Victoria: Chapter 24

I scheduled a meeting with Governor Adams on the 19th to discuss the Confederates’ offer. I saw no reason to refuse it. So far, the war with the federal government had been going just as we planned it, at small cost to ourselves. When that happens, a General Staff officer should become wary. War never works that way for very long.

My phone rang at 7:19 on the morning of the 19th. The officer in charge of the governor’s security detail was on the other end. “John, I’ve got bad news,” he said, breathing heavily and obviously shaken up. “Governor Adams is dead. He was shot just six steps outside the Governor’s mansion, as he left to meet you down at Mel’s. It was obviously a professional job. He took one round in the head from a .50 caliber sniper rifle. We didn’t hear a report, so the weapon was either silenced or it was a long-range shot or both.”

I was stunned; John Adams was a competent leader and also a good friend. But I knew this was war, and stunned or not I had to think. “How do you know it was a .50?” I asked.

“Because there’s nothing left of his head,” the security officer, Lieutenant Bob Barker, replied.

Good reasoning, Sherlock, I thought. American Army special operators used a silenced .50 cal sniper rifle. The silencing wasn’t very effective, so the shot had to have been taken at long range. Good shooting at long range also suggested federal spec ops boys.

“OK, Bob, secure the site and get the governor’s remains in for a fast autopsy. We need to confirm that it was a .50 caliber round from a standard U.S. Army sniper rifle. I’ll take it from there.”

My job was to get the sniper team before it could leave town. I immediately sent out three messages. The first was to all local regular forces, ordering them to sweep the area, starting with long-range vantage points that overlooked the shooting site. The second was to mobilize the militia and get them searching. The third was to the Augusta radio stations – with electric power down because of the fuel situation, everybody carried a battery-powered transistor radio – announcing the governor’s assassination and requesting all citizens to search for and apprehend any suspicious parties.

As I expected, the old “hue and cry” brought the best results. When Mrs. Seamus McGillicuty heard her dogs making a racket out by the chicken coop, she got suspicious and called the militiaman three doors down. He phoned in a report, took his shotgun and covered the coop. We had troops on the scene in fifteen minutes, and they soon had in custody three very fit men in black jumpsuits with trademark Delta Force mustaches.

I ordered the prisoners taken to the town jail, then went over to meet them myself. I was 90% certain who they were, but I needed to be absolutely sure before accusing the federal government of war by assassination. The first rule of good propaganda is to make sure the facts are accurate.

A crowd surrounded the building – word always spreads fast in situations like this – and our men had difficulty getting the suspects into the jail in one piece. Governor Adams had been more than popular. He had been honored by a people grateful for a public official who had put his country ahead of himself. Under the old American republic, that type had almost disappeared.

I had the prisoners marched into the interrogation room. “Gentlemen,” I began, “I regret to say you have been caught out of uniform. Black jump suits may be your unofficial uniform, but I am afraid unofficial doesn’t count. Under the laws of war, I can have you taken out and shot right now. However, I am prepared to be lenient. If you will give me your names, ranks, and serial numbers, as the laws of war require you to, I will grant you POW status and treatment.” Names, ranks, and serial numbers were all I needed to confirm they were from the American military.

I got back nothing but distant, silent stares.

“Very well, we’ll do this the hard way,” I continued. “Until you are prisoners of war, you have no protections.” I pointed to the shortest member of the group. “Rack him.” I ordered.

A few months back, a grizzled old Yankee in worn but clean overalls had approached me down at Mel’s. He said he was too old to fight, but he wanted to do something for the cause. So he’d turned his skill as a cabinet-maker to creating a device he thought our military intelligence branch might someday find useful, namely, a rack. Would I accept it as his service to the Northern Confederation?

His patriotism touched my heart, and my head remembered a line from one of my favorite lieder, the auto-da-fe song from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide: “Get a seat in the back near the rack but away from the heat.” So I thanked our good cabinetmaker and asked if he could deliver his rack to the old town jail, one of those marvelous 19th century prisons with crenelated battlements and damp stone walls that hint of dungeons and people hanging by their thumbs.

