by John DwaineMcKenna
It’s cold.Must be down in the twenties. A slightbreeze is blowing snow flurries in my face from the west, where Pikes Peak iswreathed in storm clouds from top to bottom. I’m dressed in jeans and combatboots, wearing the compulsory dishdasha and knitted skull cap under a downparka. I’m so intent on today’s activities and my part in them however, I don’teven notice the low temperature . . . in fact I’m sweating under my tee shirt.
I’m headingto the Main Mosque—the new name for the Pikes Peak Center now that we’veall converted to Islam. Where my grandfather and grandmother used to hear theColorado Springs Philharmonic play the great symphonies of the world, we now goto pray six times a day and be proselytized by whichever Ayatollah has beenassigned here. Every Sunday, after the noon prayers everyone walks over to whatused to be America the Beautiful Park andwatches the executions. They’ve tapered off lately, but three or four yearsago—when America first capitulated after sixty-four years offighting—there were dozens of beheadings on any given Sunday, plus theoccasional stoning of an unfaithful wife. And sometimes, we’re still entertainedby the lopping off of the right hand of known thieves. No more courts, judgesor lawyers now that we have Sharia Law. Just go see the Imam. Problem solved.
Today isspecial. The Grand Ayatollah Homenni IV will be speaking. He’s flown in to theSprings to celebrate the fifth anniversary of our defeat and the end ofdemocracy as we know it. The event will be covered by all the world media . . .and billed as “The Death of the Great Satan.” Colorado Springs was chosen asthe place to host the DOGS event because we had a large military and religiouscommunity, as well as a viable high-tech and university presence. Couple thosereasons with the fact that a number of the world’s biggest corporationsmaintain data centers here, which means we’ve got easy access to worldwidemedia outlets, and it makes the Springs a natural slam-dunk for today’s plannedevents. By showing the entire planet how completely they’ve taken over andoccupied one of America’s most respected and well-defended arsenals ofdemocracy, the Supreme Leader hopes to demonstrate the invincibility of hismilitary, and the justness of his cause, because Allah, All praises to Him,
Sweat dripsfrom my armpits and trickles down my sides as I approach the small northsidedoor where the performers and stagehands like me enter. I’m nervous becauseeverything has to go just right today. Everyone, from the Grand Ayatollah, andthe entire Supreme Council, and all the allied heads of state of his theocraticcoalition, on down to local leaders like the mayor and city council membersplus all of the Imams within a five-hundred mile radius will be in attendance .. . and all televised on every news network the world has to offer. News truckswith huge satellite dishes and tractor-trailers full of generators and controlrooms are parked nose-to-tail on both sides of Sawatch Street as far as I cansee. Thick black power cables run across the street like endless nests of giantanacondas, and the noise from all the portable generators is deafening as Icome up to the door with my hands in my pockets.
I’m early. There’sstill three and a-half hours before the ceremonies and speeches even begin;probably five hours before Ayatollah Homenni comes to the lectern. But even so,there’s already a heavy security presence. Elite Revolutionary Guards in theirblack uniforms are everywhere, and they’re all carrying the latest tenmillimeter machine pistols with thirty round magazines and laser sights.Marching or standing, they’re formidable, tough and professional looking infull combat gear. As I approach the door, I take my hands out of my pockets andput them on my head, just like we were instructed to do last week during thepractice drills the rest of the staff and I had to attend in preparation for Abig event of some kind . . . probably theworst kept secret in the history of the world. The rumors had it that the lastPresident of the United States and his closest advisors were going to bepublicly executed. Afterward—for the rest of the week—their wivesand children were going to be sold into slavery on the internet. Those notsold: too old, or too ill, or too ugly for example, would be spared and turnedout to beg in the streets. An act of mercy by Ayatollah Homenni.
When I waswithin fifteen feet of the door Tariq and another guard I didn’t recognize hadguns pointed at me. I could see two the red dots of their laser sights as theyilluminated my chest, emphasizing my mortality. I stopped.
