The pensive people pacing behind their barricades hurled threats and insults with impotent frustration. At 9 am that morning, a substantial number of them had been some of the most upstanding and influential citizens of the capital. Lobbyists, Congressional aides, defense contractors, and various types of analysts. Even staring down the hollow barrel of the tanks mammoth guns, they were having trouble accepting this disposition of things.
"I work in the Pentagon. What's your commanding officer's name!"
"You can't do this!"
"Do you know who I work for? I'll have you brought up charges!"
But the soldiers were unmoved by the haranguing functionaries. Only when they came too close did the unblinking troop acknowledge them.
"Get back in your car!" They ordered.
In a pathetic recreation of the lone student's stand at Tiananmen Square, a stout middle-aged man with a thick neck and bloated red face emerged from the crowd to confront the hostile soldiers.
"Fuck this bullshit!" he huffed as he pulled up the sleeves of his sweat-drenched button down.
"Step back!" The gunner barked, but the pudgy VIP defiantly ignored the order.
"Do you know who I am?!" He asked as he planted his feet firmly in front of the tank.
"I'm warning you to get back in your car!" The soldier repeated.
"I'm Henry Eden chief of staff to Senator O'Connor, and right now, I'm on official Senate business!"
"I'm going to count to three….," said the soldier gripping the handles of the heavy automatic weapon.
The chief of staff importantly stomped his feet, "Do you know how fucked you're gonna be?"
"1," the gunner shouted.
"You're breaking so many laws right now. They'll put you up in front of a firing squad!"
"I hope you like Gitmo dick!" Eden sneered.
"3!" the barrel flashed, and the gun hammered out a stream of lead. The growing crowd instantly dispersed into a scurrying swarm.
A couple of hours drive north in Philadelphia, the cradle of the republic Brigadier General Leonard Macavae was busy putting the vast resources faithfully put at this disposal to organized the city's social event of the season. The General was a rat too far up the decks to realize the ship was sinking. Quite the contrary, the chaos engulfing the fragmenting empire had been a great boon to his career. The president appointed the 48-year-old general one of his illustrious executive of internal security.
In effect, this made Macanroy an able administrator and an at best mediocre soldier, the military governor of a crucial American metropolis. The opportunistic General found many opportunities in his new post, and he was eager to reap all the benefits possible. The city's elite became his patrons, and in exchange, he wielded his military power to their advantage. Macanroy was busy reviewing the ballroom so he could make last-minute command decisions such as how best to display the bottles stocked behind the bar and whether or not the wait staff should don formal military dress.
General Macavae was rehearsing his triumphant stride on the red carpet to the podium. With each step walked deeper into his fantasy. The room around him dimmed, and the distant sound echo of applause crescendo into a rolling thunder flashing with the lights of a thousand cameras.
Macavae's chief of staff, Colonel Huntley, stood off to the side and watched his commander pantomime a pageant walk with incredible patience given the contents of the sealed envelope he clutched in his hands.
Finally, the young officer decided what he was holding onto warranted the interruption.
"Excuse me, sir," Huntley said in a way that was both urgent and apologetic.
Macavae paused mid-wave and opened his eyes. "Yes, what is it, Colonel?" he asked with apparent irritation.
Macanroy and his staff commandeered the lounge as their temporary headquarters. The leather-trimmed room was a panorama of flat screens, and at the moment, cable news was one of their only sources of real-time information. The cadre of officers watched with slack-jawed silence at the running montage of background footage sewn together from social media of armored columns rumbling into the heart of the capital.
"Does anyone know anything about this?" Macanroy asked the dumbfounded officers.
"No, sir," they mumbled.
No one got an email about this? A Facebook message? Nothing?" The General asked the room.
"No, sir," they groaned.
"None of us can get a signal in here, sir!"
"Yeah, yeah, bad signal," the crowd muttered their consensus.
Huntley stepped forward, "Sir, protocol is very clear in this situation. We have to lock down the city. A curfew must immediately be put into effect…
"No, no, no," Macave shook his head.