We marched all three probable-Deltas down to the rack room. I’m not sure they believed we really had a rack until they saw it. When they did, they looked rather grim. “Perhaps you’ve heard of the Retroculture movement?” I inquired gently. “We find it has wide potential application.”

Our rack operators were members of the Society for Constructive Anachronism, who had never had anything more lively than department store manikins to experiment on. The prospect of real groans excited them to no end, so they were quick about getting Shorty strapped in. A few preliminary twirls of the capstans took the slack out, and the boys were grinning as we heard the first snap, crackle, and pop. “Shame he’s not a Chinaman,” quipped the Torturemaster. “We’d soon have Rice Crappies.”

To the disappointment of the torture team, it was over quickly, after the first few screams. The assassin on the rack didn’t give in. One of his friends did. “His name is Glenn C. Pickens, his rank is First Sergeant in the United States Army, and his serial number is 199-66-6703,” sang out the youngest looking soldier, who was turning rather green. This was just what I’d been counting on. It is easier to suffer yourself than to see a friend and comrade suffer.

“Thank you very much,” I answered. “Release him,” I ordered the rackateers, “Now, do we have to go through this again, or are you two willing to give what the law requires you to?” They were, and did.

By noon, we had the official announcement out: the federals were waging war by assassination, and we had the names, ranks, and serial numbers of their assassins to prove it. Our people’s anger over the assassination was channeled into supporting the war effort even more strongly. The American people were made more uneasy about their own government. In Tokyo, the Diet dissolved in a riot as the opposition demanded an end to the subsidies. Those results were my personal memorial to my friend, John C. Adams.

Our lieutenant governor, Asa Bowen, stepped into the governorship, and the governments of New Hampshire and Vermont agreed that he should continue to be unofficial head of the joint war effort. He did not have John Adams’ mind or voice, but few did. I hoped he could recognize good advice and make decisions.

As always in war, time was precious and pressing. I met with Governor Bowen the evening of the 19th, amidst preparations for his predecessor’s funeral, to discuss the Confederacy’s proposal for a joint advance on Harrisburg. I recommended we agree.

I explained to the governor that the federal government was disorganized by its move from Washington, more and more of its forces were being sucked into the guerrilla war in the trans-Mississippi, and the citizens of what remained of the United States were tiring of the war. We could almost certainly achieve an operational victory, cutting the U.S. off completely from the Atlantic seaboard. A strategic victory was possible, because the American government might not survive another major defeat.

Governor Bowen said he agreed, but he could not make a decision without the agreement of New Hampshire and Vermont. I hoped we didn’t have a leader who wanted “councils of war,” but I made allowance for the fact that he was new and seemed somewhat nervous. Had we made any plans with the Confederacy, he wondered?

We had. The Confederates would advance with one armored and two mechanized divisions up the valley of the Shenandoah, cross the Catoctin mountains, and, following Lee’s route through Gettysburg, move on Harrisburg from the south. I thought they would do better to follow I-81, which would allow the Catoctins to protect their flank much of the way, but they wanted to avenge the wrongs of history by having Lee win this time. Making allowances for cultural differences among allies – southern Cavaliers and Yankee Roundheads – I agreed.

In turn, we would play the chi force to their cheng, using our better operational mobility (their mech forces were tracked, most of ours were wheeled) to strike indirectly. We would concentrate in the westernmost counties of New York, then with all our LAV and motorized infantry units cut into Pennsylvania on I-90. From Erie, we would strike straight south at Pittsburgh via I-79. That would cut the federals’ east-west road and rail connections. Once Pittsburgh was liberated – we expected its white ethnic communities would welcome us – we could move east on Harrisburg on the old Pennsylvania Turnpike, go west toward Columbus, Ohio to stir up trouble there or just wait until we saw what the federals were going to do. In any case, we would make sure the feds faced a threat to all of Pennsylvania, not just one city, which would tend to fragment their response.

