Tricentennial

By Per Fagereng

Mom’s boy friend talked me into going, although I was really doing it for her. She liked Sam, and he was a member of One Nation Indivisible. He lived at a church farm halfway between Damascus and Boring, where he managed the ducks.

Sam lived with his son George, who was a few years old than me. George was dim, but Mom kept wanting me to get to know him better and maybe like him as an older brother. She had a lot of little dreams like that, and I didn’t want to kill them. Her biggest dream at the time was to marry Sam and move into his house on the farm. There she would take the wool that the laborers sheared, spin the wool into yarn and weave pretty shawls. Maybe some day she would weave a fine tapestry about American history and it would hang in the church sanctuary. But for now she hoped I would march with Sam and George in the Tricentennial parade.

So early on the morning of July 4, 2076 I rode the streetcar into Portland and walked to the Columbia Hotel, which the One Nation Indivisible committee had rented for the occasion. In the ballroom I stood in line to get my uniform. When I got to the head of the line the man behind the table pointed to three pictures of soldiers in uniform and said, “That’s all we got left.”

“No Continentals?” I asked.

“They went fast,” he said, and waved to the empty rack at the end of the row.

I’d waited too long to make up my mind about joining the parade. So I took a World War One Doughboy uniform, which looked the least uncomfortable for a hot day. And from what I knew about history, that war was the most stupid of all.

The man handed me my uniform on a hanger, and I took it upstairs to our hotel room. Sam and George were already dressed and admiring each other. Both of them were Continentals, with white knee britches and heavy blue coats with white sashes across the chest, and their little three-cornered hats.

“We got to get going,” said Sam. “Let me know if you need help.”

I put on a pair of brown pants that were slightly puffed out like riding britches. I wrapped some brown leggings around my shins and kept my regular walking shoes. I buttoned up by brown tunic, and pulled a belt with cartridge pockets around my middle. With a brown campaign hat on my head I looked ready to fight and die in the muddy trenches.

We walked downstairs to the lobby that was filled with soldiers from all the wars that America had fought. I guessed there were fourteen or fifteen wars, but maybe I missed a few.

A committee official spoke to the crowd. He was dressed as a Continental general with a plume on his hat. He said, “We’re going to walk a few blocks to the formation area. And then we’re going to line up into our contingents. The troops will be leading the march and the band will be playing right behind us. And bringing up the rear will be the politicians and local luminaries. Which I guess is in the American tradition.”

The men all laughed at that and trooped out the door.

The parade formed under the trees in the North Park Blocks. The band began braying and thumping and we crossed Burnside Street and marched up Broadway. Leading the parade were two drummers and a guy playing the flute. Then came the Continentals, followed by the Union and Confederate troops, General Custer’s Seventh Cavalry, the Doughboys, the soldiers of World War Two, and after that it got blurred. There must have been eight or nine different wars in different parts of the world, but they were all represented by men and a few women in camo uniforms.

None of us carried muskets or rifles or any kind of weapon. Sam said the One Nation Indivisible committee couldn’t afford to lose any real weapons, and fake rifles would have looked tacky. “The real message,” he said, “is we are armed by the spirit of America.”

Sam and George marched up front with the rest of the Continentals. I trudged along with the mud-brown Doughboys. The days was heating up. I unbuttoned the collar of my tunic and wished I had a canteen of water. Somewhere behind us the band was playing. You could hear snatches of music but it was hard to march to.

We passed a bank building where a row of military officers stood on the front steps and gave us a perpetual salute. A few people lined the curb, but other folks were just out for a stroll and didn’t even look our way.

Then we came to Pioneer Courthouse Square, and there we saw the Doug Fir flag of the Cascadia Republic. It had green, white and blue horizontal stripes and a tree in the middle. People stood at the edge of the square, waving their flag and shouting. A trumpet blared. Three women raised their tops and wiggled their breasts. Then we saw a red and black flag with an eagle. “What the hell flag is that?” asked the Doughboy marching beside me.

“I think it’s the farm workers,” I said.

“What are they doing up here?”

“Waving their flags. Working on the farms.”

The band music and all the noise echoed off the tall buildings. We marched past the square, past the theaters and up the hill.

Then I heard yelling and screaming ahead. The parade piled up. The people in front stopped and those in back pushed against us. I slipped away from the crowd and ran up the sidewalk and saw a big fight going on. It looked like another parade was coming down Broadway and they ran head-on into ours. A row of scowling faces stared at our Continentals.

And then from a side street came a bunch of screaming Indians riding electric bikes. They had long black hair and war paint on their faces. They rode between the groups of soldiers and they waved toy rifles that squirted real or fake blood. One of them passed about twenty feet in front of me. With a fierce grin he aimed his rifle at a Seventh Cavalry soldier and splashed him with a bright red stream.

