship us off to some God forsaken hell hole in Cuba or Eastern Europe somewhere, interrogate us for months then lock us up. I’m not cut out for prison, Artie. I wouldn’t last. I don’t have the mental stamina for…”

“Myron, relax. We’re not going to get caught. If we stick to the plan and remain calm no one will suspect a thing. Nobody is aware of our research in any significant way and since we aren’t smuggling anything across the border other than ourselves and some simple tools then there is nothing for anyone to suspect. However, if you panic or you appear fearful or excessively nervous you will tip our hand and we will be detained. Remember, UN sanctions prohibit the transfer of commercial goods, some medical supplies, money, food, weapons, and technology through the line. Not insignificant people like us. We are not on any watch lists…”

“That we are aware of,” interrupted Myron.

“Myron, you are an anthropologist. You’re boring. By intelligence standards, you don’t do anything interesting or worth following. I’m a lecturing biochemist teaching first and second-year undergrads that hasn’t done or written anything of any interest since I got tenure. I have no connections to any outside contractors and no association with UN defense or medical research. Everything I have done in the past months has been off the books as a favor to you. As in nothing is recorded for anyone to discover. They will not be looking for us and besides we are still permitted to go and visit family in the Dakotas anyways,” Artie looked over his shoulder, took a step forward and closed the door to Little’s office, “Just remember, we are going to my aunt Beth’s in Great Falls for a week of visiting and then into the hills to do some rock hounding. That’s what the camping equipment and tools are for. If they ask what our relationship is then we have been colleagues at the university for several years and started dating about three months ago. We will look less suspicious if they think we are a couple.”

Myron was unimpressed and sat leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed in front of his chest, “You’re not my type Artie. You’re heavy on some types of equipment and light on others. Plus you smell bad.”

Artie chuckled, “The feeling is mutual. Are you going to be ok Myron? Because if we screw this up and UN intel finds out what we’ve been up to, well, do you really want them to know?”

“I don’t want anyone to know,” replied Myron with a sigh, “hell, they’d probably just laugh at our research anyways. It’s too unconventional.”

“It is. Until they get a closer look at our test subject. Right?”

“You shouldn’t have done it, Artie. We had nice lives plugging away here. Guaranteed wages, benefits, pensions. Now it’s all gone we…”

Artie interrupted Myron again in mid-thought, “Could shoulda woulda did it anyways. We can’t change anything that’s happened over the past sixteen months. What’s done is done. Besides, it was your brain child that set us on the path. We share equal parts in it so let’s stop with the commiserating and get moving. Are your van and trailer loaded?”

“Yes. Have you destroyed your notes and your laptop?”

“Yes. Have you?”

Dr. Little paused, “Yes, I think so. Yes. I hammered the hard drive to pieces on both my desktop and my laptop. I’ll destroy my phone before we hit the border. My notes are shredded and long gone. I think we’re good to go.”

“You think? Or we are?”

“We are,” Myron replied as assertively as he could.

“Well then, let’s go.”

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UN Permanent Executive Authority, California Territory July 17th, 2049

Desolation Wilderness World Heritage Forest & Ecosystem Preserve

Colonel Yu Chen pulled off his pack and set it in the grass next to some scrub pine on a rock outcropping overlooking a small alpine lake in the Sierra Nevada Range of the Northern California Territory.

As he sat down in the grass next to his pack he popped the cap off the nozzle of his hydration bladder and had a drink while admiring the view. When he was finished drinking he took a deep breath in and exhaled forcefully and deliberately. It had been a chaotic week. Though he would never admit it the death of General Liu had shaken Chen on an emotional level. Liu had been more than just Chen’s commanding officer. He had been a mentor and his link to home for years.

Home.

Deep down Chen wondered what that word really meant anymore. He’d left Jinan when he was seventeen for UBC in Vancouver. His father had spent a fortune to send him. He had said that a foreign education was a big deal and would open many doors for him and the family.

The day Chen left for Vancouver his father told him, “When you return you can join me and together we will build my company into a world-class innovator. Our optics will be used in every piece of medical equipment from one end of the globe to the other.”

Chen remembered the sound of silence on the other end of the phone at the end of his first semester of school when he told his father, “I am changing majors. I have switched over to a split degree in political science and linguistics. I know it is not what we had planned but I feel in my heart it is what I am supposed to be doing.”

His father’s response was typical. Nothing for a moment then shock and anger followed by threats to cut off funding, “What will you do with this degree? What use is it to us?”

