Phil Carson, (from "Enemies Foreign And Domestic"), and three strangers are hiding in a well-stocked cave, which is a guerrilla fighter's lair. Across West Tennessee, Kazakh "contract peacekeepers" are wiping out the last remaining American holdouts, who have rejected the federal government's order to abandon their homes and move to distant FEMA "relocation centers."
This scene is in the middle of the novel.
"Thank God for that," replied Doug. "The only time that baby is quiet is when she's sleeping."
"I meant Jenny and Zack." Jenny and the baby were sleeping in the blue dome tent at the other side of the wooden platform. Zack was in a green sleeping bag, sprawled on a foam mattress pad next to the tent. Carson was across the square card table from Doug, sitting on one of the four wooden folding chairs, one for each side. Both men were nursing mugs of instant coffee. Doug had his AR-15 carbine disassembled on the table, and he was wiping down the bolt carrier with an oily rag.
The handheld radio and some of the other electronic devices from Jenny's pack were also lying on the table, after having been carefully examined. Both men had changed into dry camouflage BDU fatigues, part of the cave's stockpile. They were the old woodland pattern BDUs, curvy splotches of green, brown and black, not the digital gray and brown of the newer ACU pattern. A single bare light bulb was suspended above them. Doug had washed his face and hair in a basin and given himself a shave, and his black hair was combed straight back. Carson looked at his watch. "It's almost noon. How long do you think until Boone gets here?"
"There's no telling. If there are foreign troops around, he might decide he can't move in the daylight, and then maybe he'll wait until tonight."
"You have a lot of faith in him?"
"Oh yeah. I'd of been dead a few times if it wasn't for him. He'll make it."
A murmur came from within the blue tent, the start of a baby's cry, followed by a soft reassurance from Jenny. When the sounds quieted, Carson whispered, "You know, Doug, that baby can't live on instant milk powder. At least I don't think it can."
"What if we grind up vitamins and things to add to it?"
"I don't know. I just don't think babies can live on instant milk. You know what that means?"
Doug whispered back, "Is it going to die?"
"Maybe, but that's not what I meant. It means we can't stay hidden in this cave for a long time. Not if we want that little orphan baby to survive."
"Let's wait until Boone gets here. We don't have to decide anything today."
"What's the longest you ever stayed in here?" asked Carson.
"You mean without going outside at all?"
"More than a week. We wait for bad weather to go out. The worse the better, that's what Boone says. The worse the better. He calls it good operating weather. It keeps the enemy inside."
Carson lowered his voice in order not to be heard by Jenny, in case she was awake. "Well, I don't think that baby can last a week on instant milk. Not a newborn. I hope I'm wrong."
"Let's just wait until Boone gets here, okay? He's the boss. He decides these things."
"Fine by me." Carson sipped from his cup of weak instant coffee. He was surprised that a luxury item that could not be found in the state of Mississippi was available in a cave in Tennessee. The coffee was from an old MRE meal pack--government-issue Meals Ready to Eat. Carson had seen only one cardboard case of the plastic meal packs. They'd split a single coffee packet and made two mugs, but at least it was hot. "So, Doug, you already heard me tell my story, back at Zachary's house. What about you? Where are you from, and how did you wind up here?" If they were going to spend the next few days or even longer in the cave, they were going to become well acquainted.
"Me? I'm from Maryland. The Baltimore suburbs, north of the city."
Carson had placed his accent as coming from somewhere in the Northeast, maybe Philadelphia. Maryland was a close guess. "So how did you wind up fighting a guerrilla war in Tennessee?"
Doug smiled wistfully. "It's a long story. To start with, I was drafted. I was going to the University of Maryland, majoring in communications, but I had to drop out after my junior year because I couldn't afford the tuition. Unfortunately I'm just a Category 7--a healthy heterosexual Christian white male. That's the bottom, the baseline. My tuition was tripled with no warning, so that was that. They pulled my student loan and I couldn't get any kind of extension, so I was back at home living with my mom. That made me draft bait--except they call it National Service now."