Huntley raised his voice over Macave's petulant disagreement. "Sir, with all due respect, we have a dim view of the situation. We don't know who we're dealing with. We don't know if a coup is underway!"
Huntley hadn't made a career for himself by being imaginative or assertive. He was smart enough to know the type of people who become generals don't care for dissenting opinions. But at this moment and maybe for the first time in his life, the young officer was emboldened by duty to take the course of action he felt best even if it meant derailing the myopic plans of his superior officer.
"Sir, I have the protocol manual in my hand!" Huntley said, holding up the envelope for the audience to see.
"Colonel Huntley, if you do not shut the fuck up, I'll bust your ass down for insubordination!" Macavae's boomed, and his chest swelled.
The Colonel's courage dissipated. He acknowledged defeat. "Yes sir," he said obediently.
The General straightened his back and puffed out his chest and took a long hard look around the room.
"Let me ask you," he said as he began to confidently stroll among his humbled subordinates.
"What has been our mission here?" He let the question linger for a moment.
"To restore order!" He announced with a clenched fist. "And I think we've done a damn good job. Now I know the news made those tanks look big and scary, but it's only a few goddamn tanks. We've worked long and hard, and tonight we're gonna get ours!"
The captive audience answered with applause.
"Now that doesn't mean we're not gonna be vigilant. That's why we are who we are, vigilance! Huntley, you showed initiative and initiative takes balls. In fact, I always held the initiative, and balls were attributes held in direct proportion."
"Thank you, sir!" Huntley replied enthusiastically.
"So what we're gonna do is lock down the base for the night, cancel all leave, and disable all personal portable devices. I want a general curfew immediately put into effect. I figure we can just email our guests and the media special passes. Maybe even get the VIPs and armored escort. Show em we're not fuckin around. Remember, this is the US military, the best outfit in the world, and we're at the top of it. Our boys would follow us to hell if we ordered them. As long as we've been doing our duty right, we have nothing at all to worry about."
The heightening enthusiasm ominously cooled at this ominous conclusion.
That moral booster was Macanroy's first fatal blunder of the night, but as far as he was concerned, no news was good news, he was isolated from the chain reaction setting off fissures through their treasured institution.
Even more disastrous was the command decision to abandon his troops to their junior commanders. Who were now in a favorable position to seize power from their oblivious and unpopular General.
Macanroy's forces were encamped on the outskirts of the city. Close enough to its shimmering steel heart to remind those in the glass towers, they were there to protect them but still far enough away as not to be an eyesore. The mechanized forces were like a fire brigade trying to contain the growing inferno of factionalized violence that was consuming the urban husk.
In his absence, Macanroy left Commander Quinn in charge of day to day operations on base. As a successful opportunist, Quinn was quite sensitive to the changing tides of fortune, and he sensed they might be turning against his master.
He peaked his head outside his office. His MP detail was still where they were supposed to be, and for the time being, that was enough to ease his fears, but as he idled away in the confines of his office, his nerves continued to steadily tighten like winding piano wire.
Time was grinding by excruciatingly slow, and the commander decided the best way to distract himself was to busy himself with his assigned tasks. He got up from his desk and opened his office door. The hallways, usually a hive of activity, were still, and his MPs had gone.
Quinn panicked he locked the door to his office and picked up the phone from his desk, but there was no dial tone.
"Shit," he slammed the phone down and started running around the office, quickly gathering up everything he'd need to make a hasty escape. He could hear the clicking heels of combat boots, making their way towards his door.
"Oh god," he sobbed. He turned off the light and hid under his desk. Quinn's trembling body spasmed everytime the boots stomped on the floor. He bit down on his knuckle and clenched his eyes shut. There was a sharp knock on the door, Quinn's teeth nearly broke the skin of his hand trying to keep himself from screaming.
"Commander Quinn, this is Luietent Colonel Mandell. Open the door or will break it down."
