Onward Christian Soldiers by Jennifer Loraine

submitted by admin - Jun 5, 2002

A President's political advisor and is infected with an experimental virus to question/brainwash him.

The smoke curled up from the cigarette in Brian's hand and added to the general miasma of the smokeasy before being sucked up by the powerful ventilation system. The air was clear to the sight, but the place reeked of old tobacco smoke. The smokeasy was one of the few places left where it was legal to light up and puff the politically incorrect drug. Smokeasies were bars that had installed special filters and ventilation equipment to remove the noxious burning tobacco fumes from the air of the establishment and had obtained a special tobacco consumption site permit. As a result, all the drinks in the bar were far more expensive than a corresponding drink in a non-smoking bar. The smokers didn't mind the extra cost, it was a pittance compared to the tax the government levied on a pack of cigarettes. They just wanted to sip their drinks and smoke in peace without being arrested for partaking of one of life's few pleasures that hadn't been made illegal.

It wasn't easy to be one of God's soldiers and be a smoker. His vicars were everywhere, investigating the moral turpitude of his servants. Tobacco smoking wasn't exactly illegal yet, but there was a moral pall that hung over the heads of admitted smokers that kept them from advancing in their chosen fields. It was one of those issues where the Religious Right had science on their side. Smoking was bad for you. It destroyed your wind and ate away at your health until your body was possessed by the Demon Cancer. If you didn't hide it from the people you worked for, it eroded your career as well. Ever since the National Health Act of 2000, companies had been allowed to drop admitted smoker's from their health plans. In the current world of rampant pollution and plagues, that was a death sentence. Sooner or later, a person would become ill from one of myriad dangers of the over civilized world and succumb to sickness. Without large amounts of cash to cover the horrendous costs of treatment, a person was doomed to be ravaged by the first environmental or viral sickness that came along. It was as enviable as taxes for the poor, it was inescapable, it was God's Will.

The world hadn't always been as unforgiving. Ever since the Great Landslide of 1996, when President Dole had thoroughly trounced President Clinton in the election, things had gotten worse for the non-believers. The Religious Right seized power and swept into office armed with their faith and their Bibles. Nothing would stand in the way of making America a God fearing country again. Abortion had been immediately outlawed as murder and it's practitioners were sentenced to the harshest measure that the law allowed; the death penalty. There had been some quiet rumbling from the Supreme Court that they might consider an abortion case if someone would bring one to them, but the pious mouthings about the "Sacred Constitution" were silenced when a delegation of God's Own invited several of the members of the nation's highest judiciary to a prayer breakfast. They carefully explained to the assembled judges that it was the privilege of Congress to call for a Constitutional Convention, just as it was their privilege to hear the cases that they wanted to pass judgment on. They speculated on what changes the Convention would hold for the country; topping the list was the revocation of the right of the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of a law. The Constitution had never been explicit on that right, it had merely been assumed by the nation's first jurist of note, John Jay. As far as the Religious Right was concerned, it was an illegal usurpation of the legislative right to pass laws. The leaders of God's party told the judges that it would only take a few small changes in the Constitution to remove that power forever. And while they were doing that, the leaders mused, they would eliminate other obstacles to God's plan for America. The Bill of Rights was high on the list as one of the first things they would remove. The judges were horrified. They sat and listened in shock as the congressional leaders outlined a smaller, more flexible constitution for the nation. Gone would be the right of religious dissent. No one had the right to reject God. If the Moslem extremists had the right to exclude Christians in their countries, then they would claim the same right in America. The Middle East was rapidly becoming a place where only Allah ruled. Non-believers like Christians were being excluded from positions in government and national affairs. Only true Moslems need apply for jobs in government and industry. A CIA analysis had predicted in 1995 that within twenty years, the Middle East would be completely under the control of the Moslem Fundamentalists. That prediction was becoming a reality faster than anyone had expected.

The Middle East wasn't the only place in the world with State sponsored churches. European countries had their State churches too. Everyone who lived in a European country had to pick the church that they would belong to. If they didn't, they would be assigned membership in the state church. Tithes for the churches were collected by the government and distributed to the various churches as a form of religious income tax. It was all neat and simple. If you lived in Europe, you belonged to a church and paid tithes. There was no escape, everyone belonged, everyone paid tithes. The idealist said that churches helped maintain the social fabric. The realists knew that the tithes kept the churches from attempting a religious takeover of the government.

The Religious Right had decided that America would become a Protestant Nation ruled by the President and the Congress. The judiciary would be completely subordinated to the executive branch. The Supreme Court would be stripped of it's power and be made an ordinary court with members selected by the President to serve at his pleasure. The leaders told the judges that they would keep the President in check by revoking his veto power. It wasn't right that the will of the people, the Will of God, could be vetoed by one man. The laws would be made by Congress and the executive branch would enforce them. Only members of Protestant churches would be allowed to run for office. God would return to America's government. School prayers were only a side issue. All students would be required to pray in school every day. Evolution would not be taught. Every school would have a chaplain to oversee the religious instruction of the students. They told the judges that corporal punishment would be used to put the fear of God into wayward children. Like the schools, the leaders also had a plan to reintroduce authority and discipline into the lives of American adults. "Liberty had become license", the leaders ranted. Americans needed a strong dose of God's Reality to set them on the straight and narrow path. Those adults who refused to see the light would join the burgeoning population of social misfits in the nation's prisons. Chain gains had been brought back in many states and there was talk in some state legislative circles of allowing wardens the right to whip errant prisoners. Only the Supreme Court stood in the way of penal flogging. The assembled members of the Supreme Court shuddered collectively when they heard the leader's plans to legalize torture. It was nothing beside the bombast that was to come.

