I shouldn’t be doing this, thought Colonel Garin, as he walked the grim streets of New York.
As Homeland Security’s top troubleshooter, with extensive connections to the army and its special forces programs, there were a thousand other pressing things that demanded his highly-paid attention.
After all, America was still reeling from the aftermath of the plague delivered by China’s canister conspiracists. The worst of it was now over, the noxious spread of the plague on US soil halted, but the American death toll was in the unknown millions. Just about everyone knew of someone who had died. The country was one race, color and creed united under fear.
America’s cities and suburbs had become war zones, its suspicious, scared residents becoming paranoid and hostile after rumours that those taken to “quarantine zones” were never making it out alive. Thus once-compliant keyboard warriors and soccer moms were fighting the police tooth and nail in the streets. Molotov cocktails crashed against plastic shields. Riots that made Watts and LA look like bonfire parties were breaking out in all the major cities. Many areas had become or remained W.R.O.L – Without Rule Of Law.
If truth was the first casualty of conflict, then innocent civilians were the second, with law enforcement officials coming a close third.
Many police officers died.
Looters roamed the streets. Snipers were exercising their Second Amendment rights by shooting down news helicopters.
Up was down. Black was white. One and one made three.
The only disaster missing was a Sharknado.
“It’s chaos out there,” Garin said aloud, causing nervous citizens on the streets of once-fair Gotham to avoid him.
The authorities were doing the best that they could, but the United States hadn’t experienced this level of disruption and paranoia since the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, which killed more than 3 per cent of the world.
The main difference now in the current age of entitlement was that, half the country was heavily armed and had access to the still-functioning internet, listening to every crank and tin-foil hatter claiming that the government had released the plague on purpose. Some citizens had even refused to take the cure, holding up siege-style in their houses, thoughtfully infecting all their loved ones in the process.
Many called for war against China for its part in the plague – sometime just had to take a major hit after the death toll in America. The only reason that the stealth bombers weren’t already fuelled and dropping the Mother Of All Bombs on Beijing was because China had suffered just like America, and the canister conspiracists had been rogue agents rather than state-sanctioned operatives.
So, in fact, the only folks happy with the situation – apart from the one per cent of the population who were psychopaths, who thought all their Christmases had come at once and were busy bringing their darkest fantasies to life – were the doomsday preppers eating tinned meat and hoarding toilet paper in their bunkers. They could finally point one Nomex-gloved finger at the liberal media and say “I told you so”, their paranoid choice of lifestyle vindicated at last.
The country had had, to use the Chinese phrase, to chi ku: to eat bitterness. And after pampered years as the world’s lone superpower, the United States neither had the taste or the stomach for much bitterness.
Then there was the rest of the world. The world had changed. And not for the better.
The global economy was in the crapper: to quote Garin’s son Robbie, the craven investment banker and economic hit man, fruit of his loins if not his soul, “Wall Street can’t make any money in this environment!”
“Damn punk kid,” Garin muttered.
China was holding Japan’s ships vessels hostage for “reparation for World War II crimes”, while ramming Vietnamese vessels in the South China Sea. It was also taking advantage of the world’s distracted state to build what was being called “The Great Wall Of Sand” in the South China Sea, claiming as much territory as it could despite the objections of its neighbors. If the world had had any lingering doubts about how China posed an existential threat to the current global order, such doubts had now vanished.
Meanwhile, Japan was making ominous noises about rewriting its post-World War II constitution so it could re-arm itself. It had rushed through bills allowing its soldiers to fight overseas for the first time since 1945. Japanese and Chinese fighter jets were flying so close to each other in the South China Sea they were colliding mid-air.
North Korea sensed weakness and was launching probing attacks on its border with South Korea.
Africa was divided along tribal, religious and economic lines.
The Germans ran Europe again.
The Middle East was its usual mess.
Taiwan remained occupied by the People’s Liberation Army. Hong Kong? Well, everyone knew what had happened there.
Meanwhile, the UN was left holding its various multinational dicks in its hands.
Among its allies, America’s impotence in allowing the tragedy to happen was noted, its status as the world’s sheriff in question.
More and more people were saying the world had gone from a unipolar world dominated by Uncle Sam to an unstable bipolar world where it had to share power with China: a development viewed with suspicion and fear by many.
In the face of all this, Washington was paralysed with indecision, partisanship and horror. Barbed wire was everywhere in the homeland, like some Martian weed, as if to suggest that the country was undergoing some horrible transformation.
In short, it was a darker world. A darker America.
Garin watched as a homeless man screamed incoherently to himself on a street corner, trying to ward off some invisible evil.
“I know how you feel, pal,” Garin thought.
He was reminded of a quote from his more religious days: “Outside the church there is no salvation.” But Garin was not about to get down on his knees and start reciting the 23rd Psalm. He wouldn’t cry or scream or pray to the Lord, the Sky Father or even Oprah. That was not his way. That was the not the special forces way.
And as they liked to say in special forces: the only easy day was yesterday.