Quinn had always been afraid of Mandell on a very personal level. The battle-hardened officer was a product of an unending war. The deprivations he shared with his men on numerous battlefields across the planet had endeared him to his colleagues and subordinates. He saw first hand the visceral horrors of modern war inflicted on his brothers and dedicated his life to protecting his fellow soldiers. The longer he stayed in the military, the more his personal life dissolved around him until his life as a soldier was all that was left. He was, in essence, a true man-o-war.
Mandell pounded his fist against the door, and again Quinn didn't answer. There was a brief lull before the door exploded inward, and Mandell marched into the shattered frame. Commander Quinn popped out from his hiding place with his hands up.
"Please don't shoot me," he quivered as tears ran down his cheeks.
Just over the river General Macanroy was confident he was throwing the event of the season. Anybody who was anybody in the city was in attendance. Captains of industry, celebrities of every variety, and of course politicians who saw the event as a way to mingle with their patrons at no costs to themselves
The ballroom was decorated in the style of a sweet 16 birthday party with military trimming. Multicolored light fixtures pulsed to the beat of dance music, marines wearing ceremonial dress holding rifles with fixed bayonets flanked the doors, and a massive stage was erected with a giant unfurled American flag as a backdrop. It was Macanroy's homage to the movie Patton.
The illustrious host was making his rounds while his chief of staff frantically searched for him in the sea of partygoers. Huntley spotted his commander and tried to politely as possible wade through the VIPs.
Macanroy was standing in a small circle, chatting over cocktails. "Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt," Huntley said, short of breath. "But I really need to discuss something with you in private."
Macanroy nodded and smiled. "Excuse me for just a moment," he said to his guests.
"This better be good, Colonel," Macanroy said sternly.
"Sir, I'm worried about Quinn," said Huntley.
"Why?" Macanroy shrugged.
"I haven't been able to get in contact with any CO at the base for the last hour. I think something has happened," said Huntley. "And there are rumors that munitions units have been seizing military facilities across the country."
Huntley noticed his commander's vacant look. His eyes were staring straight past him. Huntley turned to see what he was staring at. A slender woman in a black evening gown and honey blond hair was making her way across the room. The dress tightly hugged her hips, and her long toned legs were as lightly tanned as the flesh of her smooth shoulders.
"She's here," Macave muttered.
"Huntley when I was in college me, and her had a short but passionate fling. I was gonna ask her to marry me, but before I could, she broke it off. Said she loved me as a "friend" but couldn't see herself in a long-term romantic entanglement with me. After that, she went off with some tech startup guy. I hear she's single now, though, and believe me, after tonight she's gonna see not choosing me was the biggest mistake of her life."
Huntley was dumbfounded. He collected his thoughts and shook his head. "Sir I can appreciate that, but right now we really have other things to worry abou-"
"She's walking over here," Macave gasped. "Quick pretend we're talking about some top-secret operation or something!"
"Sir, we don't even know if we have control over the base. There's a whole armored brigade there that-"
"Rebecca Sanders, is that you?" Macanroy said
"Ian Macanroy," she replied with a radiant smile.
"It's Brigadier General Macanroy now." The General said with a playful smile.
His eyes lingered on the beautiful Rebecca for a moment, and he turned back to his chief of staff. "Colonel will discuss air operations later. It is a party you know! Enjoy yourself!" They embraced each other, and the enamored General followed the beautiful siren away from his only reliable advisor.
"Wow this is some shindig you put on her," Rebecca said
"Thank you," Macave said, trying to downplay his beaming pride.
"You're looking well," Rebecca said. "You still cut a nice figure in that uniform."
"And you're still looking just as beautiful as ever," Macanroy said cooly. Rebbecca replied with a flirtatious smile.
"Want to grab a table and catch up a bit? Macanroy suggested. "It's been a long time."
"I'd love to," she said.
While Macave was trying to rekindle a failed romance from over two decades ago, Mandell and his fellow conspirators were finding control over the base's intercom system was all they needed to take command from their absentee general. Mandell assembled the troops and made his bid for their loyalty.