"The draft is back?" asked Carson. "How's that work? Do they still have college deferments?"
"There's a lottery. They can get you anytime between eighteen and twenty-five. College doesn't get you out of it, but it puts it off, and if you're lucky they might not call you up at all."
"How long do you have to serve?"
"It's supposed to be two years in the military, or three years in the Conservation Corps or the Urban Corps. The CC's quota was already filled for the year--at least that's what they said--and forget the Urban Corps. That's all Jamal Tambor fanatics. We call it the Tambor-Corps. So it was the Army for me. To tell you the truth, I would have picked the Navy or the Air Force, but I didn't get a choice in that either. I did basic training at Fort Dix. Then I was assigned to an engineering battalion at Fort Leonard Wood. So I was already in Missouri when the first earth-quake hit."
"What are you, about twenty-four?"
"Twenty-five. I thought I'd have my master's degree by now. Well, so much for my plans--Uncle Sam had some other ideas for my future." He went on cleaning his rifle, ramming a small cloth patch on the tip of a metal rod up the inside of the barrel.
"Tell me something, Doug. You're obviously a smart guy. I've been out of the country for seven years. What the hell happened to America? I always thought Americans would fight to keep their freedom. What happened? How could Americans just roll over and give up their rights?"
"Well, we didn't just 'give up' our rights. It wasn't like that. Not at all. It's more like they were stolen in broad daylight, at the constitutional convention."
Carson asked, "How did that happen? I was down in the Caribbean then. American news wasn't so big down there. Panama was going through its own troubles, and I was keeping a low profile. I didn't have cable TV, that's for sure."
"I'll tell you what happened--I watched it happen. When the convention was over, that's when we knew that the old America was gone. It was over. Finished."
"The convention was in Philadelphia, right?"
Right. I was in Baltimore when it happened, but it was televised wall-to-wall. On television, the talking heads called it the con-con, like it was a big joke or something. Maybe constitutional convention was too hard to spell, or maybe it took them too long to say it. Too many syllables. You know--time is money. I think a lot of the people behind the convention couldn't even pronounce it, much less spell it, so it just became the con-con."
"It was two years ago?"
"Yeah, two years ago in September. You have to understand how bad things already were, even before the earthquakes, and before the big hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast. Even back then, the economy was so bad that people were calling it the Greater Depression. People were desperate. And not just welfare types--I'm talking about solid middle class citizens. Or formerly middle class, like my family. Nouveau poor, we called it. I think people were ready to try just about anything to get the economy moving. Nothing the government tried was working; everything was in a downward spiral. We were still using blue bucks then, what they called 'New Dollars.' Banks were failing left and right, only the Fed wouldn't let them fail--they pumped in trillions of dollars in new money to keep them open. Nobody wanted to hear that it might take years to unwind the economic mess we were in. That it took us decades to ruin the economy, and it would take a long time to fix it. Everybody wanted a quick fix, like pulling a rabbit out of a magic hat. But everything the president and Congress tried just made things worse. Especially printing so much new money."
Doug set his rifle barrel back down on the table and continued. "The country was already a mess, and that was undeniable. Everybody and his brother were proposing constitutional amendments, supposedly to fix the economy, or make everything fair for the poor, or whatever. That's how Congress came up with thirty-four state legislatures calling for amendments. There were seven or eight totally different amendment proposals, but it didn't matter. Once Congress had thirty-four states on record proposing amendments, they went for it. I think they were just waiting for the chance. Once they had thirty-four states, it only took a 51 percent vote in Congress to call for the convention."
"Congress? I don't understand. What do they have to do with the convention?" asked Carson.
"Everything, under Article Five. It all came down to Article Five of the old constitution. Congress runs the whole show for constitutional conventions."
"It does? I didn't know that."
"Yeah, well, join the club. That was a major surprise to almost everybody, since it had never happened before. Not in over two hundred years, since it was written. So nobody knew much about Article Five," said Doug.
"I guess that changed in a hurry."
