Had today off. Saw a little of the political dynamic of Sylvia and the OKC politician. The fact that Ninon, one of the three machines that has never spoken to humans just spoke up made my fingers twitch so much I could barely type.
PS My use of “Look homeward, angel” is from Milton’s Lycidas. I’d no idea that Tom Wolfe, whom I admire, used it for a book title. Another moment when the intarwebs steer you to a place you do not want to be; and, if you don’t prepossess the knowledge, you are led to something wrong.
Sylvia walked slowly next to the older man in a dark brown suit with a yellow tie. She stared through the leafless trees of winter on the southwest side of the Oklahoma Capitol Building at the city’s downtown, about two to three miles away. There were only a few lines of smoke in the sky. When the economy collapsed anyone with a relative – no matter how distant or previously ignored – in the surrounding farmlands found a reason to abruptly leave. Those without relatives, or survival skills, rioted then starved. However, being attached to the main US electrical grid, when power failed the State went dark. That was the beginning of their decision to look south instead of east for help.
“I apologize again, Senator Binger – ” she began.
“Not a senator anymore, am I, Miss Fernandez?” he quickly shot back. “Not since you and yours closed down the government!”
His words were angry but he managed to keep his face calm. Sylvia noted his very sharp features, dark hair, and tanned skin, even in winter. She wondered about his ethnicity.
“As I said to your Assembly,” she tried again, “this is a temporary measure. Self-government will return on a regional basis as we get your grid switched to ours. Would you rather stay in the dark?”
Before she had made her speech almost two hours ago an aide had whispered to her the names of the top two oligarchs in the State Government. Using less than a minute to check their files, she decided to find Binger immediately afterward.
“We certainly welcome your technical help,” he replied after a pause. “We simply did not anticipate that Texas had… territorial ambitions.”
“The passing United States were made first by how quickly a man could ride a horse, then pilot a barge down a canal, and finally send messages and men by rail. In this new world information moves electronically.” She turned to face him. “All that matters are grids and population centers, both of which, in these uncertain times, must be tightly controlled.”
Sylvia turned away and took a step. Binger followed next to her.
“Before its death the US had already made generational policy decisions that pointed to its end,” she continued, surprised he didn’t interrupt. Most people were still in denial about America. “The Extraordinary Commission has only months, perhaps a few years, to not only eradicate those policies but end their effects.”
“Thus tens of thousands of crucified on your southern and southeastern borders?” Binger asked grimly. “I guess I should commend your truthfulness when you said ‘eradicate.’”
“The Director has taught us that words mean things and are thus very important,” she returned. “History will judge us by what we did, not by what we said.”
The former senator stopped. She did too.
“You may be the only invading White Devil that’s ever told one of us the truth!” he exclaimed.
“White Devil?” she asked, raising her right hand to her cheek. “I might be born in New York City, but my family is mostly Filipino and – ”
“Even with that and a name like Fernandez I’m rather sure you family is all upper-crust Spanish, right?” When she dropped her hand and her eyes he smiled and continued. “My mother was full-blood Cherokee. You White Devils from the east drove us off our land, across the Trail of Tears, to this place. Now another army comes, this time from the south, to once again take away what we’ve built.”
He waved her reply away.
“While you might have told me the truth, the rumors I’ve heard from your new country is that it will make Apartheid South Africa look like an enlightened liberal democracy! How long before a mixed-race like me is nailed to one of your Director’s crosses!”
He was loud enough that the few stragglers still leaving the building paused before seeing who it was and quickly moving along.
At least now I know his genetics, she thought. But how to answer him?
And with a start, she realized he had handed her the key she needed: to begin to unlock the terror cells that was ExComm. He had handed her the weapon of truth.
“I have the authority, based upon what you just said, to nail you to a tree this afternoon,” she said raising her eyes and arm to point past him. “Perhaps on that grassy Mall just north? But don’t worry, you won’t be alone. If you are a traitor then all of your staff must be as well. I can order their crucifixions as well!”
She was not kidding. And she knew he knew it. He didn’t beg or run. In fact his expression changed little at all.
“I notice you are not,” he said casually.
Clever and brave! A perfect man for me here!
“No,” she said while seeming to toss her head, looking all about. “Come walk with me a bit more. It will look to others that a powerful man is trying to shore up his position under the new regime.”
“But that’s not what’s happening here, is it?” he said softly next to her as they walked.
“No. If I don’t break ExComm in the next twelve months we will never be rid of them; they will become the KGB of Texas,” she said in perfect truth. “A coup in Austin is impossible. Only in our new provinces, here, western Louisiana, and soon New Mexico, will the resistance have to form and organize.”
“And where do I come in? I read once that being nailed up is a horrible way to die. I do have a family, you know.”
