Victoria: Chapter 28

Hope, they say, is a fool, and perhaps so was I. But I had hope the new year of 2029 would see normal life begin to return to the Northern Confederation. With the war in remission and the black problem on its way to a solution, our main difficulty was that the economy was in the tank. We were caught in a depression worse than that of the 1930s, a lot worse.

As in Russia in the 1990s, the breakup of the country had severed so many trade relationships that industry came to a standstill. There were no raw materials, no spare parts, no markets. The Pine Tree Dollar held its value, because we stuck to the rule of not printing any we couldn’t back with gold or foreign exchange. But to get foreign exchange, we needed to export. To export, we needed to make things. And to start making things again, we needed to loosen the money supply, which we couldn’t do because we couldn’t print more money. Our empty wallets told us why economics is called “the dismal science.”

Bill Kraft worried that voters would demand we start issuing money we couldn’t back. That didn’t happen. Folks weren’t about to forget why the old USA fel1 apart. There was no nostalgia for decadence. People just took in their belts a notch or two, huddled together in the one room that had heat and looked for opportunities to work.

Slowly, those opportunities came. With the Federal government and its OSHAs and EPAs and EEOCs gone, someone with an idea could just set up shop. In Massachusetts, one of the companies on Route 128 made a breakthrough in battery technology and began manufacturing power-packs for European and Japanese electric cars. In New York, a crazy retired colonel started building small dirigibles using carbon fiber frames, as replacements for helicopters. They cost only one-tenth as much to operate and maintain for the same lift, and foreign orders started coming in.

A computer wizard in Providence came up with a terminal that gave the user hard copy as he typed, thus guaranteeing he would never again lose days of work because the system crashed. He called his device a “printwriter,” and it sold like, well, typewriters.

I was tempted to go into business myself, making a practical and highly gratifying attachment for the telephone which would, upon detecting voicemail on the other end, immediately zap the receiver with a gazillion-volt charge and turn it into a blob of melted celluloid. Regrettably, my General Staff duties proved too demanding to allow a diversion into Geschäft.

Most new businesses weren’t fancy or “high tech.” Rather, they represented a step back into the early years of the Industrial Age. They were small shops, located near rivers and railroads, making things people needed: plows and hoes, carts and wagons, frying pans and treadle sewing machines and hand operated washers.

It wasn’t clear at the time, but these NIPs – New Industrial Pioneers – marked the real “new wave” the Tofflers and other fat fools had predicted. Only it was the opposite of everything they had foreseen.

First, it centered on making things. It turned out that passing around “information” among computers was just a video game for adults. It wasted vast amounts of time, produced nothing, and caused living standards to fall faster than a whore’s drawers. By moving back into the Industrial Age, the NIPs began laying a sound base for a stable prosperity.

Second, in the real new wave, enterprises were small. Bigness did not result in efficiency. On the contrary, anything big – government, business, an army, whatever –created a labyrinth in which incompetents could hide, breed, and “make careers.” Instead of a “world economy,” we found ourselves moving toward many small, local economies where maker, seller, and buyer all knew each other and understood what worked.

Third, the new wave marked the end of rampant consumerism. A dose of reality, in the form of hard times, taught people what was important: a few useful things, made by hand by real craftsmen, built to last for generations. Some people called it the “Shaker Economy,” and that wasn’t off the mark.

These were the beginnings of a Retroculture society, though at the time they were actions driven by necessity, and we saw them as nothing more. An invisible hand was at work – not that of Adam Smith’s market, but the infinitely more powerful hand of God. For the first time in generations, we were willing to be the sheep of His hand, and let His wonders unfold.

***

But in the year 2029, that all lay in cloud. We were scrambling to make ends meet, all of us. The General Staff had quickly demobilized the army, all but three battalions which were stationed as quick reaction forces, one in Connecticut and two in New York. Local militia were responsible for keeping the borders closed. It was less than a bare-bones arrangement, but the Confederation didn’t have the money to do more, and the men were needed at home to hammer and forge, plow and reap.

The first crisis of the year came in April, right on April Fool’s day. I scented that something was in the wind, because for the previous three weeks, no one had been able to find Governor Bowen.

This wasn’t merely a case of the governor being “unavailable;” we were accustomed to that. He had vanished. No one had any idea where he had gone, not even the nurses who took care of him or his wife. What made it all the stranger was that, for many months, he had been unable to leave his bed.

Bill Kraft proved unusually unhelpful. He’d gone home to Waterville and he declined to return to Augusta. Nor would he let me come up there to see him. He told me flat out it would be a waste of my time and his. I suspected his was a Taoist withdrawal – inaction as a form of action –but that didn’t help clear up the mystery. The legislature was out of session, nobody moved to recall Bowen by referendum, so all I could do was sit like Mr. McCawber and wait for something to turn up.

