I’m so exhausted I can’t think straight. I’ve got holes forming in my backpack and I don’t know where my tent is. I’m sleep deprived and I’m just as poor as when I started out. Have I done all that I can do? That’s the only question that bothers me anymore…or more to the point, does it matter?
About a month ago I deserted the army in Montana and started making my way up to Greenland. I had to wait almost a week in Windsor, Ontario for a crummy, illegally procured car that would take me across the country to meet my friend Rob. While I was up there I watched the world burning on TV, literally. Everywhere on Earth, excepting a few places, is pretty much hell right now. The southern continents are either too wet or too dry to grow anything or live. The TV programming was a nightmare mash-up between herds of haggard looking people pushing by each other as a reporter tried in vain to interview them and the wealthy funded “reality” shows that still air from the walled off parts of Michigan’s upper peninsula. There, the apocalypse deniers who can afford to still watch game shows and reality bits that are reminiscent of the early part of the 21st century, before the party ended. I guess if you have money, it never really did.
The one night I went out to a Windsor bar, I met a woman who’d been on one of the shows. It’s this really disgusting one where they pay a few rations to someone from outside the walls so they can ask a bunch of really patronizing questions about “life on the outside”.
“The rations were day old shit,” she said. “They laughed at my answers, no compassion at all, like I was just entertainment for them.”
“Did they feed you dinner at least?”
She looked at me like I was nuts.
“Once they were off air, I was back outside the walls within fifteen minutes. They drove me far away too so walking back wouldn’t be easy.”
Sometimes one of the legitimate news networks shows footage of this part of Michigan and you can actually see helicopters dropping supplies into the walled off areas.
After I picked up the car in Windsor, I drove to Quebec. A ride of one day ended up taking five. I was constantly re-routing, driving through make-shift villages, hordes of people on the road, open fires everywhere. They call them road walkers, people who don’t have a car and wander the road looking for anything that will come out of the ground. Most of the people were gaunt and skinny; at that time, I still had some fat on me. Dead trees everywhere, maybe a tenth of them had something to eat. I used up all my money getting to Quebec and the car ran out of gas just as I pulled into Rob’s driveway. From there, Rob and I set sail to New Liberty, Greenland in a stolen army cruiser ship. We had to see it for ourselves.
Rob and I weren’t supposed to know about New Liberty, nobody is supposed to know about it. It was by a chance meeting with a road walker in Missoula that we learned about it all. We were off duty drinking in the barracks and the guy asked to sit down and have a beer. He had an old army tag from when he served so we said sure. He was an older guy, stocky, big hands, head completely shaved. He looked a bit drunk. He told us about a place in New Liberty, Greenland where he’d worked security recently.
“Okay, what’s the punch line,” I said, when he was done.
He shook his head solemnly.
“There’s no joke. A handful of the world’s richest people, arguably the people most responsible for this mess we’re in now, have gone and founded a colony.”
“Ok, why Greenland?”
“Cause it’s the best chance they’ve got. Far enough North not to be hot but warm enough not to be freezing cold either. At least, that’s my opinion. Makes sense if you look at a map.”
“Maybe you should switch to water,” Rob said.
The guy’s face turned read and his eyes got wide.
“Look, you two think what you want. Here’s what I know for a FACT. About half a dozen rich assholes took over a fucking island! Drove everyone in the area out. I was a security guard there for three months. Trenton Hurst, Carl Pierston, Dave Aggerley. Those names ring a bell?”
I nodded. Rob wasn’t even trying to hide his skepticism.
“They’re planning to ride this thing out until everyone dies or something. They pay the people around them enough to guard them and bring them food. It’s a fucking disgrace.”
“Why haven’t we seen anything on the news then?”
“I told you. Carl Pierston….media baron. He’s one of the guys!”
I leaned forward in my folding chair.
“Look, I want to believe you,” I said. “But if this thing exists, we’d hear about it. Not all the press works for Pierston.”
“Anyone with money for a plane to Greenland is. You think the average independent reporter can afford that?”
He smooshed the empty beer can between his massive hands.