Unknown guardsaid something in Farsi I couldn’t understand. Tariq, who was the regulardoor-guard whom I saw every day and who knows my face and name, answered in thesame tongue. Then he lowered his weapon and said, “I told him that you’re theaudio-visual guy. And that I know you . . . you work here. Take your hands downand open your coat, hold it open and walk forward. Do it slow. My partner wantsto shoot.”
I did as hesaid, stopped at arms-length of them. Tariq watched as the new guard frisked metwice, then said, “You can put your arms down now. It’s Okay.”
New Guard, asI called him in my mind, seemed to outrank Tariq. I thought maybe he was partof the Ayatollah’s personal Revolutionary Guards Unit. His equipment was allthe newest and best stuff, and judging by the taper of his neck and shoulders,he’d logged several thousand hours of time on the weight-pile in a gymsomewhere. Never taking his eyes off of me—or his finger off of thetrigger—he barked a long string of Farsi at Tariq and made an up and downmotion with his gun barrel. Tariq come to attention, saluted and looked at me.He put the muzzle of his AK-47 to my chest and said, “Don’t make any suddenmovements. Put your hands back on your head, turn around and face the wall.”
Before Icould comply, new guard said something that sounded like a command, and Tariqsaid, “Stop. Freeze.”
Fear tookover. What felt like the mac-daddy of all wolf spiders scurried down my spineand took up residence behind my scrotum. I hoped my shaking knees and nervousbladder wouldn’t quit me; thought, They’re gonna kill me . . .
I was facingaway from the door, hands on my head again and scared out of my mind. I couldsee the red dot on New Guard’s laser sight winking at me as he aimed at myface. I couldn’t keep from shaking, looked one last time for Pikes Peak, butall I could see were storm clouds. I closed my eyes . . .
Tariq said,“Where’s your ID? The badge you were issued for today?”
“Under myshirt on a string around my neck.”
More back andforth yapping . . . question and answer . . . statement and reply, in Farsi.Then Tariq said, “Pull it out with your left hand. Do it slow.”
I did as hesaid, slowly pulling the orange badge with my photo and a bunch of Persianwriting I couldn’t read if I tried, and held it with two fingers. New Guard’seyes got big. He lowered his weapon, rattled off a long string of words at thepair of us.
“He’s reallyimpressed,” Tariq said as he lowered his rifle and let it hang on the sling,“that’s an all-access, all-areas ID badge. There’s only a handful of them . . .and it’s a higher security clearance then either of us has. Why didn’t you haveit out? Could have saved all the drama.”
“I was afraidsomebody would try to take it away. Beat me up, or maybe even kill me and stealit. Can I take my hands down? Arms are getting tired.” Tariq nodded and I letmy arms drop to my sides. I rolled my shoulders to get the blood going, said,“I’m gonna reach in my pocket for my cigarettes.” I pulled them out and offeredhim one. Tariq grabbed several, handed one to New Guard and we all got ready tolight up. I had to strike several matches because my hands shook so much fromall the adrenalin rushing through my veins. I watched Tariq pocket severalextra smokes and fire himself and New Guard with a silver Zippo lighter thatmust’ve been at least a hundred years old. I took a big drag and sucked itdown, said, “I gotta go. I gotta lotta stuff to do and stuff to check beforethe speeches start. Wouldn’t be good with all the VIPs and the Grand Ayatollahhere to have a glitch while the whole earth watches . . .”
The twoPersians went back and forth in their guttural language for a bit; then NewGuard keyed his shoulder mic and barked into it. Static and rapid-Farsi cameback. He came up to me, looking down with his dark, indifferent eyes andreached for my badge. He read off my name and ID number, then stepped back,never taking his gaze away. I shivered, He’d just as soon murder me as lookat me . . got the eyes of a stone-hard killer.