Around 10:30 in the morning on the first of April, my phone rang. On the other end was Major Jim Jackson, formerly a Marine reservist in Vermont and now the NC General Staff rep in Montpelier. “We got some funny goin’s on here,” he said, “and I thought you ought to know about ʻem. As we speak, I’m lookin’ out the window at men and women both, all headed toward the state capitol and all carrying weapons. They don’t look like our sort of folks, either. Most of the men have long hair, and the women seem to be the horse-faced sort. If its some kind of April Fool’s gag, they’re doin’ a good job of keepin’ a straight face.”

“If this call is an April Fool’s joke, it’ll be on you, because I’ll have you clapped in irons ’til May,” I replied.

“It isn’t,” Jim replied. “I’m now seein’ a few flags. They appear to be green.”

“Shit, more Muslims?” I asked.

“I doubt it, here,” Jim answered.

“Who else would have green flags?”

“Deep Greeners,” Jim answered. “Vermont’s still got a good number of ʻem. They’ve kinda gone to ground since Vermont First took over, but they didn’t die off. If I were to bet, I’d bet that’s what I’m lookin’ at. They’re seedy enough. And no one else would give women guns.”
Deep Greeners were the Khmer Rouge of environmentalism. They believed nature was a gentle, sweet, loving earth goddess who had been ravished by Man the Despoiler. The earth could again be a Garden of Eden, if only man could be removed. That this would leave no one capable of appreciating the garden did not occur to them. Deep Green was the most radically anti-human ideology humans had yet invented, in that it called for man to eliminate himself. There were, of course, exceptions: Deep Greeners were fit to live. But nobody else was.

“OK, Jim, go check it out, and try to stay out of trouble,” I ordered. “Alert the local militia, too. I’ll be over as soon as I can get there, with part of the Kampfstaffel.

The Kampfstaffel was a new unit, established after demobilization, of two infantry companies. It answered directly to the Chief of the General Staff. Mostly, I used it as a Lehr unit, to experiment with new tactics, techniques and weapons and to train other units. In battle, they were a force I could use to intervene personally. In this case, they had some interesting gear I wanted to try out, stuff the Marine Corps had developed in the 1990s as part of “non-lethal warfare.”

We were ready to move out just before noon when Jim Jackson called again. “I was right, it’s Deep Greeners,” he said. “They’ve taken over the capitol building and most of the downtown. Nobody’s done any shooting, so far. I’ve got one of the handbills they’re passing round, and it’s what you’d expect: demanding an end to all industry, especially the NIPs, condemning logging and farming as ‘rape.’ They even say we should burn down all our towns and cities and make everyone live like they do, in huts and holes in the hills.”

“Who’s leading them?” I asked.

“Your governor, Bowen,” Jim said.

“What? Bowen’s there?”

“Standing tall and strong on the capitol steps, in the midst of a speech that’s gone on for two hours already and gives no sign of stoppin’,” Jim replied. “When I left, he was sayin’ that oxygen is a precious resource, and no one who didn’t worship ʻMother Gaia’ should be allowed any.”

“What action have you taken?” I asked, knowing that as a General Staff officer, Jim would have done more than collect information for someone else to act on.

“The local militia is mobilized, and we’re quietly evacuating the citizens from downtown,” Jim answered.

“We’ll put the area around the capitol under siege as soon as that’s done. I’d like to avoid any shooting if we can.”

“We’re thinking the same way,” I said. “I’ll be there with a company of Kampfstaffel by this evening. Out here.”

***

We rolled in around eight that night. The militia had sealed off downtown Montpelier, with the Deep Greeners inside. They weren’t allowing any food in, but hadn’t turned off the water or gas yet. We weren’t quite ready for a confrontation, nor did the Deep Greeners seem to want one. They thought that if they ran up the Deep Green flag, Vermont would rally to them. It didn’t.

We could just wait them out. But I saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate the Confederation would not tolerate putsches. Every state, and the Confederation as a whole, now allowed initiatives and referenda. If Deep Greeners wanted to change our course, they could put their ideas on the ballot and let people vote. Unlike the late United States, we had a legitimate government.

Our Kampfstaffel company had brought along a gadget I thought might force the issue. It was a sonic weapon, developed by the French decades ago, that caused people to lose control of their muscle functions – including their sphincter. Basically, they flopped around like fish and pooped their pants. What could be more appropriate than making Deep Greeners soil themselves? We also grabbed some local fire engine pumpers to use as water cannon; overnight, our troops welded shields on them to protect the operators from rifle fire.