The tanks were armed and brought into formation while the confused crews waited to hear from their new commander. Mandell wore the simple uniform of a combat soldier. He reviewed the troops under the starlight glow of stadium lights. The grumbling tanks were hulking figures, but no shadow cast quite as long than that of Mandell now a full Colonel. At least as far as he was concerned. The renegade officer was about to complete his power play with only a microphone.
"As many of you already know, I am a combat soldier. I've even had the distinct honor of serving with some of you. So I'm not going to mince words, there's not going to be any fine print to this mission. I know it doesn't happen often in the military, but I'm going to be 100 percent upfront with you."
The soldiers chuckled.
"We've been charged with relieving and detaining General Macanroy, and we're to do this immediately."
The grunts mumbled to among themselves.
"I'm sure no ones told you this yet, but a coup has been launched, and as we speak, armored units are engaged on the streets of DC!" Mandell said gravely.
"Where is our esteemed general now?" Mandell posed rhetorically. He pointed his finger at the glowing skyline on the horizon. "He is hosting a party for his patrons!" Mandell shouted with a sudden fury that shocked the soldiers into silence.
"Ever since we started this mission, what have we been doing? The city, at least the majority of it isn't any more orderly. How many convoys of designer clothes and imported cars have we escorted through the blood-soaked streets just right outside our camp?! Macanroy hasn't just betrayed the trust of his own superior officers. He has betrayed each and every one of you with his vile disregard for the sacred oath of the soldier! I've been in this army 20 years, and I refuse to see guys like Macanroy run it into the ground!"
There was an outbreak of celebration. "Mandell, Mandell!" They began to chant.
The Colonel stood at attention and waited for the jubilant ovation to abate. "Now that that's settled, it's important that soldiers be able to trust each other on the field. So I have to ask if anyone here is from Philly?"
A hand full of troops spoke up.
"Would any of you boys have any qualms about firing on the city if we had to?"
Whether it was because they were swept up in the moment or just because no one felt that this would be the time to resist peer pressure, none of the city's native sons raised any objections.
Macanroy was blissfully unaware of the general mutiny back at base, so as far as he was concerned, his night was going entirely to plan.
He and Rebecca were sitting intimately close at a private table happily reminiscing over champagne, and Macanroy, the host, was, of course, the man of the hour. Rebecca watched as a carousel of well-wishers and acquaintances from the jet-setting elite came over to pay their respects to the night's god of the ceremony.
Besides the initial tension of attraction, the former flames were getting along well. The conversation was smooth and natural. He had deeply missed her all those years, and it was a relief for him to see that the feeling was mutual. As the night went on, they seemed to inch closer and closer to each other. When he made her laugh, she'd reach out to put a hand on his shoulder or his knee. Her very touch felt like an electric current running through his flesh.
There was a conversational lull. They locked eyes, she blushed and averted her gaze. He saw her hand on the seat next to him and slowly slid his palm over her hand and their fingers entwined. Under the table. Her eyes fluttered, and she slowly leaned in. This was it, mission accomplished.
"Rebecca, is that you?" A man with a British accent said, disrupting the moment.
She withdrew her hand. A tall, slender man with poofy hair clad in black with a camera hanging from his neck was standing next to the table.
"Sean!" she squealed as she stood up to embrace him.
Macanroy slowly sipped his champagne. "What are you doing in the states? Do you have a photoshoot?" She asked.
"No," he shook his head. "I'm actually here helping to shoot a documentary," he replied.
"Oh, really, what about?" She asked.
"Well, actually about the current situation in the city," he said. "But I just stopped by to say hello I can tell you about it later."
"Ok, cheers," Macanroy said, holding up his glass.
"No, no, sit with us. I want to hear about this," Rebecca insisted. "Oh well, ok then," Sean agreed.
"Hi, I'm Sean," he said, extending his hand to Macanroy.
Huntley was busy wandering around the cavernous lobby of the building holding his phone in the air, hoping to catch a bar. He'd walk to different points in the room slowly turn in a circle like a radar antenna before moving on to the next spot. Finally, the screen flashed, and the phone vibrated.