Another burstof static from his microphone, followed by some grunts and hisses and whatsounded like, “Okay,” to me. New Guard said something at Tariq and jerked hishead at the steel entry door. Tariq came to attention, clicked his heels andsaluted. He put both hands on his gun and used it to point at the door. “Youmay enter,” were his only words.
I felt himfall in behind me as I approached the ordinary-looking gray steel door. Tariqstopped me with a poke in the back via gun barrel and said, “Halt!” in a loudvoice. I froze. He stepped around me, rapped on the door and spoke to someoneinside. I heard bolts being thrown back, a key inserted, then the door openedand there stood a second Revolutionary Guardsman who looked to be an identicaltwin of New Guard, and just as fierce.
“This isWalid,” Tariq said, once we were inside with the door closed. “He’s okay. Notlike that asshole Rahim, outside.”
Walid smiledand said, “You better not say too loud. Asshole Rahim’s personal connections gohigh up the chain of command. Very high.”
“Where’d youguys learn English so good?”
“Universityof Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. We were roommates for four years. I studiedand took all our tests—for both of us—while Walid played footballand tried to have sexual intercourse with most of the female student body.”
“He alsosnores all night, farts all day and is not much concerned with personalhygiene. But other than that, he’s an O.K. guy. Just don’t stand so close as toget a whiff of him.”
“Tariq, youare merely jealous that I am such a manly man, and you are not.”
Tariq wasopening his mouth to retort when I interrupted and said, “Please, can I go?I’ve got to do live checks, power supply tests and a bunch of other stuff tomake sure everything’s right for the Ayatollah. You know they’ll have my ass ifsomething goes wrong. Com’mon Tariq. Let me go.”
“Sure. Okay.You go, but leave your cigarettes.”
“I alreadygave you some. It’s a fresh pack I just opened. American Tobacco. What am Igonna smoke?”
“Don’t care.Not my problem.”
They bothtowered over me, one on each side. I pulled the pack out of my pocket and Walidsnatched them from my hand. I said, “Leave me one, at least.”
His reply wasa shake of the head, followed by a backward flip of the hand. As I walked away,Tariq said something short and guttural in Farsi and they both laughed. I didn’tneed a translation to understand the expletive and racial slur. I headed to myAV Lab under the stage, glad I was through the first hurdle without taking myshoes off, or going through a metal detector, or a retinal or body scanner.Damn glad. It would’ve held me up even more, and I still had much to do iftoday was going to go off as planned . . . and it simply had to go that way,because the entire world would be watching. I was so nervous; my whole body wasvibrating like a turning fork, just thinking about Freedoms Chime.
There wasonly a couple of hours left before the rest of the staff would be here, followedby more of the Revolutionary Guards and Secret Service bodyguards, localdignitaries, the press, a few favored members of the public, The GrandAyatollah, his handlers and hangers-on, and then, after everyone was seated,the show would begin. The lights would dim, a prayer would come from one of thelesser Ayatollahs and after the prayer was said, up would come the lights, thecurtains would rise and the prisoners—with the last President of theUnited States in the center—would be seen for the first time. They wouldall be forced to kneel in orange prison jumpsuits with their hands tied behind,and standing directly in back of them, the Revolutionary Guard Executioners.Each headsman, wearing a black hood with two round eyeholes, would be nakedfrom the waist up, dressed in black tights from the waist down; and holding theright shoulder of a prisoner with their left hand. In their right hand, eachexecutioner will have the pommel of a giant curved scimitar, four feet inlength, with the point resting on the floor. Each one of them selected fortheir size and strength, as well as an imposing physique. They’ll befrightening to an extreme . . . which is the whole idea when you think aboutit.
I got towork. Checking. Checking, testing and re-checking. Everything had to go right.It had to be perfect . . . no room for a mistake of any kind . . . becausethere would never be another event like this one with so many high-leveldignitaries in the same place at the same time. Not ever.