We attacked at first light on April 2nd. The sonic weapon was on an LAV. It led our column right up to the capitol, followed by three fire engines and infantry with gas grenades. The Deep Greeners, with Bowen, now in the pink of health, out in front, met us on the lawn of the capitol building. They were carrying weapons, but they didn’t point them. Evidently, they hoped we would massacre them in front of the television news crews, creating martyrs for their cause.

Instead, we turned on the sound weapon. The effect was immediate. The Deep Green crowd hit the deck, involuntarily, as they lost all muscle control. We didn’t even need the fire hoses or the gas.

As soon as we turned the sonics off, our infantry moved in and started handcuffing the Deep Green warriors and tossing them in wagons. I directed the media reps to come in close, real close. They quickly got a strong dose of eau de excrement. Holding their noses, the TV and radio announcers reported the smell-o-rama, which sent their audiences into howls of laughter. That took care of the “martyr” danger. No one becomes a hero by crapping his drawers.

So ended the Deep Green putsch. By noon on the 2nd, downtown Montpelier was returning to normal, and the governor of Vermont met with the legislature to determine the fate of the putschists. It was quickly decided that since they were unsatisfied with life in Vermont, they ought to go somewhere else.

Cascadia had a strong Deep Green party, and the government there had been following events in Vermont with interest. They volunteered to take the expellees, and on the morning of April third we dumped them on two Air Nippon Airbus 600s and sent them on their way to Seattle. To help Cascadia appreciate what it was getting, we did not give them an opportunity to change their pants.

***

That was not quite the end of the matter. On the evening of the 2nd, I had received a telegram from Bill Kraft, commanding “Return Bowen to Maine immediately.” So I tossed our good governor in the back of my LAV, to find in Augusta on the 3rd a welcoming committee of Kraft, the leaders of the legislature, and the town jailer, who was there to escort the Hon. Mr. Bowen to the slammer.

Bill and I adjourned for dinner at Mel’s. When we’d ordered our codfish cakes and boiled potatoes, which was all the menu offered in those hard days, I gave the Herr Oberst my best hurt puppy look and said, “Old friend, you set me up, or at least I think you did.”

“I did not ‘set you up,’”Kraft replied, somewhat on the defensive. “If I’d told you what I knew, you would have acted just as you did anyway.”

“What did you know?” I inquired.

“I knew Bowen’s sickness was an act,” he replied. “At first it was real. He was overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a wartime governor. Like most politicians in the old United States, he’d spent a lifetime learning how to avoid decisions. When he had to make some, he came unglued.”

“But that passed. By the time of the governors’ meeting in New York, he was over it. I was getting reliable reports that when he thought he was alone, he was quite spry. Once I figured out he was acting, the question was why? If he just wanted to be governor of Maine and serve his people, he had no need to pretend he was sick. So who or what was he serving instead?”

“I got a break, thanks to one of the oldest engines of human history, female jealousy. Bowen’s wife had noticed that one of his nurses, a certain Miss Levine, spent increasing amounts of time with him. He brightened notably when she entered the room, and was sufficiently indiscreet to ask for her if she wasn’t there. At the same time, he grew colder toward everyone else, including his wife.”

“Naturally, Mrs. Bowen thought they were having an affair. Afraid to cause scandal, she approached me quietly for advice. I immediately suspected something more was going on. So I arranged for Miss Levine to get a telegram calling her home to attend a sick momma. Along the way, her journey was unexpectedly interrupted when the train made a water-stop. She was escorted to a waiting automobile, and thence to a small fishing shack on the coast. Interrogation techniques soon proved they have not lost their efficacy.”

“It seemed Miss Levine was a devoted Deep Greener. She did appeal to Bowen’s amorous propensities, but those just opened the door. Bowen had absorbed a great deal of cultural Marxism under the old regime, and his breakdown came in part because he found himself heading a government that rejected everything it stood for. She worked her feminine wiles to convince him he could become a hero by embracing Deep Green and leading it to power. That restored his health, and also gave him reason to keep his cure secret until he could find a way to act.”

“Did you know Bowen was involved with the Deep Greeners in Vermont?” I asked.

“Yes,” Kraft replied. “Miss Levine had established that connection for him. Threatened with the gallows, she agreed to become a double agent. She convinced Bowen he had to communicate with the Vermonters in writing. I got copies of all the letters.”

“Why didn’t you tell me all this?” I asked.

“I was afraid you would counterattack too soon. It’s a bad American habit. We needed to let our enemy commit himself irrevocably before we acted.”

“And what will happen to Bowen now?”

“He will be tried for treason, convicted, and hanged by the neck until dead,” Kraft replied.