They detailed their plans to the jurists for the reformation of the nation's penal system. The congressional leaders were bent upon using every means available to maintain order in the nation's prisons. Semi-starvation, floggings, electro-shock, surgical lobotomies, "hot" boxes, castration, torture, and mass drugging of the prison population would keep the prisoners working on their assigned tasks. The prisoners would be forced to work to survive. Those prisoners who refused to cooperate would find themselves crippled for life or worse. The mind bending and body breaking punishment of Seclusion that had been practiced on Devil's Island would be considered a pleasant vacation compared to the horrors that the lawmakers intended to inflict on errant prisoners.

The leaders already had tentative contracts from industries interested in a captive workforce who could be compelled to work for wages that were far below minimum. It wouldn't be necessary to enforce safety requirements in the job site for the prison populations. The Congressional leaders had assured industry that they would be exempt from EPA and OSHA requirements in prison industries. The prisoners would work ten hour days, seven day weeks without let for a dollar a day until their sentences were completed. There would be no paroles. The outdated ideals of prisoner education and reform were out, punishment was in. Any prisoner who refused to work up to standards would be broken both physically and mentally until he was compliant. If a prisoner managed to continue to rebel against God and the State despite the beatings and psychological torture, then the legislators had one card which would trump any resource the prisoner might bring to bear; a prefrontal lobotomy.

The prisoner would be sedated and brought to an operating theater where he would be anesthetized before having his eye temporarily removed and laid to rest on his cheek. Then a neurosurgeon would insert a thin metal probe through the opening at the rear of the eye socket into the brain itself. The probe would be rotated around in small circles to sever the connection between the frontal lobes and the rest of the brain. If performed correctly, the procedure would rob the prisoner of his volition and will. The personality that remained would be flat and emotionless and be utterly incapable of rebellion. The only side effect of the correctly performed procedure, aside from the destruction of the personality, was a tendency of the patient to be incontinent. Unfortunately, the surgeons who work for the State are rarely the best in their field and the procedure would often be done quickly and sloppily. The result of such haphazard neurosurgical butchery was horrendous. The prisoner would be turned into a near vegetable, incapable of thought or reason. The lawmakers were well aware of the risks that the operation posed and supported it's mass use nonetheless. The drooling, diapered idiot that the State would create would only serve as an example to the other prisoners of what rebellion against God would bring them. The legislative leaders understood that the lobotomized prisoner would only have a short lifetime under harsh prison conditions. The gang rapes on the defenseless prisoner that would invariably ensue would shorten the prisoner's life considerably. After the lobotomized prisoner's release from the prison hospital, his life would be measured in weeks. It was all part of God's plan.

There would be no halfway houses or parole officers in the new penal system. When the prisoners had completed their sentence, they would be given the money that they had earned (minus unpaid fines, victim restitution payments and prison fees) and a bus ticket to the nearest large city to find work. If a prisoner was penniless after many years of hard labor the leaders chuckled, that was just too bad. The fact that the system practically guaranteed that a prisoner would have nothing after years of toil bothered the leaders not a wit. They were in prison to suffer, weren't they?

The leaders spoke with glowing eyes of the millions of man-hours that prisoners would be forced to endure for the nation. The State and Federal governments would make billions of dollars from the slave labor camps they would create. American industry would finally have a means of completing with the low labor costs of third world countries. Dangerous occupations like mining would be given over wholly to the prisoners. The chemical industry would be able to run their factories without costly worker safety programs. Vast prison farms would be made to feed America cheaply.

The leaders knew that the death rate among the prisoners would skyrocket and had planned for the event. Huge crematoria would be built at each prison site to receive the remains of the fallen prisoners. Their bodies, like their evil deeds, would go up the flue and exit in the world in the form of greasy black smoke to be forgotten by the rest of humanity. When the surviving prisoners were released, they would be unable to break the nation's laws again. They would be bent and old before their time. Their minds would have been altered by the constant stress and their personalities would have changed into subservient shadows of what the once were. They would be incapable of rebellion against the Word of God. They would hold their hats in their hands and speak respectfully to their betters when questioned. They would be model citizens. They would be Christians.

The judges held their collective tongues and remained silent after the religious tirade had finished. Like a Biblical prophesy, the writing was on the wall, and it's meaning was abundantly clear. The period of liberty and plenty had passed and now came the time of famine and despotism. Individual freedom would be a dead issue in a few years. They would either remain silent and let the Congress do as it wished or they could resist and be swept away by a Constitutional Convention. There was no middle ground. The assembled leaders of Congress had the power to do exactly what they threatened. One way or the other, America was going to become God's country.

Brian sipped on his cup of coffee and took a deep drag from the cigarette in his hand. A Constitutional Convention hadn't been required. The Supreme Court had stood aside and let the Religious Right turn the country into a de facto theocracy. The leaders of Congress discovered that it wasn't necessary to change the Constitution, all that was required to produce a dictatorship was the acquiescence of the people. Dictatorships are produced by ignoring laws, not by passing them. Ostensibly the Constitution was still in force, but no one, not the police, the courts, or the burgeoning religious bureaucracy paid the slightest attention to it. Freedom was dead and Brian had been one of it's pallbearers. It had been ailing during the thirties and suffered a major blow to it's health during the Cold War. The Drug Wars had turned it into an invalid. The Religious Right had merely administered euthanasia to the dying creature.

Brian was a Special Advisor to the President of the United States of America. He had begun his professional life as a professor of political science at Chicago University before insinuating himself into the party. He was the planner, the architect of the nation's near future. The President had wanted a man who would help him obtain the power he wanted so badly. The Congress was a danger to the nation's health, the President had explained to him when he hired him. The President needed a plan that would strip them of their power. There were too many chiefs in political America and not enough indians. The national identity required that a strong man, a father figure, take the helm of State and pilot it safely through the murky waters of political turmoil. The President made it clear to Brian that he thought that he, the President, was that man. He asked that Brian conceive a plan to allow him to take over the reins of government without causing a civil war. Brian had looked into the President's steel gray eyes and told him that he'd find a way. They shook hands and the deal was struck. Brian would find a way to bring down the Constitution without invoking the process necessary for having a politically dangerous Constitutional Convention.