I was sointent on my work, I didn’t notice the crowd murmur at first, but when a pieceof furniture was scraped over the stage floor up above me, I glanced at thevideo monitor on the wall. The hall was full. Every seat, the balconies and allthe aisles were crammed. There were so many, I wondered how they could allbreathe. Outside the building, the cameras showed a milling crowd of men andboys—women, of course, were not allowed at functions such as today’s—waitingfor the speeches to be shown on the Jumbotron atop the building. The countdownclock high on the wall was approaching zero; that’s when the speeches wouldbegin . . . and my role would commence. In spite of the meditation I’d done athome and the two tablets I’d swallowed before I started for work, I was sick tomy stomach. It felt like it was full of small animals, all trying to claw theirway out. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and lip, wiped my hands on my pants,lit a cigarette from the pack on my worktable and got ready to dress in thebaggy white coveralls with the words Audio-Visual Dept.
I strippeddown to my long johns and reached for the vest I’d been working on ever sinceI’d gotten in and locked the lab door. The enormity of what was about to takeplace hit me like a gut punch. All of a sudden I was shaking so hard I couldn’tfunction. Forced myself to
Closing myeyes and focusing on deep breaths helped. After a short while I was in controlenough to put the embroidered prayer vest on, cinch up the velcro straps infront and under both thighs. It was a little heavier than I thought it wouldbe, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I made sure everything was secured in thelittle pockets before winding the thin copper antenna wire around my shoulders,under my arms, around my chest and gut, all the way down to my hips, thensecured the ends with zip ties. I stood, fifteen pounds heavier, and shruggedmy arms into the coveralls. I taped three nine-volt batteries in their places .. . then carefully, carefully clipped the two yellow lead wires to the switchin my breast pocket where all I had to do was push on the pack of cigarettesnestled there to complete the circuit. I zipped up and fastened the tab at thetop to lock it. Last, I put my small metal tools and some extra nuts and boltsin the cargo pockets in case they were needed.
I could tellthe preliminary speeches were finished, and the prisoners were in place by thejeering and insults being hurled at them from the audience. When the hush cameover all, I knew the Grand Ayatollah was on stage. I could see him on themonitors, looking like a giant black gyrfalcon with his great hooked nose andbottomless obsidian eyes, his ebony robe and turban. His beard was long andsnowy white, and he exuded gravitas as he stood behind the lectern gazing atthe crowd, gripping the lectern with the blue-veined, and yellow-nailed handsthat resembled talons. When he started to speak, the hair stood up on my armsand the back of my neck. His voice was spellbinding, and hearing him in personwas something the audience would never forget. The faces of all those inattendance looked mesmerized by the power of his speech as his voice rose andfell in time with his arms while he described the epic fight with the GreatSatan.
Then, sometwenty minutes into his speech—while the whole world waswatching—the sound system malfunctioned. There was a long feedback squeal. . . and everything went dead.
Down in thelab, I started working the master control board, closing circuits, opening othersand re-booting the entire system while the news show producer was screamingobscenities in several different languages into my headset. Nervous sweatpoured off me as I fiddled the board, using every shortcut and trick I knew toget it back on line. Nothing worked. I was in panic mode when the beatingstarted on the door. This wasn’t the plan. My heart was pounding like a runawaytrip hammer and I was slick with sweat that stank of utter fear.
The doorjambwas starting to crack from the strain when I got to it and released the bolt,almost catching a rifle-butt in the face for my troubles. A pair ofRevolutionary Guards with machine pistols and bad attitudes were shouting at mein Farsi and waving their guns. I put my hands up, closed my eyes and waited todie.
A voice said,“Put your arms down. These men are not here to shoot you.”
I opened myeyes as I let my hands down and saw a RG Captain in black battle fatigues, in commandof the two troopers with guns pointed my way. He said, “They want you upstairs.Do you know what the problem is with the sound system?”
“Can you fixit?”