“It’s the one job I regret. If my wife wasn’t sick, I never would have taken it. You guys think what you like but, I’m telling you, it’s real…”
Rob and I tried to pretend to each other that we thought the guy was full of shit, but a few days later we agreed we had to go up there if we could. The whole time we’d been working in Montana, about 3 years at this point, we’d always kicked around the idea of some rebellious future act were we’d just go rouge for a while and have an adventure. Things were starting to get pretty bleak around Missoula anyway so we figured a change would be good. Plus, the army isn’t really watching for deserters anymore. They have way bigger fish to fry. We decided to take weapons with us under the pretense of selling them to the guys on the island, but we both knew the real plan.
After two weeks at sea, Rob and I put our boat in at the southern part of Greenland and drove the rest of the way in a land cruiser. We parked it, full of weapons and camping gear, near the shore We made a fire and sat near the water that night.
“You think the army is gonna miss their boat?” I asked.
“Nah. If we’d stolen a plane they might.”
Far off, a bull frog croaked, clashing with the blanket of cricket noise.
“I can’t believe we’re actually this close to being there. I can’t believe we did this. The balls!”
“If there is a ‘there’ at all,” I said.
“Yeah I guess. Well, I could use a beer.”
“That goes double for me,” I said.
He ducked into his tent and I heard him shuffling around, turning things over.
“Son of a bitch!” he said.
“I packed the wrong bag. There’s just water and food. I didn’t get the beer bag.”
“Do we have any then?”
“We have _one _exactly. It’s a good one too, Rags Man Pale Ale. I’ll open it up.”
“No, save it.”
“Save it for what?”
“If this goes well, we’ll have a celebration drink. We’re not wasting a Rags Man on this.”
“Come on Joey, I wanna drink.”
“There’ll be drinks man! We’re about to give a presentation to some of the world’s most well-off people. They’ll take care of us.”
He still looked hesitant, but he finally tossed it to me.
“You keep that thing. I’m gonna be too tempted.”
“Fucking lush,” I thought.
That night I fell asleep listening to the bullfrogs and crickets, potential relics of a lost age. Rob slept in the car next to the weapons, which I thought was a little strange, but to each his own I guess.
The next morning, I got my first real look at the island on our drive up to New Liberty, one of the last places on Earth with green trees. I noticed breathing was easier.
“Look, a red wing blackbird!” I called out at one point.
“You love things,” he said.
“I do, but they’re assholes when it’s nesting season.”
“Yeah that’s probably how they survived all this. Apocalypse isn’t for the weak.”
Four hours later, we turned off the main road onto a dirt path into the mountains. A quarter of a mile in, there was a gate. Four armed guards came out and aimed guns.
The car screeched to a halt.
“Boys, it’s okay,” Rob said.
“Get out of the car now!”
“It’s okay, we have an appointment.”
“Right, out in the middle of fucking nowhere!?!”
“We spoke personally to Hursten Trent on the phone. He and his partners are interested in a business proposition.”
The guard looked flummoxed.
“Derrek, call Mr. Trent.”
Ten minutes or so later the guys waved us through. They checked the car a little, but all they found were the weapons we were planning to sell. We were going to ask a lot of money for them, more than they were worth. It was pure mark-up bullshit, but these guys didn’t know the difference. Hursten Trent made his money in oil, not weapons. To be honest, it was odd: half a dozen rich guys and not a weapons expert between them.
You have to drive past the gates to really understand what New Liberty, Greenland is. The small gate I’d seen, was part of a much larger steel wall that rose up for miles. I could see it bending around the hills, no end in sight.
“Holy hell,” Rob said.
The place is mostly sand, rock and various shrubs. There are a few vacant houses that looked like they were abandoned in a hurry. We went through one town of maybe two hundred people, a lot of them wearing black combat fatigues, security.
“Well, I guess now I believe the guy,” I said. Rob laughed.
Coming up ahead of us was a three-story mansion, made of brick. It was closer in size to a large hotel. Six guys lived there, but you could probably put 60 inside and be comfortable.
We sat for dinner at a large table in a posh dining room overlooking the sunset, flourishing mountainside for miles. I read once about this guy Peter Thiel who wanted to build a network of floating ships out on the ocean that would serve as a city so he could ride the end of days out on the water. These guys, evil as they were, seemed like they had a better idea, all that green open land. I thought about all those burned out backyards and empty homes I’d seen during my time clearing roads in Montana, families on the road with nothing but the things on their backs. It took effort not too clench my teeth together, not to raise my blood pressure. Rob was at the center of the room finishing up a power point.