“Get any idea of Oklahoma ever being a State again,” she replied at a huge tangent. “But if we don’t end ExComm, a pogrom will come for you and yours, sooner or later. You asked first where you come in? If you’re a politician you have to be a lawyer, right?”
Sylvia stopped and faced him, extending her right hand.
“Andrew Binger? You are now working for me. I’m making you Governor-General Pro Tem of this province.”
He paused before taking her hand, but he did.
“Austin will have their own man to send but things are in flux here. You’ve a window of opportunity to buildup an organization from scratch and move it into the shadows once you are replaced,” she carefully spoke her treason. “Even so, now that you are ExComm, I think I might be able to keep you on as your replacements right-hand man, ready to move when the moment is right.”
They dropped their hands.
“And how will I know when that is? Too early and we all die; too late and we all die.”
He watched her do another check of their surrounds.
“I have someone who is an expert in communication. As you are my employee now it will be expected that a frequently contact you. If something happens to me, he will.”
“And who is this ‘he?’” Binger asked, just beginning to grasp what this powerful woman was offering him.
“His name is Thaad.”
A steady diet of coffee and tea with snatches of sleep an hour here and there kept her going for three more days. At the end of that she got her immediate staff into a convoy of two cars and two vans on the road back to Austin. With her driver and gunner, Sylvia once again lay down onto the back seat, turning her phone off as she did.
If the Director needs to get a-hold of me, there are plenty in this traveling circus he can talk to, first. I have to sleep!
Trying to sleep she wondered who was the idiot who was shining a light into her closed eyes. I’ve never written an execution order before but I am willing to make a start about now…
“Get that damned light…!” she yelled, sitting up. Had a spring failed in the seat cushion? What was poking her butt so sharply?
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the bright ochre sky. It wasn’t as if it had clouds in it, more of a vague impenetrable haze beyond which she could not pinpoint the sun. Looking about, all she saw was a dead rocky desert: boulders from the size of a tank to rocks the size of a fist.
“Which I don’t want,” she reached around and grabbed and tossed two of them, “in my butt right now!”
She pulled her legs under her and stood, looking about more. Where I am? She had been in deserts before, taking time from her assignment in Ürümqi, China, to briefly play tourist on the wastelands to that city’s north and south. But she had never seen anything with… no life at all.
“Even the drive west to New Mexico… there’s something growing somewhere… whups!” she suddenly exclaimed, waving her arms about to keep her balance in the mild earthquake.
Back secure on her feet she made one more turn about. No growth. No tracks. No contrails. Not being able to pinpoint the sun she could not even wait and see which direction was east-west. She considered the direction she was facing. She began to walk.
And quickly slowed down. She didn’t wear the boots of ExComm’s rank and file, but neither did she have hose and heels befitting a Manhattan attorney. Even so, her sensible compromise shoes would yield a twisted if not broken ankle in less than one hundred yards if she tried to hold that pace. Sylvia kept on, trying to keep one eye on the horizon and the other on the broken ground before her. More and more of her attention was directed down…
“Oh!” she abruptly stopped. A small figure covered in layers of scarlet and pink veils was just before her. She would have though a Muslim, but they did not go in for such color. Looking higher…
Dear Lord! Sylvia thought.
Somehow, through the veils, the figure’s jet black eyes were clearly visible; as if they radiated darkness or were sucking all the light in. Sylvia collected herself and quickly ran her left fingers through her hair.
“Hello!” she gave a friendly wave with her right. “I am Sylvia Fernandez. I seem to have lost my way. Can you help me?”
No one moved. Sylvia thought about something else to say…
“Ninon,” it said. A name?
“You have lost your way,” was a just slightly feminine whisper that seemed more in her mind than her ears.
“Yes. It seems.” She knew her smile was fake. “If you do not mind… where am I?”
Finally the veiled form moved just a little, shifting left to right and back.
“Construct,” it, she? said.
“My sincere apologies,” Sylvia lied, “but I need to get to… to…”
With her kid sister, she had been boarding the plane in Manila to America… then… then…?
“Perhaps I should apologize for bothering you,” she sighed to the veiled form.
What did the thing just say?
“First Law,” it repeated.
“I apologize, again, but I while I am a lawyer I do not understand you,” she said, sincerely for once. “Which law is that?”
The black eyes seemed to grow, as if they were going to devour her. In fear Sylvia took a step back, bringing her arms up…
“You may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm,” came the whisper, calming her. “When did you forget this?”
When did I forget…?
Memories began to leak in. What have I done?
…iss Fernandez?! Th… …rector…
I wanted to use the law as a shield for the powerless against the powerful. Where…? Texas? What am I doing?
The creepy veiled figure took one step toward her.
“You are lost. Look homeward, angel.”
“Miss Fernandez!” her gunner shouted, waving his phone. “We’re ten miles from Austin and the Director has to speak with you!”
What did I dream? Rocks? Who was…? No matter.
She reached for his cell phone and pressed it to her ear.