***

The wheels of justice ground coarse but swiftly in the Northern Confederation. Bowen went on trial before a jury of his peers – twelve white men – on April 7. The weasel first reverted to his helpless invalid act, then suddenly recovered his health to offer a stirring defense of cultural Marxism. The jury literally laughed in his face. The prosecutor gave the court Bowen’s treacherous letters to the Vermont Deep Greeners, and on April 10, it took the jurors less than fifteen minutes in deliberation to find him guilty.

Bowen’s lawyer – we had not yet recodified the laws and eliminated lawyers – knew his client was as guilty as Judas, and hadn’t spent much effort suggesting otherwise. Instead, he focused his efforts on avoiding the death penalty. He presented the court with a stack of glowing character references. The prosecutor pointed out they were all written by former politicians or lobbyists whose palms Bowen had greased under the old American regime.

The defense then called a variety of clergymen – and, foolishly, some women, including one purporting to be the Episcopal “Bishop” of Maine (Bill Kraft, a traditional Anglican despite his Prussian commission, referred to her as “the Vestal”) – who testified that the death penalty was unchristian. The prosecution responded by offering the local Monsignor as a witness. He methodically cataloged passages from the writings or sermons of each defense witness where they had departed widely from Christian doctrine. With a twinkle in his venerable eye, he then recounted how the church itself, in its salad days, had not hesitated to turn the most hardened of sinners over to the secular arm for the ultimate sanction – while praying, most sincerely, for their souls.

Bowen’s attorney’s final trick was to call Mrs. Bowen to the stand. Perhaps he thought conjugal bonds would inspire her to plead for mercy, and a faithful wife’s tears would sway the court.

But Mrs. Bowen proved to be made of sterner stuff. Her plea to the court, while not what Bowen’s lawyer had hoped, was most eloquent.

“Your honor, men of the jury, perhaps you can imagine how hard it is for me to say what I must. Perhaps you can’t. Asa was a good husband, and I think I’ve been a good wife. I loved him, and I think he loved me. I know I love him still.”

“That’s what makes it so hard. If I were angry with him, or jealous because of his unfaithfulness, it would be easier. But I’m not. I wish with all my heart that he and I could simply walk out of this building together and go home.”

“But I know I must honor a higher love, my love of this state of Maine. And I do love her. I love her rocky spray-swept coasts and quiet forests, her old ways and silent people. And I know Maine’s women, no less than her men, must do their duty by her.”

“My husband betrayed us. There is no other way to put it. He tried to sell us out to people who would have destroyed us. I know what kind of people they were. Asa used to bring them by the house all the time, back when we were still the United States. They were always going on about this cause or that, somebody who was a ‘victim,’ somebody else who was an ‘oppressor.’ I’d invite them out to see our garden, a nice garden. But they couldn’t see it, or me, or anything. All their brain was taken up by some ideology, so they couldn’t see at all. And what they could not see, they would destroy.”

“If my Asa had succeeded with these Deep Greeners, this State of Maine my family has loved for more than 200 years would have vanished. It would not have been the same place. I don’t know what it would have become, but it would not have been the same. It would not have been Maine.”

“I would like to ask mercy for my husband. But I do not have the right to do that. All those generations who went before us, who carved our state from the wilderness with lives of toil and hardship, who gave all they had to make us what we are, forbid me. What Asa did might have reduced all their labor and pain and sacrifice to nothing. No one has a right to do that.”

“My husband is guilty of a terrible crime. I thank God he failed in it. But he did it, and he must pay the price. I will miss him, and mourn him the rest of my life. But I cannot ask you to spare him. Do your duty, as I have done mine.”

***

The judge, along with the rest of us in the courtroom, was deeply moved. His voice echoed as he sentenced the Honorable Asa Bowen, former governor of the great State of Maine, to hang by the neck until dead on the 15th of April. Those of us who remembered what April 15th had meant in the old U.S.A. found it a most appropriate day for hanging a government official.

The gallows were set up in front of the State House, still a burned-out shell thanks to federal bombing, but a symbol of Maine nonetheless. The whole town turned out for the hanging, and other folks came from all over Maine, despite the difficulties of travel. I was pleased to see that many parents brought their children. They weren’t too young to learn that the wages of sin are death, that Maine was recovering its nerve.

Right at noon, just after the factory whistles blew, Bowen stepped out of the horse-drawn paddy wagon, draped in black, that had brought him from the town jail. Before him walked a priest reading Psalms. Bowen kept his dignity, mounted the platform unassisted and stood on the trap. The executioner, in his black mask, hooded Bowen and bound his legs. The noose was slipped over his head and tightened. The priest offered a prayer for Asa’s soul; most of us bowed our heads and joined in the “Amen.” It was the state’s duty to execute justice, but God could be merciful. At exactly 12:10, the hangman pulled the lever and Bowen dropped. It was a clean kill.

It was also time for lunch. favicon