“And finally, we come to our last step: implementation. Over a five-year period, we can add say, a hundred auto-fire cannons to your walls, fifteen thousand cameras for the outside and eventually troops. Gentleman, we can rid you of virtually all exterior threat. Thank you.”
There was polite applause. Rob sat down and the six most important people in the world leaned in towards one another, whispering, exchanging curious looks. Rob and I were at the other end of the table and the sound didn’t carry well. There were women with some of the men at the table, but they weren’t saying anything and when they tried to, whoever they were with would give them a look I’ve only ever seen commanding officers give to insubordinates.
“I think me, and the boys would like to kick this around for a couple of days before we make a decision.”
Certainly,” I said.
“Please avail yourselves of the guest apartment while we do.”
“That’s very generous,” Rob said.
After dinner, a few of the guys took us on a tour of the place. The others went off on an “errand” with Trent Hursten the women who’d been there. Our tour concluded in the basement. The basement was as large as a museum and just as well kept up: Olympic sized pool, 12-person hot tub, a movie theater with 50 or so leather seats and a full bar with billiards tables and a bowling alley. No Rags Man beer though. I sat in dim a corner of the bar while Rob pitched more of his weapons to Carl Pierston and Dave Aggerley. I’d had a couple of drinks now and my anger was dulling, overtaken by a mildly pleasant buzz. I rested my hands against the soft leather of the bar and listened.
"You see, this is exactly what I’m getting at,” Dave Aggerley said. “These are the original principals of the constitution: freedom to make one’s own fortune, responsibility for one’s own actions, and the least amount of government interference possible.”
“In a year, America isn’t going to be on the mainland anymore. It’s going to be here.”
“Your absolute right,” Rob said. “And sooner or later you’ll have to do what the founders did and defend the land.”
“Well, I think that’s the essence of anarco-capitalism. Removing the government middleman and dealing with your own affairs!”
“I’ve never heard it put better.”
Hearing this made me feel like my beer was going to come up. I started to stand. As I did this, the large batwings of the bar opened, and Trenton returned with the rest of the men and about a dozen new women. I didn’t recognize a single one of them from dinner.
“Gentleman! The party is here.”
There was loud laughter and shouting. I started casually walking towards the door. That’s when Rob shouted.
“Joey! Leaving already!”
“A bit tired from the trip,” I said.
“Oh, come on! Stay awhile.”
He walked up to me quickly and leaned in.
“You can’t go yet. It’ll look suspicious.”
“Aw, who gives a shit. The deal’s done.”
He smiled nervously and his brow was furrowed in thought.
“Look, just give it like an hour okay.”
Four hours later, they were still going, and I headed up to my room. I’d only had one drunk and I was stone cold sober now, but I was drained just the same. On my way up to the room I passed through a small hallway with life-sized, frame pictures (idols?): Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. The pioneers. I went up to my room. Yes, I was stone cold sober, but still sick. I went into the bathroom and vomited.
It was 3 AM when Rob finally came in. He didn’t look drunk. He woke me up. I’d fallen asleep with a news station on, a real one. There were showing shots of Shanghai from the other week, sunk underwater a couple of people rafting, no city save for the tall buildings. Rob switched it off.
“You ready?” he asked.
“As ever….how about you?”
“I’m still…..little drunk,” he gestured with his fingers.
“I think we have to move now while they’re down.”
He nodded. He’d be ready.
I came to Trenton Hurst’s room last. Rob was on the other side of the large building dealing with Carl Pierston around this time. Trenton was lying next to one of the hookers, another one had fallen asleep on his oversized couch. His room alone could have been someone’s two-bedroom apartment. I hesitated with the knife for a moment. Until that night, I’d never killed anyone during my entire time in the army, aside from a deer in the headlights. Whatever his beliefs were politically, this was still a human being. Then I thought of the woman who told me about being laughed at on the reality show. I put my hand over Trent’s mouth and plunged the blade into his heart. The woman next to him didn’t even move. His terrified eyes met mine for a few seconds, all the booze had gone out of him, swallowed by adrenaline. He only squirmed for a few seconds and then he was still. The last of them was dead now.