Brian was well aware of how the Congress operated in the past and what recent economic events had done to the nation's chief legislative body. The major corporations had purchased the Congress; lock, stock and barrel. The nation's environmental laws had been amended to allow the corporations to do anything they pleased. After all, the congressmen reasoned, James Watt had been right. It wasn't necessary to protect the environment when Christ would return in a few years and return the land to it's pristine splendor. The corporations were only doing God's Will. Look at how much money they gave to the churches. And hadn't they made membership in a church a requirement for advancement in their companies? True, rising prices and the shaky economy had made things tough on the poor, but hadn't that always been the case? Besides, people were poor because it was God's Will. It was a punishment handed down by the Most High to the evil ones of the nation. If they had been favored by God, they would have been rich. That was the essence of Calvinism. Piety and hard work please God and he rewarded his followers by making them rich on Earth as well as in Heaven. Hadn't Christ said that the poor would always be with them? Unfortunately, there were a lot of poor. Many were called, but few were chosen to be employed. Too many in fact, for the government to shoulder the responsibility of caring for them. Besides, government welfare wasn't the American way. It wasn't right to tax money from God's beloved, so that the government could support the evil poor that God obviously despised. The poor would have to fend for themselves so the rich could maintain their income level. It was God's Will.

The solar storm that had hit the Earth in autumn of 1999 was a clear indication of God's plan for the world. A monstrous solar flare had erupted from the Sun's surface and showered the Earth with charged particles for days. Telecommunications had been wiped out and the America's power grid had gone down. Billions of dollars of damage had been done to the nation's electrical distribution equipment. The stock markets were closed for weeks. Industries had closed their doors during the blackout and waited until the power companies could supply them with the energy they needed to open their doors again. Weeks turned into months as the power companies desperately tried to arrange financing for replacement equipment. When the nation's factories were finally able to open their doors again, the markets had vanished. The world economy had gone into a tailspin. Millions of people were thrown out of work. State governments seized the lion's share of available power to feed the hungry maw of the prison industries. They contended that the security of the State required that the prisoners be kept behind electrified fences and threatened to use martial law to enforce their edicts. The power companies capitulated and did as they were told. Public outcries were heard over the amount of power that was being wasted on prisoners idly sitting around and watching TV while the rest of the nation was blacked out. There were riots in the nation's industrial cities and the national guard was called out to restore order. The "prison reforms" were rushed through the legislatures without debate. New powers were granted police to expedite the handling of felons. No one had the time or money to waste on such frivolities as civil rights. Within three months, America had been transformed into a police state with millions of unemployed workers. The remaining industries scrambled to procure labor contracts with the State and Federal governments. It was obvious that the only way they could ensure that their plants would be allocated electrical power was to move them within prison walls. Additionally, the cost of labor made the prison industries competitive with foreign markets and the beleaguered CEOs of industry saw prisons as the one way they could compete in a world that had suddenly become a chaotic arena of corporate battles. They knew a good thing when they saw it and signed up with the prison officials in droves.

The government moved quickly to consolidate it's gains. It used the food produced by the prisons to feed the hungry populace and keep the people mollified while Congress changed the character of the nation. The people were told that the first workers to allowed to go back to work would be those who had families to support. In practice this meant that women were to be excluded from the work force. A legislative plan was secretly prepared to remove most of the economic and political rights that women had be given since the nineteenth century. Women would become chattel under the rule of the men of the family. The legislators envisioned an America in their near future where women stayed home and took care of the house while the men went out and worked. Unfortunately, their dreams of matrimonial harmony were at odds with the realities of American life. There were too many broken homes, too many divorces caused by the lack of money to run a household without discord. Government meddling with the monetary supply had eroded economic stability until only the very rich could live without worrying about how to support their families. Their plan was doomed to failure from the start, but that didn't deter the God-filled lawmakers. They intended to make America right no matter what the cost. The Spirit of the Lord was within them and nothing would stand in the path of righteousness.

Slowly, the realization emerged among educated women that the government planned to send them back to purdah. They formed study groups to "enlighten" the Congress as to the economic reality of American life. It was a futile gesture. Congress wasn't listening. The small dissident movement evolved into a secret group of revolutionaries when it became apparent that the Congress had no intention of changing it's plans. The group expanded and split into self-limiting cells that were relatively immune from government tracking. In a short time other minority groups joined the movement and the government had a full fledged guerrilla war on it's hands. Efforts to fight the guerrillas had proved fruitless. Somehow every government agent that was planted in a group was discovered and disposed of before the names of the cell members could be transmitted back to the authorities. Security Services found the situation maddening. They hypothesized that the guerrilla's were using some sort of truth drug to screen new members before they joined. In the beginning they instituted a McCarthy-style Red baiting and dragnet campaign which only seemed to arrest loyal members of the populace. Once it became generally known that the government was rounding up anyone suspected of dissident views and subjecting them to back room interrogations followed by routine beatings and torture, the public began to see just how viscous the security services had become. The program was terminated when cooler heads in the security forces saw how it only served to empathize how right the guerrillas were in calling the government a tyranny.

Lately, some of the governments highest functionaries had disappeared. Since they hadn't turned up in foreign countries denouncing the American way of life, it was assumed that the guerrillas had kidnapped them somehow. Security had been tightened around the most visible members of the executive branch, but there weren't enough officers to provide a twenty four hour guard for everyone. Besides, the guards only served to identify those people whom the government considered important to its welfare. The Security chiefs crossed their fingers and prayed that the friends of the government would not be touched by the guerrilla's campaign of terrorist kidnappings.

Brian suddenly felt himself enveloped in a cloud of smoke and turned to see who was blowing smoke in his face. He looked over at the woman sitting next to him and was about to say something to her when she said, "I'm sorry! I should have watched what I was doing. I was having a hard time getting this cigarette lit and didn't think about where the smoke was going. I think I'm going to have to change brands. These cigarettes are so hard to get started with all the little holes in the filter. When I'm at home, I put scotch tape around my cigarette to stop them up before I light it, but I'd feel silly carrying a roll of scotch tape in my purse just to smoke. I haven't found a brand yet that doesn't have holes in the paper. Do you know of one?"