"You're not kidding. It was shock therapy. Especially when the Poor People's Party marched through Baltimore. There were already about a million of them camping out in Washington on the National Mall before the convention. When they took off walking to Philly, it was like a dam bursting. That was on Labor Day. Mile after mile of people with flags, signs, drums, musical bands on trucks?everything you can imagine. Police cars were escorting them, leading them up I-95. They closed the northbound lanes of 95 for something like twenty miles, for the whole time it took them to walk to Philly. They kept moving that closed section of 95 north, to keep up with the marchers. There was nothing else on television, practically. It took them two days just to get through Baltimore, and when they came through, they spread out like locusts. I was in Baltimore then, back in my mother's house. I'd quit college and gotten my draft notice. I was waiting to report for basic training."
Doug took a sip of his instant coffee, and went on. "Naturally, our own locals got into the spirit and joined the march. They took whatever they wanted from any stores along the way, and the police just watched. There was nothing they could do anyway, or it would have caused the biggest riot in history. It was legalized looting, that's all it was. Legalized looting, all over Baltimore. 'Redistributing the wealth,' they called it. We stayed locked in our house and watched it all on television. It would have been suicide to go out and see it in person."
"So it was, ah...racially polarized?" asked Carson.
"Extremely. Everything was black and white when they came marching through Baltimore. Blacks marching, and whites hiding. I never saw anything like it in my life. Well, not until Memphis, but that was after the earthquakes."
Carson asked, "How far is it from Washington to Philly? Two hundred miles?"
"That's about right. It took two weeks for them to make it all the way, and when they arrived, the constitutional convention was just starting. Perfect timing. What a coincidence, right? It was all planned in advance, that's obvious now. They held the convention in Philly's new sports arena, the one that was named for a bank. I think that bank is out of business; I don't know what they call it now. The delegates were down on the floor, and the rest of the stands were full of twenty thousand 'spectators.' Yelling and screaming like maniacs?and outside it was worse. They said there were over a million of the Poor People's Party in Philly by then, coming from everywhere, not just Washington. Probably another million just from the Philadelphia area. They were banging on buckets and pans, turning over cars, barricading streets and smashing store windows. They kept interviewing the rabble-rousers on TV--it was like pouring gasoline on fire. 'No Justice, No Peace,' that's all you heard. That was one of the big mantras. They called the looting 'street reparations.' They said if they didn't get the economic justice amendment, they'd burn the city down. It looked like they would, too. Every street in downtown Philly looked like Times Square on New Year's Eve, that's how crowded it was."
"Jeez, that had to be pretty rough, with that many people packed into downtown," said Carson. "There couldn't have been enough public bath-rooms."
"Almost every store and restaurant was broken open. Needing to use the restrooms was always a good excuse to force their way in. That, and needing food and drinking water. And after that, everything was looted."
"And the police didn't stop it?"
"They couldn't stop it. How could they?" asked Doug. "The police just stayed back on the edges and tried to herd them. Even that didn't work. A mob that big makes its own rules."
"Like a human tidal wave."
"Exactly. A human tsunami. So, with that mega-mob outside the arena, you can guess what kinds of radicals were being let in to fill the twenty thousand seats. The real cream of the crop. It was a total farce. That's when they started to call it the 'kangaroo convention' on talk radio. That was back when we still had AM talk radio."
Carson asked, "What happened to talk radio?"
"Two things. First, a couple of years ago Congress passed the so-called 'fairness' laws. That meant that every point of view on a radio station had to be balanced by another radio host or by other callers from the other side. It got incredibly complicated. They literally had to count how many minutes were said for this and for that on every subject. Trying to keep up with the fairness laws made talk radio a money loser, so most stations went to sports or music. Then Congress passed a law against 'hate speech on the public airwaves.' Anybody could take a radio station to court for just about anything that they claimed was hate speech. They'd cherry-pick a left-wing judge and jury, and it was a slam-dunk every time. After a few million-dollar judgments, the last talk radio stations threw in the towel. Now radio is practically all music and sports, with happy talk in between government PSAs?public service announcements."