Telling his father he was not interested in the family business ranked as one of the hardest things he had ever had to do. As his only son, his father was devastated. They didn’t speak for years as a result but his funding was never cut. Mother had made sure that cooler heads prevailed so Chen finished his degree with honors while at the same time learning to speak French and Spanish.

When he returned to China he joined the People’s Liberation Army. After basic training, he was made an officer in the First Army Strategic Support Force where he mentored under the direction of General Tam Liu.

Liu was patient, insightful and wise by every measure of the word. Chen had only worked under Liu for a little over a year when the collapse came. He was grateful he was in the army at that stage. Outside the military life was tenuous. Once the killing in North America started to roll markets and banking systems around the world ground to a halt. Businesses and factories closed and supply lines crumbled while the world paused and waited.

For the first six weeks, they watched on television and on-line as North America tore itself apart. First the US and then Mexico and Canada. Federal governments and every institution within each nation collapsed. The worst scenes came from the big cities. Chicago and Mexico City reminded him of footage he’d once seen from Mogadishu. It was a nightmare. People tried to flee but the congestion and the panic made it impossible. In some places, those in the outlying areas beyond major metropolitan centers stopped the outflow intentionally. The big cities became giant kill zones.

Weeks later as the initial wave of violence began to wane the second wave of death set in. The weak, the sick and the elderly were the first to go. Without proper supply lines and without government to enforce rationing, those dependent on medication for survival perished. A few weeks later many of those still trapped in the major cities who were not still fighting for their lives succumbed to dysentery, dehydration and eventually malnutrition and starvation.

All in all, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic circle the estimates were over one hundred million dead in just over six weeks.

Eventually, in most parts of the world where martial law had been declared and some semblance of order maintained, banking and business started to reopen. Supplies of medication and food which were running very slim by that stage started to move again. It was a mess but in nations with a strong central government that was unafraid to keep order at any cost the engine of commerce and trade slowly chugged back to life.

With the eastern seaboard of the US being a complete mess UN headquarters and the IMF were ‘temporarily’ moved to Singapore as an emergency precaution.

Shortly after the move an emergency session of the Security Council was convened. The North American continent was fractured and without a central government of any kind. Moreover, it was sitting on a sizable arsenal of nuclear and biological weapons. With no one in charge, the Security Council began looking at the continent region by region to assess what their next move should be.

Different regions of the continent had faired better than others. Some state governments were still intact. The Dakota’s and some of their neighbors, Montana, Wyoming and parts of Colorado and Nebraska eventually formed a provisional government under the leadership of North Dakota governor Michael A. Browning. The word was that several of the bordering Canadian provinces were in talks with the governor and his council regarding an alliance as well.

Texas was the strongest power remaining in the region by far. Not only was it the home state of deceased Vice President Martinez but Governor Gerry Madison was well liked and had inherited a system of state governance that was naturally distrustful of the federal government. The state had repatriated most of its gold holdings over the past decade or more and had a solid financial base but moreover and more importantly when the troubles started patriotic Texans of both Hispanic and Northern European backgrounds rallied behind the governor, one of the few who had emerged clean from the previous month’s data dump.

In short order, the governor formed militias and combined them with the National Guard to quell violence and rioting and secure the state’s borders. Nothing was allowed in or out without permission for weeks. Rationing of food and medication was enforced as a temporary stop gap measure.

The security council was trying to figure out how to handle the mess and was in the middle of talks with Madison when it was reported that Texan troops and equipment had exited their borders and advanced south into Mexico. They met little to no resistance.

Two weeks later Texas announced to the world via Youtube that it had ‘rescued’ the east coast of Mexico south of the Rio Grande, along the eastern slope of the Sierra Madre Oriental and into the Yucatan Peninsula. The states of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida joined naturally and freely of their own accord. In a matter of a few short weeks, the Republic of Texas was born.

The east and west coast regions of the continent were still in complete disarray. Sides were now being chosen, regional warlords were emerging, and weaponry was being moved from one region of the continent to another. A lot of it flowed to where there were unity and strength. Military officers without political ambitions of their own began to move as much infrastructure as they could from the areas that were out of control to the areas that weren’t. Planes, helicopters, armor, vehicles, equipment and men began to flood into the Dakotas and Texas.

The Security Council went into panic mode.

They sent diplomats and military personnel directly to Texas for face to face talks with Madison. They needed him stopped and brought to heel. So they cut a deal. The UN would recognize the new Republic, including the land grabbed in Mexico, but Texas would be required to stand aside while UN troops landed on the east and west coasts to restore order to those regions.