"Finally," he said. A video message had just downloaded. The thumbnail was of a highway. He hit play and the clip loaded. The shaky frame held on a stretch of road. A low rumble could be heard in the distance growing steadily louder with each passing second. Then emerging from the shroud of darkness, Huntley could see the front of a tank. As it rolled towards the camera, the column started coming into view. The phone shook again.
"Ther heading towards Philly!" the text read.
Macanroy was quietly listening with swelling rage as the object of his affection was swooning right in front of him for a slightly younger Englishman of all things! Sean's camera was filled with images depicting the sorrow and bloodshed Macanroy's army of occupation was inflicting on the population. As it turned out, this unfinished film, already nominated for an award at Sundance, was an "unblinking look" at the reality of security policy.
As he cycled through the damming collage of horror, he started delivering heartwarming anecdotes to accompany his informal presentation.
"This little boy lost his family when a military convoy blasted his house with heavy machine guns," he said with downcast eyes.
"Oh my god," Rebecca gasped.
"I went to that little boy, and I gave him a camera," Sean said
"You gave him a camera," Rebbecca said with astonishment.
"Yes, I gave him a camera and said show the word. Show the world what you see." Sean said with resolve.
"Wow," Rebecca said with admiration.
Macanroy rolled his eyes.
"What the military is doing to these people is just a crime," Sean said with a voice full of remorse. "Oh no offense," he said, turning to the General.
"Yeah, of course," Macanroy said dismissively.
"Wow, I had no idea this was happening," Rebbecca said.
"And how exactly did you think we kept this city safe and running?" Macanroy asked disdainfully. "Did you think we kept the armed gangs and militias at bay with meditation and watercolors?
Rebecca and Sean glared at him. "Wow," Rebecca said with disappointment.
Macanroy saw that she had shifted away from him closer to Sean. Now her eyes were fixed on him. She periodically touched him. Macanroy was losing the initiative. He went to pour himself more champagne and noticed the bottle was empty.
He looked at Rebecca's glass then Sean's both were still half full. "Oh, shit," Macanroy muttered.
Huntley appeared at the table as suddenly as aspiration. He snapped to attention "General, sorry to interrupt again, but this requires immediate action,"
Macanroy's head wobbled. His eyes were squinted, and his shoulders stopped. "Alright, Colonel," he slurred.
The stumbling General insisted he was alright as he struggled to follow his aid-de-camp to a service hallway. Once they found a sufficiently isolated spot in the adjacent corridor, Macanroy leaned his body against the wall and continued groaning incoherently.
"That motherfucker," Macanroy hissed.
"Sir," Huntley said, trying to focus the conversation.
"She's sending me signals all night now she's just gonna go off with some Brit faggot?"
Huntley restrained himself. "What's the matter, sir?" he asked sympathetically.
"I was supposed to get with her tonight," The sniveling General shouted. "I'm the most powerful guy in that room. She's supposed to fuck me!"
Huntley decided it was a mistake to indulge his drunk commander and got back to business. "Sir, the soldiers are defecting."
"Defecting?" the general repeated as he gradually started to fall to the left.
"Yes, Colonel Mandell is heading this way with an armored battalion even as we speak," Huntley said sharply.
Macanroy shook his head. "What about Quinn?" he asked.
"They left him hanging a sign on the interstate, sir," Huntley said without a hint of sadness.
"Fuck!" Macanroy barked as he smashed his fist into the wall.
"Sir, there's a helicopter waiting we've got evacuate before it's too late," Huntley pleaded.
Macanroy took a deep breath. "I'm staying," he declared.
Huntley was taken back. "But sir…."
Macanroy stood up straight, he staggered for a moment but managed to plant his feet. "Colonel, the reason this has gotten so out of hand is because we've been letting candy ass liberals with no military sense tell us how to run our ship. Fuck that it stops now! Get a squad of Apaches on those tanks. I'm going to show everyone if you fuck with me I won't hesitate to blow you the fuck up no matter who you are!"
Huntley was horrified. "Sir, we can't use that kind of firepower in the city without direct orders!"
"Your orders are from me, colonel!" snapped Macanroy. "You have them now go make it happen."