Brian smiled at her naiveté and said, "They don't make them. Not in this country at least. The Federal Food and Drug Administration requires that all manufacturers put holes in the cigarettes to reduce the amount of smoke that a person inhales. It's something we just have to live with."

The woman made a low sound of displeasure and said, "I don't know what business it is of theirs anyway. They've already made it illegal to smoke outdoors and just about everywhere else. Why can't they leave us alone?"

"Because if they didn't pass it, the health insurance companies threatened to institute nicotine testing and withdraw all health benefits for any smokers they discovered," Brian explained.

"They don't have the right to do that!", the woman exclaimed.

"I'm afraid they do," Brian sighed, "The anti-drug laws gave them that right years ago. Ever since nicotine was declared a drug under the FDA jurisdiction, they've had the right. The government has used the restrictions on the amount of nicotine found in tobacco products and the method of delivery to keep the insurance companies from instituting measures against smokers. Frankly we're lucky the government lets us smoke at all. It IS bad for us, you know!"

"It's an invasion of privacy!", the woman countered, "It's nobody's business whether I smoke or not!"

"Ahh, but it IS their business! You want to keep your health coverage, don't you? That makes it their business. Don't worry about it. By the end of next year the point will be moot. There's a bill before Congress to reclassify tobacco as a narcotic. Once that's done, the game will be over. No one will be smoking anything unless they want to spend some time in a Reform Camp!"

The remark had the desired effect and made the woman shiver in horror. Brian smiled at the feminine response he had elicited. Perhaps she would be interested in a night on the town with him. Aside from her short hair style and the modest, almost prudish dress she effected, she was a looker.

Her hair was styled in the severe cut that was favored by the female employees of the government and her clothes told him the same story. No woman would dress in something that ugly unless her job necessitated it. "Good," Brian thought to himself, "I won't have to worry that she's a rebel spy."

"I don't believe we've been introduced. My name is Brian," he said extending his hand to shake.

She took his hand in hers and shook it warmly, saying, "Mine's Lori, that's short for Loreli, not Laura."

"And you're the singer of the siren song, here to lead me to my doom. Is that it?", Brian replied.

Lori laughed, sounding like the liquid notes of a perfectly made bell. She shook her head and said, "My mother was into German folktales and named me Miriam Loreli. Miriam was my mother's name, so everyone called me Lori."

"Miriam? That's a Jewish name, isn't it?", Brian asked.

"My mother was Jewish," Lori replied dryly.

"And yourself?", Brian asked.

"I'm not very observant, I'm afraid. Being Jewish is hazardous to your health and I'm a survivor. I try to keep a low profile and not take a public stand one way or the other. There's not much future in being Jewish in this country or anywhere else for that matter. Once Israel fell to the Arabs, the Jews of the world have pretty much had to stay where they were," she replied.

"At least they had the satisfaction of taking out the capitals of the Arab countries before Jerusalem fell to Arab tanks. I've read that the land surrounding Mecca will be ëhot' for at least five hundred years. The hydrogen bombs that the IDF dropped were specially designed to contaminate the soil. Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Tunis, Beirut, and Kabul are just radioactive memories now," Brian said. He shook his head ruefully and stared off into the distance as if he was lecturing to a hall of students and continued, "The IDF broke the back of the Arab countries in a series of retaliatory strikes before the end came. The tens of thousands of Arab tanks that they destroyed with fuel-air munitions and napalm had most of the fundamentalists convinced that Armageddon had arrived. The carnage was unbelievable. When the IDF began precision bombing of the Arab oil fields to wreck their economies, it spelled the end for the modern Arab State. The money was gone, their armies were destroyed and the ecology of the area had been turned into something out of the Sierra Club's worst nightmare. Satellite photos show that some of the oil well fires are still burning after all these years. The air and water in the Arab countries are so toxic that they can't support normal life. Even the Bedouin have left their homeland to live in the Mongolian highlands with their sheep. Everyone who had enough money at the end of the war has emigrated to other countries to live. The middle and upper class Arabs have found themselves in boat as the Jews since then. Their countries have been effectively annihilated and they've been forced to live among the infidels. The pitiful remnants of Allah's warriors have what they really wanted. The modern world has left them alone in their tiny medieval city-states to work out their relationship with Allah. No one has the slightest interest in having anything to do with them.

There's no money or future in the Arab countries now, only privation and a lingering death from the toxins of war. A few of them tried to blame the US for the annihilation, but their hearts weren't really in it. The Great Satan just wasn't interested in them when the oil was gone. There was a call in the United Nations for the arrest and trial of former Israel officials for war crimes, but it didn't go anywhere. There simply weren't enough of them left for a trial to be worth the trouble. Once the US pulled out of the UN, it became a platform for third world cranks, nothing more. Everyone regretted the Israeli attacks on the Arab oil fields, but there was nothing we could do about it once the deed was done. It saved the US a lot of trouble in the long run though. We haven't had any trouble with Arab terrorists since,"

"The sons of Abraham are finally at peace with one another after four thousand years," Lori sighed.

"The peace of the graveyard," Brian agreed, "I imagine it must have been difficult for you to get a job with the government with your Jewish heritage. The proctors have been extremely anti-Semitic of late."

"How did you know I worked for the government?", Lori asked with a little irritation, "Are you some kind of investigator?"

Brian smiled and shook his head, then pointed to her dress, saying, "No one but government employees wear styles like that anymore."

Lori blushed and replied, "Oh, you're right. It's almost a uniform among the women in government now that the proctors have begun their campaign for a moral appearance. I've stopped thinking about the way I dress. It's just a suit of clothes that I have to put on before I go to work in the mornings. I guess it is a little frumpy. You're right about the proctors too. They made it very difficult to get a job when they found out I was Jewish, but I explained to them I was an apostate. They just beamed at me happily and said the hoped I would see the light of Jesus soon."