Governor Bowen nodded, saying only that he wanted to run the plan by a few other people before signing on. Another sign of indecisiveness, I thought; great. He probably meant Bill Kraft, who had been part of the team designing the operation, so that wasn’t a problem. The General Staff advisors to the other governors would pull them along. But we would lose time. How many days, I wondered?

By the 23rd, I still didn’t have a decision, and I knew Governor Bowen was not the right man to lead a war. That was the day the federal government formally departed Washington for Harrisburg. We wanted to strike while they were in transition to use the chaos of the move to our advantage. Our forces were in place between Buffalo and Chautauqua, and the Confederate Army wanted to roll. All I needed was a green light, but I couldn’t even get an appointment with Bowen. His secretary told me privately that he was in a state of nervous collapse and wouldn’t see anyone.

At 3 PM on the afternoon of the 23rd, Warner, the last president of the United States, gave a final speech on the White House lawn. After pledging to “fight the forces of racism and bigotry wherever they may appear,” he joined the vice president, senior cabinet members and the majority leaders from the House and Senate on the presidential helicopter for the flight to Harrisburg. The feds had organized a rousing welcome for him there, paying every bum, drunkard and whore for miles around to turn out and cheer.

Just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, a single engine light plane had been cruising in lazy loops over the Monocracy River, which marked the most direct route from Washington to Harrisburg. At 3:27 PM, its pilot spotted the HMX-1 V-22 following the river about 3000 feet below him, and dove on it. The crash turned both aircraft into a fireball that could be seen as far as Hagerstown.

The kamikaze pilot, Mr. Montgomery Blair of Clinton, Maryland, had sent an email to the Washington Post, marked to arrive at 4 PM. In it he wrote, “I have given my life that the Tyrant’s heel may finally be lifted from Maryland’s shore, and in revenge for the murder of the Northern Confederation’s brave leader, Governor John Adams of Maine. Sic Semper Tyrannus.” Leaderless resistance had struck again.

In Harrisburg, as soon as the news was known, General Wesley, Chairman of the federal JCS, appeared on a balcony above the crowd that had been gathered to welcome President Warner. After announcing the death of the president, the vice president, the speaker of the House, and most of the cabinet, he said, “The line of succession envisioned in the U.S. Constitution had been broken beyond repair,” which wasn’t true since there were still some cabinet members, but that didn’t matter. “I’m in charge here now,” he went on, “and the United States is under martial law. Civilian government is suspended for the duration of the war for the union. The duty of every citizen is to remain quiet.”

Ever since the presidency of Jimmy Carter, way back in the 1970s, the United States had made an international pest of itself by insisting that every other country conform to its notions of democratic government. Now, it was payback time.

In New York, at the U.N., the speakers were lined up at the rostrum to demand that all subsidies to the American government be cut off, since America was no longer a democracy. China led the charge in the Security Council, its ambassador unable to conceal his glee at the chance to hoist the canting Americans on their own petard. Tokyo had its own unpleasant memories of military rule, and made it clear its days as paymaster for Washington were over. The Tsar’s representative worked quietly behind the scenes to line up the votes. General Wesley’s request to speak to the U.N. was turned down. On the 25th, the Security Council voted to end all grants and aid to the United States, and the General Assembly passed its own resolution of agreement. The liberals’ and neo-cons’ chickens had finally come home to roost.

And that was the end of the United States of America. It’s epitaph was that of all states dependent on mercenary armies: pas d’argent, pas du Suisse. The remaining states, defying a martial law that had no soldiers to enforce it, declared their independence. General Wesley’s “government” was quietly interned at the Shady Acres home for the mentally indigent by the government of Pennsylvania.

It was over. We were free.

On the 28th, as I sat in my office enjoying a victory cigar and going over the plans for demobilization, Captain Vandenburg stuck his head in. “The Black Muslims are taking over Boston.”