Mandell's nighttime drive towards Philledalphis was moving without any opposition. The military checkpoints melted away before him and, in many cases, even attached themselves to his growing convoy.
Mandell was in the lead tank. Like many of history's greatest gamblers, he had an aura of confidence and a certain stoicism that led men to follow him a potentially perilous path without question. They rode through the darkness like a mechanized cavalry on its way to vanquish the petty, incompetent tyrant in favor of their own patron of order.
"Sir Apaches are approaching from the west!" a grunt informed him. "Keep moving," Mandell said ambivalently.
Mandell stood up and crawled up the tank's hatch. He pulled himself up through the portal and looked up at the sky. Following alongside them were the menacing figures of attack helicopters.
Macanroy cleaned himself up and returned to his party. When he stomped back to his table, Rebecca and Sean were busy gathering their things.
"Leaving?" Asked Macanroy.
"Yeah," Rebbecca said flatly.
"Oh well, don't leave, yet you're going to miss the best part of the night," Macanroy said ominously.
"There's going to be a whole mess of kids for you to give cameras to pinko," he lashed at Sean before marching off to the stage.
The music stopped, and the room went dark. "Ladies and gentlemen," echoed an announcer's voice. "I am pleased to present your host for the evening, "Brigadier General Macanroy!"
There was stand ovation, a spotlight burst on illuminating the General against the enormous banner of the stars and stripes. Macanroy strutted to the center of the stage. "Hello, is everyone having a good time tonight?"
The partygoers replied with more roaring applause. "Well, that's good to hear," Macanroy said with delight. He looked out over the crowd and could see Rebecca leaving with Sean.
Macanroy gritted his teeth. "I got news for all of you!" he announced. "We have some unscheduled entertainment. As I'm sure by now, most of you are aware of what happened in DC. Well, we got the unfortunate news that some of the rouge forces are making their way towards our fair city!"
The crowd gasped.
"But it's nothing to worry about," Macanroy said reassuringly. "Because I'm going to show you first hand how I deal with people who threaten the town I love. Light 'em up!" He shouted.
The pilots shadowing the tanks received the order to fire, but they hesitated. This left Macanroy standing in front of the crowd like a magician who had just botched a trick. On the ground, Mandell was still rolling, waiting with crushing anticipation to see what the helicopters would do.
There was a burst of fire, and Mandell's breath stopped in his chest. His eyes followed the rocket's burning trail until the munitions harmlessly exploded a good half-mile away.
Mandell waved to the helicopters, and they broke off.
The partygoers watched from their enclave of luxury in the sky as unleashed an inferno. They gawked at the destruction like it was a fireworks show. The General satisfied with his pyrotechnics display celebrated with shameless bravado.
"That's right! That's what you get for fucking with us!"
The General, without an army, celebrated his imaginary victory with gusto. Everyone raised a glass to the savior of the city. When the night came to a fever pitch, everything suddenly went black, and in what seemed like a moment later, Macanroy was waking up on a couch in the darkroom. His head throbbed, and the awful taste lingering in his dry mouth aggravated his churning stomach.
"Ugghh," he groaned as he closed his eyes and turned over. He could hear what sounded like the muffled bursts of thunder and assumed it must be raining besides that everything was quiet. After a few moments, the hungover General fell back into the restorative sanctuary of sleep.
When Macanroy opened his eyes again, he wasn't sure how much time had gone by, but it felt as though the whole day had been lost. He could still hear the thunder.
"That's some damn storm," he muttered.
When he left the room, he realized he was still at the venue, but there were no guests or even staff.
"Hello?" he called out, but no one answered.
He shuffled through the hallway and went through a set of double doors leading back into the ballroom. Everyone was gone, but nothing had been cleaned up. Glasses with various amounts of drink in them covered the tables, bags, and other personal effects had also been left behind. There was an ear tearing blast followed by the sound of shattering glass. Macanroy raced to the window and looked down on the city. Shells were falling in downtown Philadelphia.
"Oh fuck," groaned Macanroy.