"So you don't consider yourself Jewish?", Brian asked.

Lori smiled and replied, "It's not a matter of what I think, it simply is. I couldn't change my heritage even if I wanted to. Under Jewish law, the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish. But I haven't been to a synagogue since I was a child. Even if I wanted to go, there seem to be fewer of them every year. Unless I went to live in New York city, I'm not sure where I would find one," she said.

"After the Spanish retook their cities from the Moors in the middle ages, they converted most of the synagogues to churches. It appears that the proctors have the same plan. Outside of the major cities, there can't be more than fifty synagogues in the U.S.," Brian observed.

"I think the ësecurity' cameras over the entrances have a lot to do with the lack of attendance at synagogues," Lori said.

"The people are aware of them?", Brian asked.

"The proctors have made it painfully obvious. I've been told that they force the Rabbis to see that posters are put up in the anterooms of the synagogues telling everyone that the proctors are watching them every minute to ëprotect' them from Arab terrorists. It's supposed to have a chilling effect on the faithful," Lori replied.

"And has it?", Brian asked.

"Of course it has!", Lori replied vehemently. She shook herself as if to shed the idea and said to Brian, "And what do you do for a living? You're too well dressed for a government clerk and you don't sound like a proctor. Besides, they don't smoke. Do you work for a corporation?"

"I work for the government as a consultant," Brian replied.

"What kind of consultant? Business?", Lori asked.

"Political science," Brian answered.

"Oh," Lori said, looking nonplused, "I guess that explains why you seem to know so much about history. There aren't many people these days who know the names of the President's cabinet members, much less medieval European history. I had wondered about that."

Brian cracked a grin and said, "Just part of my stock in trade. Everything in history repeats itself sooner or later. It's just a matter of being able to recognize the patterns of historical development."

Lori leaned close to Brian and said in a whisper, "How does the government compare to historical ones? When I think of the Reform Camps, the only historical comparison I can see is either the Communist Re-education camps of China or the Concentration Camps of Nazi Germany."

Brian glanced around quickly and said in a de soto voice, "Hush! This is a public place! It's not wise to make such comparisons in public. Let's move to one of the booths where we can talk more discreetly."

They picked up their drinks and moved over to a booth in the corner. After they had gotten comfortable, Brian said in a voice loud enough for the occupants of the next booth to hear, "The best historical comparison for the US today is the Chinese Empire. After building the Great Wall and withdrawing from interaction with their neighbors, they consolidated their government and created a society that remained stable for hundreds of years. During this time, the Chinese invented paper, printing, cast iron, gunpowder and fireworks, clocks, silk and improved techniques for weaving as well as paper money. The rest of the world was casting about in darkness while the Chinese were developing their science to new heights."

"Are we?", Lori asked.

"Are we what?", Brian demanded.

"Are we developing our science? I don't see any signs of it. Look at the Swatches and pocketcoms we're carrying. They weren't made in the US. They're made in the pacific rim and the patents are held in Japan. Our science is dying." Lori said.

Brian sniffed in a superior fashion and said, "Engineering toys are not science. The government chooses not to make recent developments public at this time. Who knows how the rebels might use the information if they got hold of it? There's some suspicion that they've gotten some help from the advanced research of at least one other government. They seem to have techniques that we're unfamiliar with. No matter. Just the clue that it exists is often enough to find the solution."

"How do you know that their using information from another government?", Lori asked.

Brian sighed and said, "Scientific research is too complex and expensive for anyone but a government to sponsor it. It's simply not possible for a group of individuals to come up with anything new without government support. The FBI is investigating rebel links to foreign governments as we speak. The President is expecting some news from them in the near future. They've promised to brief the President fully next month."

"Really?", Lori said, "What have they found out so far?"

"I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to say. Let's just say that within a month, you can expect to find the US in a much better position that it is now. Plans are being made to round up all the disloyal elements of the population and deal with them permanently. The ungodly will not be able to hide from us this time. We intend to arrest the rebels and their supporters and send them all to Special Reform Camps which the government is building. I'd like to tell you more, but security forbids it. Let's talk about something else. What about you? You said you're a government employee. Where do you work?"

"I'm an executive secretary in the agricultural distribution department of Health and Human Services," Lori replied.

"Executive secretary?", Brian said, "That position must have been hard to get. Positions like that are usually reserved for men."

"I know," Lori replied, "The position was created for me. I have a Ph.D. in agriculture and the head of department was familiar with my work in increasing crop yields. The original techniques I was researching are out of favor now, but I'm hoping to explore other avenues of research."

"What sort of techniques were you using originally?", Brian asked.

"Recombinant DNA techniques utilizing cross-species transplantation of genetic material," Lori answered.

"And you managed to keep out of a Reform Camp? Your guardian angel must be working overtime!", Brian exclaimed.

Lori smiled and said, "When they passed the law against genetic research, I shut down my lab immediately. I knew I was on Jeremy Refkin's list to be ëcleansed' and didn't want to be caught with incriminating information."

"And your research results?", Brian asked.

"I had been sending copies of all my results to the University on a weekly basis, so on the day before the law took effect, I destroyed all the plants and notes and began packing up the equipment. When the proctors came to investigate me, all they found was a laboratory with all the equipment boxed and ready to go back to the University. They thought about arresting me for defrauding the University by not performing contracted research, but the financial records and the reports I had sent in were enough to convince them they hadn't a case there either. They had to content themselves with blacklisting me from research," Lori said seriously.

"You are one smart lady!", Brian said, "And lucky too! Do you know they considered making the Genetic Research Act an ex post facto law?"

"I was aware of it, but there was nothing I could do about it. If they had, I guess I would have tried to escape to Canada. What else could I have done? If Congress passes laws that make legal acts retroactively illegal, there's no way a person can protect himself against prosecution," Lori said.