Madison agreed. With his own resources stretching thin and his adventures south of the Rio Grande something of a mess, he needed time to consolidate. It was a good deal for Texas. So he took it.

A month later Chen was on a plane with General Liu headed for Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento. They followed a coalition of UN “Peace Keeping” troops as part of an intelligence wing whose specialty was assessing and dispatching potential domestic terrorist threats.

In the month prior, coalition troops had put down much of the rioting, looting, and rampaging carried out primarily by gangs in the major cities on the west coast. People who were still alive and barely hanging on looked to them as saviors. Pictures of Chinese, Turkish and Russian troops handing out food to starving Californians from one end of the state to the other flooded the media and the internet. The propaganda did a decent job of building trust among the surviving urban residents in places like LA, Seattle, and Vancouver. Slowly but surely the urban kill zones from California to British Columbia stopped smoldering.

Troops from Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Russian Federation slowly but steadily continued to amass in ports along the west coast. Bases were secured, the few remaining US, Mexican, and Canadian military units were disbanded and except for a few key and cooperative personnel were sent home while UN forces held bases, patrolled streets and set up checkpoints on major highways and access points in and out of the region.

Inside of two months of their arrival, UN forces had the west coast in full blown martial lockdown. The people living there, unaccustomed to the chaos of living in a war zone without any central authority, by and large, cooperated with what they assumed was a temporary measure.

The security council then turned its attention to the regions outside of its control where order had been reestablished by domestic alliances in positions of geographical and military strength.

Communication with the Dakota region of the continent began. Without an official fully functioning form of government, managing the alliance of states and provinces had fallen to the hands of ex-governors and premiers. Governor Browning of the former state of North Dakota was chosen by his colleagues as ‘speaker’ for the region.

Browning was an honest man with a background in farming, law, and the military. He was respected by his constituents and much of the rest of the nation so when the troubles began others looked to men like him for direction. The migration that had occurred from other regions of the continent had seen the population of the Dakotas grow instead of shrink. Military equipment and personnel, as well as hundreds of thousands of civilians seeking stability and peace, had flooded into the area. Browning saw it as his duty to protect his constituents by securing his borders. Natural boundaries made sense, the Rockies and their neighboring ranges to the west, in the east the Red River and further to the south the Missouri. For the southern boundary the Platte and the headwaters of the Colorado. In the northeast Lake Winnipeg to Hudson Bay and then West across Northern Saskatchewan through the Canadian Shield near Uranium City and south of the Peace River system in Alberta.

It was a natural political zone. Almost tribal in a sense. The people shared much in common economically and culturally. Alberta Premier Edward Fast quipped that his people had more in common socially with Montanan’s than they did with Torontonians so why not? It was a natural fit.

But the UN refused to recognize the alliance. The Dakotas had been a refuge and displayed no tendency towards militarism. They would be required to come under UN governance along with much of the rest of the continent. The security council told Browning and his council to prepare for a meeting to discuss the establishment of UN troops on North American bases within their territory. Governance would fall under UN authority until order was fully established and a central government could be restored.

Chen remembered the look on Liu’s face when the decision to move into the interior came down. Liu appeared stressed and disconcerted. At the time, a mere Captain, Chen did not understand his mentor’s reaction. Liu had been in contact with Singapore and had expressed his concerns about advancing any further than the coastal regions of the continent. Those concerns fell on deaf ears.

Browning was viewed as lukewarm and moldable by the security council. Liu knew better. The general had great insight into human nature. He understood the western mind perhaps better than anyone Chen had ever known.

As he thought about those days he pulled a small, solid fuel stove from his backpack and lit it to brew some tea. The sun was now up over the craggy peaks of the Sierra’s and Liu was finally basking in its warmth.

“They should have listened to the General,” he thought as he placed a small, thin stainless pot of water over the flame.

The general had told them, “Be patient and leave the Dakotans to themselves. If we do not press them they will come into the fold of their own accord. They will not want to be cut off from the rest of the world if they do not feel threatened. If they feel threatened then we will worsen and prolong this process by decades or more.”

No one listened. The UN sent ambassadors to Bismark to speak with Browning and his council. They were to lead him through the process of transitioning power. He never let them off the plane. It was turned around on the tarmac. A clear message if ever there was one.

Chen lifted the lid of the pot to check its progress and a small puff of steam escaped as he did. He recalled how puzzled he was by Browning’s actions all those years ago. The Governor was not acting from a position of political or military strength, even with nukes in the ground. The continent was in disarray and the Dakotas had no access to the coast in the south, east or west. Access through Hudson Bay was a joke. It was frozen most of the year, even in those days, so the entire region was basically landlocked.