Reaching intoa well of courage I didn’t know I possessed, I said, “I need my briefcase. It’sgot my test programs and simulators in it. Everything’s computerized anddigital.”
“Let me see.”
I picked theblack canvas case up from the desk and handed it to him. The Captain lookedinside, satisfying himself that there weren’t any hidden weapons. He nodded andpointed at the door. “Let’s go,” was all he said. I started up the narrowstairwell that led to the backstage . . . where the whole world waited andwatched in front.
My legs cameclose to failure when the three RGs pushed me to the wings just offstage. Icould see everything, from the audience, all the way to the platform where thelast President of the United States waited to be executed. It was the mostfrightening scene I had ever witnessed . . . and the most appalling. I said tothe RG Captain, “I have to run a diagnostic on the AV system. It’s housed inthe lectern where Ayatollah Homenni is standing. I need to go out onstage.”
“How longwill it take?”
“Thediagnostic? Just a couple of minutes, then the fix and the reboot a few more .. . provided I can find the right circuit boards to replace. Say ten minutes.Should be inside that window.”
He nodded,walked to the Ayatollah’s Chief of Staff and spoke quietly. The Chief looked atme, said something to the Captain, who motioned the guards. They each clickedoff their safeties, then put the barrel of their guns into my ribs and pushedme toward the podium. I kept my eyes down, not knowing what else to do as I wasfrog-marched onstage while most of the world looked on.
The GrandAyatollah stepped back from the lectern and made a sweeping gesture with hisleft arm. He was much shorter than I expected, and plainly angry at the delay.He said something in a loud voice and the audience laughed. My heart must havebeen going at two hundred beats per minute. It felt like a bird, trying to flyout of my rib cage. Keeping my eyes downcast I approached center stage. I hadto remind myself to breathe . . .
As I kneltdown to unscrew the bolts that allowed access into the electronic brains of theentire Audio-Visual works, my hands shook so hard that I dropped the ratchettwice, before I got them out. I peered inside and saw the problem. One of themother boards had a coat of unknown sticky stuff on it and was shorted out. Itlooked like cola had dripped down from the top of the lectern . . . just as we’dplanned. And, just like that, my stomach settled down. My nerves quieted, mytraining kicked in and I got laser-focused on what I was doing. I said to theRG Officer, “There’s a burned out circuit board. I need to replace it, and thenthe system will reboot.”
“Show me,” hesaid, as he peered over my shoulder at the stacks of electronics.
“Right here,”I said, as I pointed to the brown and burned corner of the topmost motherboard.
“I see. Doyou have another one?”
“In my case.As long as there’s no other problem it’ll be up and running in a couple ofminutes. Can you back these two guys up a little? I can hardly move or breathewith those gun barrels in my face.”
“OK. Goahead.” He said something in Persian and the two RGs stepped back a couple ofpaces and gave me room, but never took their sights off me . . . or theirfingers from the triggers. If I sneezed, they’d shoot. As sweat dripped down myback and sides I pulled the top tray from the processor and removed the damagedboard, got the replacement bolted into place.
“I’ve got torun a diagnostic, then reboot.”
He made asweeping gesture with his left hand and arm that gave the go-ahead, but at thesame time was somehow dismissive of me . . . a show of contempt. That’sokay, I thought. Freedoms Chimeis gonna ring soon.
I snuck aglance at the prisoners. There were five of them in the front row: thefifty-third President of what used to be the United States of America, and the VicePresident, plus the Secretaries of State, Defense and Homeland Security. They’dbeen captured together as they were cowering in a West Virginia bunker that wassupposed to save them, the privileged few. They’d given up without a fight, andhad been reviled by all of their constituents for it. I didn’t feel sorry forthem as they trembled in fear.