"What amazes me is that you were able to get a job in government. I would have thought that the proctor's blacklist would have prevented that," Brian said.

"Apparently there is a clause in the blacklist section of the Genetic Research Act which exempts government agencies from using it if they desire. I believe that it was meant to allow the security agencies to employ informers, but in my case at least, it was used to enable my boss to give me a job. You can't imagine how desperate we are in my agency to find ways of improving the crop yields. My boss is even willing to go against the wishes of the proctors to do it. After the Arab oil dried up, the price of oil skyrocketed and took the price of fertilizers and insecticides with it. They can barely afford the cost of the natural gas to run the crematoria. The prison farms don't grow organic crops because they want to, they have to! They can't afford to use chemical fertilizers and insecticides. We were able to solve the fertilizer problem by using sludge from the sewerage treatment plants of nearby cities, but the problem of insect infestation seems to be intractable. Most of the insect population's natural enemies have been killed from decades of insecticide use and there's nothing cheap enough to take their place. We're experimenting with mixed crop use right now to keep the damage down. It's a little early to see definite results, but we're hopeful," Lori said.

"Mixed crops?", Brian asked.

"Some species of plants repel certain species of insects," Lori explained, "By planting a species of plant that repels the target insect in close proximity to a plant that we want to protect, we can reduce crop damage by as much as twenty percent. At least that's the theory. We should know more by end of summer."

"What are we using now to keep down the insects?", Brian asked.

"Prisoners and nets," Lori said with a sigh.

"Nets?", Brian asked, "You mean they're putting nets over the crops?"

"Oh no," Lori laughed, "I mean prisoners with bug collection nets on a stick. You know! Like butterfly collectors!"

"You mean they go out and collect the bugs by hand?", Brian asked incredulously.

Lori nodded and said, "And that's the whole problem. It's labor intensive. We have to plan for the future."

"But don't we have millions of prisoners to do the work?", Brian asked in confusion.

"Right now we do. But in ten years, it's going to be another story. Are you aware of the mortality figures in the Camps?", Lori asked.

"No....Well, I know it's high, but that shouldn't have anything to do with it," Brian said.

"Morality in the Camps approaches ninety percent in the first five years of a prisoner's incarceration. During the second five years, it's one hundred percent," Lori said.

"My God!", Brian exclaimed thoughtlessly. He looked around guiltily to see if anyone had witnessed his blasphemy and said, "But aren't they always arresting more people and putting them in the Camps?"

"Yes, but not enough to sustain the present prison population," answered Lori, "That's why we're so concerned. In ten years there won't be enough people in the camps to keep the insect population down and weed the fields. Then crop production will plummet. Are you aware that over ninety percent of the food produced in the US comes from prison farms? America will starve!"

Brian was shocked by the information that he had gotten from the chance encounter at the smokeasy. If Lori was right, something had to be done immediately. It would take time to develop and implement a viable plan to reform food production in the Camps. They had to begin immediately to insure that the changes were in place before food production began to drop. There were political considerations as well. The mismanagement of the nation's food supply was just the sort of excuse that the President needed to get full backing for his secret plan from his supporters. If they played their cards right, the President would be in full charge of the country within a year.

Brian dropped his voice and said in a serious tone, "The President needs to know about this immediately. Could you come home with me where I can call the President? My office at home has been electronically protected by the Secret Service from snooping by bugs. I've also been given the use of a high tech scrambler for secure communications with the White House. I can call him up and let you explain the problem to him after I introduce you. If the situation is as bad as you say it is, then the President's plans will have to be modified significantly. You can brief me in the car on the way over to the house and fill me in on the details while I drive. Would that be okay? If your information proves to be correct, I don't think there will be any problem getting Presidential approval for your research. It's vital that the President get this information as quickly as possible."

"Certainly," Lori said, "Let's pay our bills and we can leave. I'll need to get my briefcase from the car. There are some documents in it that I'd like you to see that will support my conclusions. There shouldn't be any problems about leaving the car for a few hours in the parking lot. The security fence and guard should keep anyone from stripping it for parts while I'm gone. This should only take a few hours, right?"

"Right!", Brian answered and signaled for the waiter to ring up their bills on the register and transmit the code to the Swatches they wore on their wrists. The amount of the tabs would be deducted electronically from the credit information encrypted into the circuitry of the Swatch. A memory chip embedded in the cheap watches had prepaid digital currency that would allow them to pay for goods and services until the battery ran down or the credit was used up. All they had to do was press the payment button on the side of the watch to cause the authentication code to be transmitted via FM radio back to the receiver in the cash register. It was the ultimate in anonymity for the American consumer. The digital currency could be purchased at any supermarket or convenience store with a check or credit card and then used later without leaving a paper trail in later transactions. No cash ever changed hands to leave fingerprints for investigators to trace. It was the accepted method of payment in smokeasies.

They pushed the buttons on the Swatches to pay the tab and got up to go to the door. When they opened the door to go outside to the parking area, they were greeted by a blast of moist, toxic-laden air from the streets. The clean, air-conditioned atmosphere of the bar was considerably cleaner than the polluted air of the city. One of the fascinating dissonances of post-disaster American life was that the so-called "polluted" air in tobacco bars was so clean from the mandatory filtration units that many non-smokers went to smokeasies to get away from the pollution outside. It made the identification of smokers extremely difficult for businesses. If someone came in from lunch smelling of tobacco, they explained to their superiors that they had taken refuge against the city air in a smokeasy. There was always some suspicion that they were lying, but the practice was so common that nothing was said. The nation's lax attitude toward industrial pollution had turned the air of the cities into a virtual cesspool of noxious and toxic fumes. Vending machines that dispensed pure oxygen were as common a sight on street corners in business areas as were the machines that sold disposable filtermasks.