What came next Chen would never forget. Shortly after UN diplomats were expelled from Bismark he found himself in a briefing with General Liu. Liu listened patiently to the other UN commanders and diplomats who had gathered to discuss the problem. The consensus was that a massive troop build up was required west of the Rockies to show Browning that the UN was serious. They felt that if he was able to see how badly outnumbered and surrounded he was that discretion would be exercised and negotiations would begin. After all, he was a state governor, not a president.

General Liu left the meeting without saying a word. Given his outspoken stance on the issue earlier, Chen was concerned.

A while after the meeting Chen worked up the courage to approach the general. He remembered the conversation like it was yesterday.

“Captain Chen, do you read? Are you familiar with western literature and philosophy,” asked the general as Yu pulled up a seat in his office?

“No sir, only in a very elementary fashion. I majored in political science and linguistics at UBC. I have never been very interested in philosophy. Tactics and diplomacy yes. Philosophy no.”

“Ah, but Captain, how can you plan and execute ‘tactics’ or ‘diplomacy’ when you do not understand your enemy’s ‘philosophy’?”

Chen sat quietly and did not respond.

“Captain Chen, think carefully. When your body is sick why does it force you to throw up? Hmmm? It does so in order to expel what is causing the sickness. Whether it is bad food and bacteria or a virus, the process of vomiting is nature’s way of clearing what was causing a disturbance in an otherwise healthy vessel. Do you suppose that after many months of clearing out what has made them sick that our adversaries are now in a position of weakness or of strength?”

“You and the others claim that the Dakotans are without leadership. But are they? If the western body politic is like the human body and what has made it ill has been removed then what does that truly mean?”

The general could tell by the look on Chen’s face he was not getting through.

Liu paused and tried from a different direction, “Captain, we in the rest of the world have a tendency to view Americans, and I use that term broadly, as a new people with a shallow and young history. Would you not agree?”

“Well, yes sir, compared to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe it is a very young culture.”

The general stood up from his chair and moved to the corner of his desk closer to Chen, smiled and removed his glasses, “Captain Chen, for being such a bright young man I must say I sometimes find myself disappointed in you,” Chen was taken aback by the statement but Liu continued, “I blame these sorts of things by and large on modern schooling. It focuses far too much on the present and molding young minds into its own vision of what a ‘Global Citizen’ should be and not nearly enough time on educating you about the past, who you are and where you came from.”

“Sir?”

“The North Americans and their civilization are a product of thousands of years of western thought and philosophy Captain. They are not new, they are simply a manifestation of who their ancestors were. Now think of that fact in the context of what has happened here recently. The sickness has been expelled. At a terrible cost no doubt. But the body is healthy at its core and will recover. If you were at all familiar with history you would see the problem with this and what it is we truly face. This will not end quickly or easily Captain Chen. Mark my word.”

Two months later Browning issued a warning to the UN to cease its build up of troops along his western border. In an effort to avoid conflict suggestions were batted around between all parties. Texas and the Dakotas, now calling themselves the Free State, suggested that they could move their troops back into the coastal regions of the country to supply security and help rebuild, thus replacing the UN. But the UN refused. Texas had already grabbed land in Mexico and they weren’t interested in recognizing the Free State as a sovereign entity.

Once options were exhausted Browning issued an ultimatum. Cease and desist troop deployment on both sides of the continent or face the consequences. The security council was vexed and somewhat at a loss so they did what they always do – they placed sanctions on the region. Then they responded by requesting Browning hand over control of all military installations and equipment or they would be forced to cut the Dakotas off from the rest of the world entirely. End of story.

As UN troops and equipment flooded into the ports along the west coast communications between Browning, his council, and the UN went dark.

And then, the unthinkable happened….

On January 10th, 2026 at precisely 9:00 AM Pacific Time the first Minuteman III exploded in Sandiego Harbor.

Dozens of coalition ships, including a Chinese aircraft carrier and tens of thousands of UN troops and their equipment, were incinerated. The world watched in stunned disbelief as finally a single message from the Dakotas was posted to the internet:

“To the UN security council. Withdraw your forces to the western slope of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges or London, Basel, and Singapore will be next. You have forty-eight hours to comply.

Browning Out.”

The Colonel poured himself some piping hot tea and saluted the rising sun with his cup. As he blew on the steaming liquid he pulled a book from his pack, took a sip and set his mug on the rock next to him. He opened his copy of Meditations to page one and thought to himself, “The general was right. About everything. Now, where was I… yes a new book….

‘From my grandfather Verus: decency and mild temper…’”

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