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Down The Rabbit Hole - Atrocity Day

This is my yearly "Down The Rabbit Hole" post. Most of them are fairly dark.

(This one in 2015 is the darkest I have yet attempted. It should not be misunderstood. I am doing fine. My alter ego in the 'Atrocity Day' ... not as much.)

Other Years:

2017: Lifeboat
2016: Atrocity Day (this one)
2015: Log of the _Blue Oyster_
2014: Pile It On
2013: Door to Door Inferno
2012: Future Imperfect
2011: Freedom From Fear: The Home Front
2010: War of Terror: On The Front Line
2009: America Back To Work
2008: nonfiction break "The Power of Nightmares," a censored film about Islamic and Christian fundamentalism
2007: In The Hole, Spectacularly Not Winning
2006: Security & Space
2005: GlobAll War Of Terror


The alarm wakes me from a drugged sleep. The only kind of sleep an American ever gets.

I stretch, nearly hitting my head on the ceiling, and put on my boots. I sleep clothed - who doesn't?

The tiny desk next to my tiny bunk has a comm set. I check my E-mail. No unusual incidents since I laid down to rest. Oh, an attempted breakout suppressed by gun-drones, but I should care how many French care to commit suicide before I get my breakfast?

I use my knife to open the MRE, shake it out and force it down. Not hungry. Still need to eat.

The comm set chimes. It's time for the Hate.

I've read Orwell's 1984. I know perfectly well what his Three Minute Hate was all about - to whip the population into a frenzy, to overlook the flaws of their society to better fight the external enemy.

I vaguely remember when I thought this was a bad idea. Before Atrocity Day. Or just Before.

The screen gives me the lyrics. I chant with them. It starts innocuously enough.

"I am an American. Every American is a soldier. Today I fight to save American lives. Today I fight to keep America safe."

Then comes the Hate. I can't help it. I always have to force the names of the cities out through my tears.

"Washington DC. New York. Chicago. Baltimore. Saint Louis. Cleveland. Seattle. San Francisco. Los Angeles. Honolulu."

The names go on and on.

"This is why we fight. This is why we fight to keep America safe. This is why there will NEVER be ANOTHER Atrocity Day."

The narration shifts.

"We will hunt them down. We will hunt those who paid for the bombs. We will hunt those who sent the bombs. We will hunt those who cheered the bombs. We will hunt their parents, we will hunt their children, we will hunt their neighbors and their families and their friends and anyone who speaks up for them. We will hunt those who smiled, those who prospered, those who pitied and those who scorned. WE WILL HUNT THEM DOWN AND WE WILL BRING THEM TO JUSTICE!"

"JUSTICE!"

It is a scream, echoed here and there within the heavily armored landwagon by the All-American crew. All twenty of us.

I finish my breakfast and head updeck.

"Attention! Captain on the Bridge!"

"At ease," I murmur as I take my seat. "Strategic overview."

The main viewscreen shows the present situation. We are in Normandy Sector. Paris is a glowing memory, as is every other French city of over 1 million population. First thing we did after battering the theater anti-missile defenses down.

The French Army is out of it, we think. They tried to use nukes, of course, but we'd be more likely to advance stark naked than without nuclear dampers. If only we'd invented them six weeks before Atrocity Day instead of six weeks after...

It did not keep us from using nuclear arms freely, especially enhanced radiation weapons - 'neutron bombs' - that sloughed flesh from bone without disturbing property. Why damage our own loot?

The surviving population of France is either 1) fleeing our advance or 2) obeying drone loudspeaker orders to assemble in designated areas. Those who cannot or will not -- well, in that case they aren't surviving, are they?

Barging over my landwagon was absolutely no fun, even in calm seas across a relatively narrow channel. Theoretically it can float but who wants to test it.

I knocked on the metal of my chair. Good Detroit steel.

"Tactical," I asked next and the screen came up.

The landwagon was within a drone-enforced 10 mile exclusion zone. Nothing but Americans, or material we had screened and vetted, was permitted closer approach. The best defense against homicide bombers is to deny alien access.

Just on the border of the exclusion zone was a former French town, now converted into prisoner barracks. Automated processing by drones continued, without the need to put a single American life at risk.

We could feed them for a while on loot. After identity check, most of them would eventually be turned loose, to make what lives they could from the ruins of their nation.

Meanwhile, our drones systematically sought out - and destroyed - any infrastructure we felt the French would no longer need, as a pastoral agricultural nation denied self defense, let alone the ability to send troops outside its borders.

But there were a few specific French folks we were looking for. Former French Army officers, French Navy sailors regardless of rank, Legionnaires, and anyone associated with their nuclear energy or nuclear weapons programs were highly sought after.

Most were just too dangerous to be allowed to live. When identity was confirmed, they would be executed, by surprise and without further ceremony.

But a few of them, we needed to talk to. To have discussions with. To talk about uranium with...

I smiled. It was not a happy smile.

"Sir, we have an anomaly. Castro reports recent facial surgery."

I looked as the video came up. The drone AI was not very bright, but spreading bruises on both sides of the face were not usually acquired in combat or an accident.

"Haight Asbury and Sunset drones are in position to secure."

"Do so. I will go out there. You have the conn."

"Aye aye, sir."

###

The power armor was clumsy, heavy, hot and brutal. But it was proof against nearly every weapon the French might have left. As a nation, they had a long tradition of guerilla warfare against conquerors. Unfortunately, our goal was not to conquer but to decimate.

As powerful and sophisticated as our drones were, sometimes you needed the human touch.

The drones dragged the French prisoner forward, one by each arm. I watched as he did not struggle.