They stepped out into the parking lot and walked to Lori's car to get her briefcase. Grimy dust from the factory down the street had covered the tops of the cars in the lot in minutes after parking. When they approached her car, Brian noticed that she owned one of the new gas turbine/electric/flywheel cars that were so popular in Canada. It was one of the few exports that was really doing well on the world market. The depression had depressed wages in the US so much that the cars were a very attractive deal for foreign importers and they had snapped them up by the thousand. Of course the assembly lines were located in prison factories and hadn't eased the unemployment problems the US had had since the crash. At least the poor value of the dollar had helped the nation's balance of trade, Brian mused as he stood by the car door. He was careful not to let his clothes touch the side of the car to keep the grime from staining his clothes. Lori had wisely chosen a color of dark grey that matched the color of the grime perfectly and he was having a hard time seeing which areas of the car's exterior that the air pollution had settled on. He knew that it was futile to think that he could go through the day without getting some of the grime on his clothes, but there was no point in making the dry cleaner's job any more difficult than it was. The dry cleaner never got the clothes completely clean in any case. The pollutants were just too reactive. They bound themselves to the fibers of the fabric in a death's grip and refused to release themselves. The ever present pollution had proved a boon to the prison textile industry. Everyone in the upper levels of government and industry had to replace their wardrobe at least once a year to keep from appearing like one of the filthy unemployed who haunted the nation's streets.

Lori punched in the codes on the small keypad on the side of the driver's side car door underneath the handle to unlock the car door and pulled it open as soon as she heard the electric bolt being drawn back. She flipped the switch on the door to unlock the other doors and walked around the car to the other side. Brian padded after her and stood off to the side as she took her briefcase from underneath the front seat and laid it down on the seat. She opened the car's back door and said, "Sit down Brian. There's something I want to show you now so we can talk about it on the way over to your house."

Brian sat on the edge of the back seat while she opened the case and took a manila folder from the disarray of documents piled inside. As she did, she picked up a small pressurized can of spray mouth freshener and flipped the cap off with her thumbnail. Lori palmed the can in her hand and walked around the open door to give Brian the folder. She glanced around to see if anyone was observing them and handed the documents to Brian. He took it from her and opened it, noting the official seal of the agency on the headings of the documents. She leaned over him and spread the corners of papers until she found the one she wanted, pulling it out and laying it on top of the other papers, saying, "This is the one I want you to look at. This is a report on the annual food production figures for the past five years. Look at the trend. See! Here and here..."

She pointed with her finger at the columns forcing his eyes to follow along as she pointed out the relevant lines. As he looked at the sheet, she raised the can in her other hand and sprayed him directly in the face. Brian's eyes closed immediately and he grew still. Lori took the folder out of his hand and pushed his shoulder with the hand that still contained the knockout spray. He fell over onto the back seat and she lifted his legs and placed them on the floorboard behind the front seat before closing the door.

She took the pocketcom from his belt and deftly opened the battery compartment and flipped out the battery. Then she took a small screwdriver from her pocket and removed the back of the pocketcom to get at the secondary lithium battery inside the unit. Most people who carried a pocketcom thought that the lithium battery merely provided backup power to maintain the system clock and CMOS settings. Lori knew that the microwave transponder that was part of the telephone circuitry inside was powered by the lithium battery. It would allow the unit's location to be tracked to within thirty feet by the telephone company. If the government wished, it could ask the phone company to provide it with the location of the telephone. It was one of the security services favorite tricks; they could keep a running log of a person's location without having to put a tail on him. Only the poor were exempt from this sort of surveillance. The pocketcom had become a feature of modern business life. They were combination mini-satellite phones and palmtop computers with voice synthesis and recognition and limited artificial Intelligence. They kept multiple agents running on the Internet to keep the owner informed about stocks and news of interest and could manage the owner's affairs on their own without constant input from the owner. They had short range radio FM transceivers to link with nearby computers and had high speed IR ports for printing and areas needing secure data links. They also had the capability to read the new read-only, mini-CDs. (The mini-CDs were two inch diameter double-sided CDs with ten layers per side. Each layer contained one quarter of the amount of information as one of the old four inch, single layer CDs, giving a mini-CD a total storage capacity that was five times as large as a single layer CD. By reducing the CD's size, the angular momentum of the rotating disk could be minimized to allow higher speeds. An eight speed drive had proved to be the effective limit because the imperfections in the media produced unmanageable wobble at higher speeds. The mini-CD allowed the drive to operate at twelve speed with the same wobble as a six speed drive and reduced the access time by half. It had rapidly displaced video tapes as the media of choice for movies and was well on it's way to becoming the sole storage media for large static databases and libraries.) External storage devices could also access the unit through the IR bus. The pocketcoms could recognize the owner's handwriting and could accept written notes on their surface for programming in less secure sites. They were capable of identifying their owner's biological tags if one had been implanted. The pocketcoms were the toys of corporations, high government officials and the wealthy and had become a trap for the unwary. Lori was well aware of the dangers it posed, but she wanted to attempt recover the data into the unit's memory. Her pocketcom was equipped with a highly illegal dual transponder that could be switched to another frequency at a moment's notice. She put the cover back on the case of Brian's pocketcom and switched her unit's transponder off. She would wait until she was near the Canadian border to switch it back on using the second frequency registered to an innocent Canadian businesswoman.

Lori thought about what they might find in Brian's pocketcom. If Brian had been using a one thousand, twenty-four bit key for PGP, then it would be effectively impossible to recover the data. But the government frowned on employees who hid their information from their snooping that way. It was more likely that he had used a program to encrypt the information into something innocuous like a graphic, but the security forces were becoming more sophisticated in ferreting out people's hiding places. The odds of finding anything useful were unlikely, but the opportunity to look was too good to miss. She pocketed the batteries and put the cover on the case, then pulled the folded car blanket that was laying on the ledge underneath the rear window and hastily covered Brian with one hand. When she had finished, he looked like he was sound asleep in the back of the car.