The Indians passed through our ranks and then they were gone. But the other parade was standing its ground. Some of our soldiers went running up to join the fight. Then behind me the  band began playing again and now people were turning around and heading back the way they came. Some were marching and some were starting to run.

The parade had turned into a crowd of people shuffling along in the street. I looked for Sam and George. I saw a Continental holding a handkerchief to his bleeding nose, but it was some one else.

We came marching raggedly back to Pioneer Courthouse Square and found a party going strong. Down the steps in the plaza people danced to a country string band with a couple of extra trumpets. Sweet smoke from the barbecue barrels filled the warm air. On Morrison Street a freight streetcar stood on the siding and people were buying food brought in from the farms.

Then another parade came up the street. The Cascadia people had marched across the Hawthorne Bridge, and now they entered the square waving their Doug Fir flag. They filled the square and overflowed onto the streets where trolleys inched along in the crowd. Then a squad of cops rode their motorcycles along the sidewalk in front of the laughing people.

The sun was going down behind the tall buildings and our parade moved faster. We quickstepped back to the hotel and stood at ease while the Continental general spoke to the troops. I heard about half of what he said:

“You did the nation proud…marching with heads high…resisting provocation and fighting back…Troops dismissed,”

The hotel ballroom had been decorated while we were gone. The empty uniform racks were lined up along the back wall. Along a side wall stood the food table with two big punch bowls. The floor was filled with round tables, and American flags hung down from the ceiling.

I sat at a table with Sam and George, a woman named Mary Jo wearing a camo uniform, a Seventh Cavalry guy and a pudgy Confederate.

Sam had been at the front rank and he told about the confrontation with the other parade. “They were anarchists,” he said. “That’s what they called themselves. From the university. Some of them looked pretty old, if you ask me.”

The Confederate chuckled. “That’s how it works. You pick the right classes, you can make a career out of it. The system works so you don’t have to.”

George looked dazed. He took off his three-cornered hat and his hair was wet. “A bunch of traitors,” he mumbled.

The Seventh Cav trooper had fake blood spots on the gold trim of his blue tunic. “The guy next to me got sprayed right in the face. He couldn’t see. And then he stepped out and a so-called Indian riding his motorbike damn near knocked him over. We got him over to the sidewalk and we tried to wipe his eyes. I don’t know what was in that paint, but it wasn’t coming off.”

“Did it sting?” the Camo woman asked. “He could’ve been blinded.”

“They finally got him to a clinic,” said Seventh Cav. “Something like that happened to me once. At the clinic they put a little cup over your eyeball under the eyelid. And then they run water through it. It doesn’t hurt so much but it feels a lot worse. Like your eyeball’s gonna cave in.”

“I hope they catch the ones who did it,” she said and added, “Rotten people.”

“They were gone pretty fast. If somebody had a stick they could’ve poked it through the spokes and stopped the bike cold.”

“Would’ve served them right,” she said.

Later at the food table Sam said to me, “I’m glad your mother didn’t come. I had a feeling something might happen.”

“Didn’t she want to come?”

“She thought about it. She was wondering if she could be Betsy Ross.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Betsy made her flag at home. And gave it to General Washington.”

On the food table were platters of ham and turkey and scrapple, bowls of squash and succotash, a pot of Boston beans, baskets of johnny cakes and biscuits, a big American flag cake and some gooey stuff called syllabub. And a bowl of rum punch.

We ate and watched the Washington DC celebration on a big screen. There on a balcony of the United States Capitol stood a dozen former presidents and the one still in office. They were all dressed in knee britches and frock coats, even the two women presidents, and they took turns reading from the Declaration of Independence. People stood packed into the two grand stairways because down below the  National Mall was flooded. We saw a quick shot of the Washington Monument and folks sitting in rowboats and then the screen went blurry.

I went back to the food table and kept on going. As I left the ballroom a man running for president was speaking from the giant screen, talking about the Indians who were trying to steal our country. Upstairs in my room I changed out of the Doughboy uniform and into my civilian clothes, and then I walked down to the lobby and out the door.

 

It was night time and the office buildings stood dark against a ghostly sky. Down on the street, the tavern doors were open and the lights glowed dimly inside. As I walked by I spotted a few parade soldiers sitting at the sidewalk tables. Now Broadway was back to its usual traffic of electric cars and scooters and alcohol rigs and people riding bikes.

Pioneer Courthouse Square was all lit up with hundreds of solar torches. Solar lanterns in various colors swayed overhead. Down on the plaza people danced to a Mexican band. The warm air smelled of barbecue and gunpowder.

