My graveyard shift at the power substation began at midnight, reliving Security Officer Harrison Caliburn. The early morning shift of Tuesday, 8 November, 2016 was routine to a fault. Eight hours of looking at monitors. Making four rounds of the compound, hitting specified check points with a wand. Keeping a post log. Eating my lunch. Clean-up and preparing the post to be turned over to the next shift. Routine.
When Security Officer Mike Saracen relieved me at eight, he asked me if I had heard the news.
"I'll catch up after I vote this morning." I said.
"The Bitch is dead!"
"Yes," Mike sneered. "She hung herself."
"Senator Greentree?" I asked.
"Who else?" Mike laughed. "Bout time! She was going to lose anyway to Smythe."
I didn't have to like my co-workers. I just had to remain professional and work with them. The guard post at the power substation had only one officer and we were unarmed except for a small flashlight "limited to two power cells," but I carried a pocket light with three "AAA" dry cells and my cell phone anyway. Company and client policy stated that we were unarmed—not even pepper spray or a pocket knife. I watched as Mike popped open his Delta Seal commando switchblade to clean his fingernails. No, I didn't mention his breech of the rules. No point: I wasn't his supervisor.
"If you have no other questions," I began.
"They closed the polls," Mike said.
"Thank you," I said. I'd check on my own anyway. Sometimes it seemed as if the security guards hired to keep out the riff raff were part of the problem instead of part of the solution. "See you tomorrow."
My battered beater had cost me less than $500 at auction but it met my needs. It started up immediately when my key turned the ignition switch. Yes, I got only 19 miles to the gallon of fuel and I wasn't doing my part to curb greenhouse gas emissions, but I lived only five miles away. The polling booths were at the public library and on my way home. When I arrived at the library I removed my patrol jacket and uniform shirt and donned a sweater. Company policy was that we guards had no political opinions while in uniform. It was just a job to me, but I tried to comply with company policy as much as possible. It could have been worse. Back in the day, one's employer could and did demand that employees support the company's political agenda, too.
As Mike Saracen said, the polls were closed.
A few minutes later I fired up my creaky laptop and logged on the World Wide Web. I didn't watch television. My entertainment was basically watching videos and I wasn't even hooked up to the cable network in my apartment complex. Newspapers were a thing of the past. On occasion I'd buy news magazines, but usually my "news" came from reading annual news summaries in the almanacs at the public library. I didn't bother keeping up with the news. Not normally.
Closed voting booths were not normal.
The news was all over the Internet. Thousands had died. Thousands! Wading through all the hype and emoting was difficult. Facts were few. This Tuesday morning was one of the days that I loathed the human race. We 'advanced primates' were so busy telling the world about feelings that there was no room for fact. Zero. But in this news vacuum I did learn that all the victims had these things in common: they were found in their offices dead, hung by the neck using a steel cable suspended from a hook set in the ceiling. The bodies were all nude except for a single zip tie fastening their wrists together behind their backs and a second zip tie fastening the ankles together. The zip ties were white, if it makes a difference. No slogans were painted in human blood on walls. No notes pinned to the corpses. Their office doors had been left open. I shuddered to think that I might have been the security guard assigned to protect their office building! A few photos had leaked to various blogs. They were not pretty.
I looked up the names. Senator Vida Greentree was one of the four candidates for the office of President of the United States and the majority party candidate. She was favored to win by the news media. Two other presidental hopefuls were dead: the Earth Protection League Party candidate had been Gerome Cummings and the Peoples League Socialist Party candidate had been Gail Savage. The minor parties had been denounced by the mainstream news media as siphoning votes away from Senator Greentree, which pretty much admitted that her politics were far, far, far-away Left Wing. Or perhaps the media talking heads were simply trying to draw attention to that "reactionary" Ronnie "the Clown" Smythe.
It was nearly ten in the morning when martial law was declared in the United States. The reason: the President was found dead in his office at seven Washington DC time. I was on Pacific time and that news had taken six hours to be announced. The Vice President was dead, too: same cause—naked, hanging by his neck from a hook. Steel cable and zip ties. Nobody was calling it "conspiracy," not yet. I was able to access news from a number of sources on the World Wide Web, news stories before they were filtered by the editorial offices of the American news media giants. It shook me to find that the United States had been decapitated politically. On a hunch, I printed out a list of the dead. Then I accessed the membership roster of the Public Safety Association, a political action group that advocated "common sense public safety laws" such as Internet censorship. PSA-Ltd claimed to have three hundred thousand members on its rolls.
Harrison Caliburn, my co-worker, was a rabid PSA member.
My cell phone buzzed. I checked the number—my company's office.
"Bill, can you work a double tonight?" Linda was the office manager. "It's an emergency."
"Sure, Linda," I said.
"Isn't it terrible what's happened?"
"What has happened?" I asked. "I'm out of the loop."
"Oh, everything," Linda said. "Look, I need to make some more calls. Thanks, Bill."
It was going to be a long night. If I bedded down immediately I'd get five hours of sleep. So I logged off and missed most of the rest of the news. I live in a quiet little apartment complex. My neighbors mind their own business. Most of us work in the service industries at minimum wage and don't socialize with each other. My alarm clock went off too damned early and I ate something, packed several meals, showered and shaved and put on a fresh uniform. I didn't bother checking my messages, just went to my car. The streets were strangely deserted. As I drove to work, a police road block at the intersection stopped me.
"Your ID!" the police officer looked tired.
"It's in my hip pocket, sir," I said glancing at the soldiers manning the checkpoint. Martial law... "May I get it, sir?"
I handed over my driver's license and guard license. The officer glanced at them, then went to his car. A moment later, the soldiers went from bored to attentive and I was the center of their attention.
"Get out of the car and on the ground, face down!" The cop spoke over his police cruiser's PA system. I complied. In a moment I was handcuffed and then frisked.
"Where is it?"
"Specify," I said. "Where is what?"
"You have a concealed weapon permit," the cop snarled. "Where's your gun?"
"At home," I replied. "Weapons are against company policy and I need my job."
They checked anyway. I had allowed nearly half an hour for a five minute drive. Now I was going to be late for work.
"Where were you going?"
"Mountain Pacific Power substation," I said. "I'm supposed to relieve a co-worker."
"Just a minute," the cop said. Several minutes later he returned and removed the handcuffs. I was dirty from laying on the wet ground, but didn't press the issue. I had an idea of what martial law was all about. The cop instructed me to drive to work.
Yes, I was late—and Mike Saracen was absent. He was a professional—he did what the job required. There were two wary Air National Guardsmen at the gate, a man and a woman, in their Airman Combat Uniforms and carrying M16 rifles—without magazines. They checked my ID and told me that the other guard had been arrested.
"President Snowbird will address the nation at six," the Air Guardsman's name tag was Sonntag. "She's our first woman president."
"Take a nap and the whole world changes," I grumbled. "When was the last round of checks?"