Chapter 14: Quiet on the home front
I don’t know what Flint, Michigan was like back in its heyday, if in fact it had a heyday once. But I took one look at it and was convinced I’d be safer back in Port Moresby.
PR’s people met us at the Hoverport, which like the one at Dalhart was a couple of derelict warehouses on the outskirts of an abandoned town that had been converted into hangars. Which just went to show how organised the underground smuggling and transport network was. If you wanted to get anywhere or move anything within the martial law states and you didn’t want the military in on it, you went by hovercraft.
My wounds were light enough that Tachi hadn’t had any real trouble stabilising me. A quick application of spray-skin and a tightly wrapped bandage kept me from bleeding out. But I had still lost a lot of blood. Fortunately the Bag-o-Doctor also contained some plasma pills. I remembered when those things were first introduced half-way through the Austral-Indo war. You know you’re living in the future when the stop-gap measure for massive blood loss is to pop two pills and wait for them to stimulate your bones into producing a rapid increase in fresh blood (that and keep drinking your orange juice kid).
In the meantime I was still feeling very woozy. A visit to a real doctor was still in the cards.
PR’s personal Humvee was a little something else. It would have looked less out of place in an RnB music video or as the ride of an African despot. This thing had been stretched out to include a pimped-out shag-upholstered interior and the exterior was all metallic stars and stripes with the presidential seal on the hood.
The roads here were worse than Port Moresby. Maintenance had obviously ended with civilian justice in this state. The highest burned-out vehicle per square mile ratio (some of which were still on fire) wasn’t doing them any favours either. But on top of both of those was the amount of debris on the road. Not just old newspapers and tin cans, but fucking house-bricks in some places. We saw more than one shanty-town made of corrugated steel and cardboard built amongst the ruins of what had been shop-fronts and office buildings, back when they had all four walls and a complete roof over the top.
And then there was…
“Oh my God.” Kitty said. “That child is defecating on the side of the street, ohmygodthat’sdisgustingwhereareherparentsI’mgoing tothrowup.”
Yeah. There was that. That happened.
[Why is that child doing that?] Atom asked. [Why does it upset Kitty so much?]
[Probably because she’s going in the gutter on the side of a busy street.]
Atom thought about this for a second. [That sounds sensible enough, it should get washed away next time it rains. Why does she object to it?]
[Probably because two states ago we were walking the halls of a top-flight medical clinic and within the same country we have a little girl who doesn’t even have access to a working toilet.]
We encountered an armed patrol on our way. They may have painted the Humvees blue and slapped the word ‘POLICE’ on the side, but the armed soldiers in fully-enclosed armour weren’t fooling anyone.
As one every visored face turned to glare at PR’s motorcade. Whichever force this was hadn’t learned that when you’re conducting peacekeeping ops friendly faces and a human appearance are more important than air conditioned comfort and gas protection. The gunner on the remote turret up top swung the heavy barrels of a pair of .50-cal machine guns in our direction. PR gestured to one of his Deadmen, a cyborg with a grotesque skull mask for a face. Skullface opened up a panel in the back revealing an M72 light rocket launcher.
But nothing happened. PR’s motorcade sat tight and the patrol rolled past. PR glanced at Skullface and the rocket launcher was stowed away again.
I looked at PR. “What the fuck are they up against that your cops need all that gear?
“Me.” PR smirked. “Me and the other slum lords. And they ain’t cops, they US Army. Under all that armour they’re still flesh. That’s why they didn’t go rock ‘n roll on us. They know better.”
“Really?” I asked. “Because those twin .50’s looked ready to go.”
“Oh they’d rip us a new asshole. No doubt.” PR said. “But then the whole street would know it was on. Word travels fast when you’re unemployed and your kids got no school to be at. Soon everyone with a gun and a grudge against The Man would be popping off shots at them and running away. They’ve got the weapons, but they don’t got a bullet for every man, woman and child in the ‘hood.”
“That.” PR went on. “And the army boys and girls have wised up. They know that whenever they tangle with the ghetto, it always gains something. Guns, ammo, food, these Humvees, even my Deadmen, all that shit gets picked up by some kid or somebody with a tow-truck and sold onto someone who can use it. The Army knows that now, so they try and keep their action to a minimum, lest we be strutting around with their gear next time they see us.”
That was interesting, obviously the policy of ‘denying the enemy’ by burning everything down with thermate wasn’t working that well out here.
Tachi looked over from where he’d been sitting. “But the PMC’s are another matter?”
The smile retreated from PR’s face. “Yeah. They are.”
That was something else I hadn’t heard of. South-East Asia is my normal theatre of operations, so I’d managed to miss what was going on in this hemisphere.
Still, a counter-revolutionary war against their own citizens, prosecuted by private military forces with no independent oversight did not sound like it was going to end well and sure as shit didn’t sound like it was going to end soon.
“Dust?” Tachi nudged me. “Are you okay?”
I realised I’d closed my eyes for a few seconds without meaning to. I snapped my eyes open and took a breath. “Yeah I’m fine.”
PR looked out the window, but didn’t seem to be focusing on anything. “The PMC’s move around by helicopter. They drop their teams right on top of their objective and just start shooting anything that moves. They mostly go after the other ‘Slum Lords’, that’s what they call people like me. People who are just trying to pull Flint up by its bootstraps.
The distant sound of an AK emptying its magazine at something interrupted him.
“Course, the authorities ain’t the only problems out here.”
“At least they’re still conducting proper patrols.” I said. “Good to see the US Army hasn’t completely forgotten its field craft.”
PR shook his head. “That weren’t no patrol. Only unmanned drones patrol these streets. They’re either bomb disposal or there’s someone they want a word with.”
“How’d it get this bad?” Kitty asked.
“Everyone’s got their theories. Right-wingers say the Daniels Administration was too soft on crime. Lefties point the finger at the dismantling of state welfare. Me? I say we were on this track when we first went libertarian. Things keep going this way and we’ll see a lot more of this all across the country.”
I didn’t know enough about the political situation around here to comment on that. But my mind flashed me an image on the back of my eyelids of the fortified border around Oregon. It felt good to close my eyes, so I decided to keep them that way.
“I’m almost afraid to ask.” Tachi began, “But exactly how bad is it out here compared to other states?”
PR though about it for a second. “You got Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee and Mississippi. They all declared martial law over the past four years. And things have only gotten worse since. There’s no civilian government, no cops, no schools, no postal service, hospitals you can only visit if the army has a cot free and nobody doing anything about keeping the streets clean or…”
Man it felt good to have my eyes closed.
Want to read the whole thing now? Buy it here