Walking was like dancing. I noticed a few women wearing gauzy dresses and maybe nothing underneath. I stopped at the Cascadia beer garden and bought a pint of Doug Fir porter. The ice machine was running loudly. I slipped through the crowd and found an empty seat by the fence.

Some other people at the table were Diggers. They’re a group that finds land for people to farm, and one guy was talking about making a deal for the old federal prison at Sheridan. He said a church was trying to buy the place but they wouldn’t say where their money came from. “God provides,” a woman said with a grin.

“The Feds can’t get enough prisoners,” the Digger was saying. Most folks knew why: The state of Oregon was stopping US attorneys from turning every crime into a federal case. “If Oregon takes over Sheridan they’re going to let us run the farm camps. The same way we do in the state prisons.”

I wondered if it was Sam’s church trying to buy the federal prison, and I remembered one day when I visited Sam’s duck barn. It was feeding time and a few hundred ducks were all quacking inside the corrugated metal building, a great chorus of quacking that echoed up to the roof.

Another guy at the table said the Mormons ran one of the prisons in Idaho. “They rent out the prisoners to work on their own farms. They got a prophecy that says they’ll save the United States from collapsing.”

“We don’t rent out slaves,” said the Digger. “We help them set up their own co-ops.”

Another guy said, “If we were a country we wouldn’t have to take in all those refugees. We’d stop them at the border.”

“That wouldn’t work,” said the Digger. “You wouldn’t want it to work. Better to let them in and give them some land so they’ll fight with us.”

While they talked I drank my porter and watched the people in the crowd. A marimba band was playing, and the musicians danced on stage banging their mallets while people below danced to the music. I heard faint explosions in the air from the fireworks celebration down by the river. And wandering through the crowd came a Continental soldier.

He looked drunk with his red face, white britches and blue coat. He looked lost as he swayed in front of a woman who wore a gauze dress. She danced up to him and lifted her skirt, and he almost fell over. The woman laughed and held out her hand.

Then a guy who looked like one of the Indians from the parade handed a bottle to the Continental. The soldier took a swig and started a solo dance, grinning as he slowly sank down. The woman and the Indian each grabbed an arm and helped the Continental lean against a wall and slide to the ground.

And there he sat with the bottle cradled to his chest while the dance went on.

 

 

 

 

 

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3076

Commander Magnusson stared out the window at the wide river and the city beyond. The National Mall was flooded. Water surrounded the Washington Monument on its little island, and spread toward the White House. The Capitol stood high and dry, but reports said that its great dome was crumbling inside. And no telling what gangs ruled the Hill.

And the water was still slowly spreading toward the Pentagon Fortress. He could tell by the row of poles going out into the river. The nearest pole, planted a few years ago, was now several inches into the water. Looking south, the flood wall seemed to be holding.

He turned back to the city, peering through a telescope at the skyline, at the rooftops east of the Capitol where strange new flags flew in the breeze.

A quiet tap on the door and Major Mervin entered. “Everyone’s here,” he said.

 *

     The Pentagon Fortress was more than a thousand years old. Once it was the headquarters of the United States’ military machine, the most powerful in the world, During the Second Civil War the Pentagon took in refugees and saved their lives. All around the disintegrating nation the military bases opened their lands and put people to work. As soldiers returned from distant wars the Pentagon gave them the mission of keeping the nation alive.

     Pentagon archives told of Washington burning and citizens fleeing to safety across the Potomac River. Among them were the President and members of Congress and the Supreme Court. In the years that followed, the Pentagon kept a federal government running. Three times the presidential line of succession was interrupted by wars and rebellion. Then it resumed back in Washington, but now the United States had broken into a dozen pieces.

     When Charles Magnusson became the Pentagon commander the ancient building was crumbling along with the nation itself, and he vowed to restore both.

*

     In the outer office four men sat waiting at a battered conference table — the commanders of Langley and Belvoir, and the mayors of Arlington and Alexandria. Then Commander Magnusson strode to the head of the table and took the empty chair. He was a tall man with a large round head. On the wall behind him stretched an American flag with fifty stars.

     “Time is getting short,” he told the others. “If we’re going to do the centennial in Washington we need to get moving. This will be number thirteen, just like the original United States. We’ll be coming in peace. Question is, will the people there allow it?”

     The Langley commander said, “It depends on who we’re dealing with, and that keeps changing. Right now the Hill is under the domain of the Anacostia network. And we really don’t know who’s in charge. Maybe no one is.”

     “Have they been causing any trouble?”

     “No. But no one’s been pushing them. We could get a message to the most amenable and let them know we’re coming in peace.”

     “I think we should also tell the less amenable,” said Magnusson. “Let them know we’re not going behind anyone’s back. And it helps us decide how many troops we’ll need.”

     The Arlington mayor said, “Better too many than too few. We’re prepared to provide some men. And they’ll be well-trained. They are well-trained.”