A man in his fifties, silly mustache and scraggly beard. He had been scanned, scoped and X-rayed with no regard for anything but my safety.

I raised my visor.

"Captain Anderson, 2nd Pacification Regiment. To whom am I speaking?"

I didn't need translation to realize that he replied with a string of profanity, in which 'Merde' was repeated several times. The spittle dripping down my armor also needed no translation.

"Stunner, 20%," I subvocalized and he convulsed accordingly.

"Who are you, French douchebag?" I roared after allowing a few seconds for the stun to wear off.

His eyes glinted in defiance.

"Wouldn't you like to know, _American_." His voice dripped contempt.

Fair enough. We were well along the path of doing to his nation, what his nation had helped do to mine.

No reason not to let him hear his fate.

"Rigorous interrogation, survival of subject is not a priority. DNA sampling for later comparisons. Take him away."

He struggled pointlessly in the grip of the drones as they effortlessly hauled him backward.

I followed.

###

Every American knows what 'rigorous interrogation' is. We bear collective as well as individual responsibility for the actions taken in our names. Just as our enemies do.

So I watched as the drones racked him. Heard his first babbling, the realization that this was really it, that there would be no rescue or reprieve or succor, that mercy was not even a word when flesh met machine.

It took two hours, but he broke.

Not only did I order interrogation stopped, but I ordered immediate medical support and even pain medication.

His survival _was_ a priority.

What I had swept up was a French General. To be specific, one of the Generals who had worked with NATO in making the decisions that led to Atrocity Day.

One of the very architects of the world in which we now lived.

And I had him, in my grasp, in my power.

I was ashamed. I knew how to kill, and after a rough fashion how to torture and maim, but I didn't enjoy it and I wasn't an artist at it.

But this man - this General - deserved a thousand days of dying. He deserved to have his rotten soul planted with seeds of hope, just so a skilled interrogator could ruthlessly pluck out and shred each one before his eyes.

I recalled a quote from a science fiction novel. "One cannot torture body parts that have already been removed."

I hoped his family was still alive. Oh, how I hoped.

###

So the General became the first Frenchman to be brought aboard a landwagon, to the brig of course, where a human doctor as well as drones could work on him.

I visited daily of course, not only because it was my duty as the Captain, but to assure myself that he was real - the prize was real.

That perhaps our daily torment, drugging ourselves into sleep to avoid our nightmares, waking ourselves with Hate and more drugs, naming our drones after neighborhoods which no longer existed, keeping obsolete phones full of numbers that we could never call, that would never be answered ...

... might end.

Those of us that are left are so very few. We lost a quarter billion Americans on Atrocity Day and in the month that followed. 250,000,000.

"A death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."

Stalin, you were wrong. A million deaths sears the soul, blackens the heart and the nerves.

NEVER TO FORGIVE, NEVER TO FORGET.

I was Captain for only one reason. I was the sanest of the group.

###

"Security emergency, main brig. Security..." I was already running, a wide-spectrum stunner in my hand and a dozen drones surrounding me.

A huge angry man, one of my subordinates, was wearing a half-donned suit of power armor in the brig. He had smashed the door and had the General up by his throat. The man's chest and arms were exposed under the muscle harness, and I could see the huge tattoo on his left arm, enough to recognize him.

A spreading oak tree. Oakland. Destroyed on Atrocity Day. Didn't make the Hate List. He'd been in Lake Tahoe that day.

"Castenada! Put him down gently! That is a direct order!"

He tensed, knowing he could crush the General's throat before even drones could stop him.

"He's too guilty to let him off that easy! Or are you a French lover?"

Castenada put the General down, as gently as I could have asked for, and advanced on me wearing gear that could smear me to paste.

Unarmored I stood my ground.

"FUCK THE FRENCH!" he screamed.

I screamed with him. "Yes, fuck the French! Fuck the generals and fuck the nukes. We can't let him off that lightly! He's the one, he did it. He deserves worse than any of us can possibly give him!"

The General stood.

"So that is why you have kept me alive," he said calmly, in English, when his screaming and interrogation had all been in French.

I turned to him.

"Yes, that is why you are still alive. Because we are still seeking the most perfect death for you."

"You have it, American. I have seen my country destroyed, my country's heart vaporized, my people dying and bleeding and broken in the street. My wife is dead, my children are dead, my parents are dead. You have your revenge."

I realized the truth of his words.

This left me a burning curiosity.

"Why?" I asked. It was the question I had vowed never to ask. I didn't want to know. I really didn't want to know. There was no point. No reason could bring back my friends, my family, my country's cities, our home, our way of life, our naive belief in John Wayne and the good guy and not just justice but mercy.

"We were afraid," the Frenchman said simply. "America had grown so powerful and so crazed, that we were scared of what she might someday do to us. And we knew that we would only have one chance to strike first..."

"We created the thing we feared."

"Yes, you did."

I left. I did not trust myself to not carry out my first impulse, to slay him cleanly where he stood, in his humility and despair.

After I left, Castenada remained only briefly. Just long enough to rip his own throat out with his own armor.

Un-creating the thing he feared.

###

I gave orders for displays to be set up in the brig. For limited access to our communications channels. For the General to be an active observer, able to see what we were doing to his country, and occasionally to plead for mercy. Which occasionally we would grant.

I ordered the strictest precautions to prevent him from self harm.

He became the French Ambassador. We tolerated whatever he said. We didn't often follow his advice, just often enough that he would keep trying.

He became our conscience. A glimpse of sanity in a world gone mad.

That it was a most ruthless punishment I had finally chosen for him, both the General and I understood.

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