I got towork, plugging in the jump drive we’d spent so much time on and reprogrammedthe entire sound and sight systems . . . along with some custom touches weadded in anticipation of a day like today. Everything powered up and came backonline. The audience clapped. I couldn’t help it; I took a small bow, gatheredmy equipment, then nodded to the Revolutionary Guard Officer. He didn’tacknowledge me. He barked in Persian and the two guards escorted me offstage. Ifigured I only had a few more minutes before the festivities got going good.
The guardsleft me in the AV lab and disappeared upstairs to guard the Grand Ayatollah. Iknew they’d be back in the next ten minutes or so, as soon as the patrioticmessage we’d programmed into the meta-virus I’d just infected the world newsmedia with began playing. I locked the lab door and ran down the hallway to theutilities room where Freedoms Chime was installed and into the VIP tunnel that connectedthe Pikes Peak Center, or Great Mosque if you prefer, to the parking garage.
I sprintedthrough the tunnel and out into the garage where a couple of RGs yelled at meto stop. I jumped over the west side wall and fell about eight or ten feet,rolled and ran between a pair of network trailers as the RGs cranked offseveral shots in my direction. But by then I was in the railyards, jumpingtracks, dodging under, around and through standing coal cars and other assortedrolling stock. I sprinted under the quarter- mile long width of the elevatedinterstate highway bridge, made it through the park and over the footbridgethat spanned Fountain Creek and hooked up with the Midland Hiking Trail beforethe pain in my side got too bad to go any further.
Panting, Icould see the RGs at the edge of the parking lot coming fast. I slapped the boxof Marlboros in my breast pocket. That sent an electronic signal to the MOAB, orMother of All Bombs, that we called Freedoms Chime and detonated it. The blastand the shockwave destroyed the Center and everyone in it in a huge fireballwhen the massive, two-thousand pound fuel-air monster we’d hidden in theutilities basement during repair work ten years ago and disguised as part ofthe physical plant, exploded. That’s what our extracurricular programming wasabout. It was all rigged through the audio-visual system and the brainchild ofGeneral Curley and our group of freedom fighters, who theorized way back when,that our gutless political classes would sell the country out at some point . .. which they did. Freedoms Chime was the most powerful bomb ever invented andalmost as destructive as an atomic blast. It took out the parking garage, allof the TV trucks, Centennial Hall, half of the courthouse, the jail and theCounty Office Building, plus most of the financial district. By some quirk offate however, the old stone courthouse housing the Pioneers Museum survived,and received only minor damage. Every window in the downtown area, fromsouthgate all the way up to Penrose Hospital, was shattered. It looked like awar zone, full of dazed pedestrians, overturned cars and burning city buses.The Plaza of the Rockies and the Alamo Plaza both looked like skeletons andTejon Street was windrowed three feet high with broken glass and a blizzard ofpaper and dust from the blown-out offices, while here and there were the crushedand lifeless bodies of the unfortunates who’d fallen, caught too close to the windowsand sucked out by the blast.
By then, itwas snowing pretty hard and starting to stick to the ground. As I looked back,smoke and fire and dust was billowing up from the wrecked Pikes Peak Centerwhere only moments ago, much of the world’s elite power mongers had gathered towatch America’s humiliation. Now, they were all dead. We’d succeeded in cuttingthe head off of our enemy.
Tough shitfor them, I thought as I pulled theknobby-tired dirt bike out of the bushes and cranked it up. I saw theRevolutionary Guards turn and race back to check on the survivors . . . ifthere were any. I was sorry for all of the collateral damage I and my fellow freedomfighters had had to inflict, but this was war—and we’d learned the craftwell from our enemies—no more fighting with a handicap like before, backwhen those insane rules of engagement were keeping our forces reined-in to thepoint where they were sitting ducks, lined up for slaughter.
Nope. Nomore pussy-footing around. Y’all have fucked with the wrong Marines,
My name isDave. I’m the AV guy and today, I rang Freedoms Chime for the first time. Itrang hard and loud and long and called to arms all those who are oppressed.Freedoms Chime will ring again, and soon. Everyone will hear it.