As I came out in the hall a couple of naked women ran past me and screamed. They were carrying their clothes with them.
“No need to run,” I said. “It’s not you we want.”
I went downstairs to the kitchen that could have been someone’s house and I washed my knife in one of the twelve sinks. A river of pinkish, watery blood ran into the drain and disappeared, blood that cleanses. We could sleep for a few hours now and later that day we’d start the process of getting some of these supplies into the hands of people who really need them. We definitely had enough planes.
I heard a footstep behind me, and I turned around. Rob had a gun pointed at my chest.
“What’s it worth to you to live?” he asked.
“Rob….What the fuck are you doing?”
“There’s a large case full of weapons and food and a ship with provisions that I’ll give you if you agree to leave here and never come back.”
I looked at the gun. I looked at him. Reasoning with the gun would be the easy thing, the man behind it was another story.
“What do we do then?” I asked.
“The car’s packed, you follow me out to it.”
We walked out to the car we’d taken there. As he’d promised there was a suitcase full of things for me. He got in the seat behind me so he could train the loaded gun at my back.
“Are you serious?” I said.
We went down the little hill. Rob had me stop in front a military barracks in the small town from earlier. He waved to one of the soldiers in combat fatigue.
“Who’s in charge?”
“Well that’d be me! Whose asking?”
“Listen up, Trent Hursten is dead. So’s all the other important people. I know where the money is and without me no one is getting paid. Understand?”
The solider nodded.
“I’m taking my friend here to his transportation and I’ll be back in the afternoon sometime tomorrow. When I get back I expect all the men here ready to vacate the island. I’m giving you all six months’ pay.”
“But sir, we can’t just…”
Rob had already started driving and we missed the last part of whatever the guy said.
We drove on for hours, me at the wheel with a gun trained at my back. The sun was just starting to come up as we neared the boat where we’d put in. I really should have seen this coming. Something had been off with Rob since before we’d set out. I hadn’t quite been able to put my finger on it, but in the harsh, cold light of hindsight, with a gun trained on my back, I was able to see it perfectly. Rob had become greedy. Exactly when this happened is probably a silly question at this point, maybe it was in him the whole time we were friends, lying just beneath the skin, waiting to be released. At some point, he’d given into the fear, that same self-centered belief that had convinced six rich men to hoard an obscene mass of money and resources on a remote island.
I listened to the satellite radio as we drove.
“Unfortunately, the death toll continues to rise each day, Michelle.”
“That’s right Mike, new reports say as many as 12 million dead in New York, 3 million in Los Angeles, just getting numbers in from Honduras and Mexico, another 20 million listed in serious condition. Right now, there are roughly 300 million migrants making their way North up to Canada. We’ll keep you updated as long as this station holds power here on radio Vancouver.”
Rob stopped the car. I took my things and got out. He kept the gun trained on me as he switched back to the driver seat.
“This is so fucking stupid,” I said. “What are you gonna do up there alone huh? How much enjoyment are you going to get out of hanging out with yourself all day?”
“Plenty of women,” he said.
“Oh, you ass! You stupid ass!”
“I think if you reflect on the situation more closely, you’ll find you’re the ass,” he said.
He switched the motor on again.
“You stupid son of a bitch. You had a chance to do justice. You had a chance to help people and you’re throwing it away for what? You’re just like them.”
Rob glared at me and drove back into the mountains. That last look he gave me chilled my bones. It wasn’t anyone who I recognized, but a stranger. I wanted to ask him what he’d done with my friend.
So, like I said in the beginning, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted and pissed off. I’ve been sitting next to this fire trying to decide what to do. I don’t think anything I’ve done in my entire military career has ever meant so much as what I need to do now. If Rob stays up there and keeps ordering in supply drops, hoarding resources and paying security guards, he’s only going to deprive the people of the world of the things they so desperately need. My plan was always to redistribute things as best as possible or at least stop the waste. As far as I’m concerned, that hasn’t changed.
All right, I’ve got a lot of walking ahead of me and I need start tonight. I’ll travel at night only. There’s a crazy man somewhere on this island and he needs to go. Maybe a few of those fleeing militia men will help me before they leave for good.
Oh, yeah….I think I’ll have that beer we were saving now.