She smiled at the camouflage she had created; the smell of alcohol on his breath made him appear just like businessman who had been overcome by the effects of a five martini lunch. If someone tried to wake him, they would think that the difficulty they would have was due to the amount of alcohol in his bloodstream rather than the odorless knockout aerosol she had given him. She removed his wallet from the top of his coat and went to the front seat. She tossed the wallet, pocketcom and folder in the briefcase and took another wallet from the pocket of the briefcase before latching it. She closed the car door and slipped the replacement wallet into his coat pocket. For a final touch, she took a small red Maple lapel pin out of her pocket and pinned it to his coat lapel prominently. The pin would ensure that if she was stopped by the police, they would assume that he was a Canadian businessman who had had a snootful during his visit to the US. She wouldn't have any trouble with the border guards on the Canadian side. The wallet she had put inside his coat had ID cards that identified Brian as a Canadian citizen. She would stop at a safe house she had prepared and replace the stolen US license plates on the car with the original Canadian plates. Then she would destroy the incriminating documents and replace them with sales brochures and orders for a well known Canadian company that did business in the U.S. and put the briefcase in the back seat beside Brian to add to the window dressing she had created. In a few hours she would be in Canada with her prize.

It had taken a month of planning to bring their plan of kidnapping Brian to fruition and she wasn't about to make any mistakes by forgetting any of the carefully thought out details. The rebels knew that the President was planning something big in the near future. Their agents on the inside of the government had tipped them that he had started to act very cagey with the Religious Right in Congress. Lori had been the one selected to kidnap Brian and bring him into Canada for questioning by the rebels. If they were lucky, he could provide them with the details that could bring down the government of the United States. They had no doubts that they would get everything Brian knew about the current government. Lori's briefing officer had told her that they had a technique that had proved infallible in getting information from their prisoners. Within few days, Brian would be putty in their hands. After they had finished questioning him, he would be disposed of humanely in the same way that they had gotten rid of other officials that they had kidnapped. His mind would be gone and he would be unable to care for himself, but that was a fortune of war. The technique that they used would help them give him a new identity. He would become another helpless citizen on the Canadian Welfare roles. The officer had said that was only fitting that an official who had kept so many Americans unemployed would go on welfare himself. It would have been more just to have gotten him on American welfare if it had existed, but leaving him in the US after they had finished with him was tantamount to a death sentence.

Lori had agreed with the plans for Brian after they had sucked all the useful information from him. She disliked the idea of killing another human. The rebels were nothing if not humane. They had no intention of killing someone if it wasn't necessary. There would be killing enough when the fighting started. The Civil War that the government had so assiduously avoided was about to begin.

Lori went around the car and got in the driver's seat and started the car, going over her escape route from the country in her mind as she drove through the crowded streets. Her timing had been perfect; the entire operation had taken less than five minutes from the time they got to her car to the moment she had driven out into the street. The gate in the security shack hadn't paid her any notice. She doubted he had even known they were in the parking lot. His eyes were on the street and the dangers it contained. Shabbily dressed men walked in front of the entrance to the parking lot every few seconds and kept his attention riveted to the entrance to the lot.

If the majority of Americans had been gainfully employed, the streets would have been nearly empty. But government policies had created large numbers of homeless and unemployed who had nowhere else to go. They spent their days wandering around the streets looking for work or shelter that didn't exist. Most of the abandoned buildings had long since been staked out by the fortunate homeless who guarded their tuft vigorously. The rest of the people walked around until it was time to pick up their daily ration of food from the government distribution centers. Every ration card had the citizens dossier encoded into the card with their picture on the front. The time that the citizen could pick up his ration was clearly marked on the front of the card. If someone missed their ration time, then they would go hungry until the next day. The government had no pity on those who were late for their appointments. The streets around the distribution centers were the worst of all. The government had condemned all the property in an area for four blocks around each of the distribution centers to keep the homeless from mixing with the tax paying citizens. It hadn't been too difficult to arrange the condemnations, most of the businesses who had owned the property were only too glad to get rid of the buildings and land at any price. They were able to use the money to move to other locations that were more conducive to business. Property was cheap since the depression and easily available. The rundown buildings that were left were quickly occupied by the homeless seeking shelter. The police wanted the cities to raze the buildings to create an area that was more controllable, but wiser heads had prevailed and the homeless were left to their devices. At least it kept them away from the more prosperous areas of the city.

As Lori stopped at the light where she would turn to go to the small warehouse she had rented, she noticed an enterprising beggar on the corner of the sidewalk. He had constructed a bicycle with a pedal-driven dc generator that powered a portable TV mounted in front of the handlebars. Apparently he was selling TV to the people on the street. As long as people put money into his hat perched on top of the TV, he kept pedaling and the TV was powered. It was the perfect business for the American street. If the police rousted him, all he needed to do was pull the unit off the home-made kickstand and pedal away to another location. Normally though, Lori was sure that the police left him alone except to collect the bribes that allowed him to operate. He was too useful to the government. The TV kept his audience occupied and allowed them the opportunity to see the official government announcements on TV. Anything that was important would rapidly be passed word of mouth to the crowds in the street.

She made the turn and drove down the street for two blocks before pulling up into the driveway of a padlocked warehouse. Lori got out with her keys and unlocked the padlock, then pulled the metal door up. Then she got back into the car and drove it into the confines of the small warehouse and got out of the car. She pulled down the metal door and locked it in place while she worked on the car. Lori went to the corner of the warehouse and pulled a pile of rags from the equipment she had cached earlier. A gasoline powered air compressor stood on the floor next to a five gallon paint can connected to a low pressure sprayer. She started compressor and picked up the five gallon can and spray gun to carry it over to the car. Then she began to coat the car with a fine mist of catalyst that immediately changed the color of the paint from a dark grey to a vibrant blue. Within minutes the car had been transformed from the dark hue preferred by Americans to one the richer colors loved by Canadians. When she was finished, Lori hauled the can of catalyst back to it's original place and turned off the compressor. She picked up the electric screwdriver and the Canadian license plates from the floor by the compressor and went to the rear of the car. A few minutes o