     “We still need troops here. Not just for military duty I’m sorry to say.”

     “A few days in July. There’s less work then.”

     The Belvoir commander said, “We have the troops and we’ve been getting more refugees. We need to move them inland if there’s a place for them to go.”

     “We have the place,” said Magnusson. “Can they do the work?”

     “That hasn’t been a problem. At Belvoir we take our quota first. Then they can satisfy themselves.”

     Commander Magnusson pointed to rows of pictures on the wall. “Those men fought for their country. Some of them a thousand years ago. If they could see things now, they’d be ashamed. Heroes digging manure like common criminals. I want to see more of the criminals doing honest work. And more of our soldiers doing what they’re called to do.”

     Magnusson and his guests walked down the stairs to the ground floor. There was an elevator to his offices, but a month ago the car came loose and plunged to the bottom, killing three officers. It had been repaired, so they said, but the Commander wasn’t sure. And he preferred to walk. He was still strong, and he prided himself on climbing five flights of stairs ahead of younger men.

     At the mall entrance he saw his guests into their vehicles, and he continued with the day’s business. Three men from his palace guard joined him, and they walked down dim corridors past workmen scraping the crumbling walls, past the sentry posts at every corner. They came out into the bright sun at the central courtyard where school children were lined up doing their calisthenics. So many children and only one teacher, but it was the best the Commander could provide. He crossed the courtyard and went back into the dark building.

     The south side of the fortress had become the Pentagon’s factory. Office walls were gone and the space turned into carpentry shops and metal works. The outside wall, once destroyed by rebel bombs, was no a long row of solar stills dripping precious fuel. The air smelled of ripe fermentation. Beyond was the plantation where laborers (not enough of them, the Commander noted) toiled in the long rows of crops. Cattle grazed in a distant field behind a wall of growing bamboo. Here the air smelled of manure from the digester tanks.

     The Commander stopped at the motor pool. He was pleased to see three shiny cars all in a row as if waiting for some one to get in and drive away. Inside the shop a few more cars and three-wheelers waited to be repaired. Another big room was full of broken vehicles and piles of scrap metal. He found the motor pool sergeant and a mechanic bent over the engine of a military car.

     “How many of these have you got ready?” the Commander asked.

     “Depends how far you want to go,” said Sergeant Rowland.

     “Into the city and back. All in a few days.”

     “Two.”

     “That’s all? What about those three in front?”

     “Those are electric. I got a room full of half-dead batteries and capacitors, but maybe I could find a few good ones.”

     “What about fuel vehicles?”

     “Just those two. They’d maybe get you there, but not get you back.”

     The Commander stared at a row of motors along the back wall. “None of these working?”

     The sergeant looked wary. “You want to know the truth?”

     “Of course I do. You ought to know me by now. Our fathers fought together.”

     “It’s mostly junk. We keep it for spare  parts. Stuff you might be able to use for something. Same thing over in electronics. Little components that nobody knows what they were used for. Millions of them…”

     “What about R and D? Are they coming up with anything?”

     “They stay upstairs looking busy, but they don’t tell me much. City’s not that far. Why not march? It’s more reliable and you can take as many men as you want. Take a few horses…”

*

     One sunny morning Commander Magnusson led a platoon of troops from the Pentagon Fortress, followed by a car with the mayors of Arlington and Alexandria. Already the hot sun was itching his skin. They marched north through the national cemetery on a road that was passable. Looking down the slope, Magnusson saw brambles and weeds and shattered trees. He saw soldiers’ graves in broken rows, and the spaces in between where the headstones were gone, no doubt stolen to build huts and walls. If he had the soldiers, he told himself, he’d search every building within ten miles. If he found a stolen headstone he’d tear it out and bring it home. Maybe take a few prisoners and put them to work restoring the resting place of heroes. Looking further, he could see that distant graves were under water. Nature’s desecration angered him, but he knew there was little he could do about it, and that gave him a sick feeling.

     They marched along the traces of old highways. Ancient ruins had been taken down and fields of crops spread between the buildings that remained. Laborers dressed in orange moved along the rows, guarded by men with shotguns.

     The Commander of Langley and a squad of his men were waiting at the bridge to Georgetown. The arches rode high over the water and the approaches had been rebuilt. They marched through quiet streets to the university campus, and there they were greeted by the mayor of Georgetown and the rector of the university. One of the dormitory buildings was now an army barracks, and the soldiers settled in.

     That night the rector hosted a small banquet at his mansion. There Commander Magnusson and his party dined with the Georgetown mayor and other important people. They ate roasted Easter lamb from the university farm and drank wine from somebody’s plantation. Magnusson was impressed and envious. He watched the smiling Georgetown mayor and wondered where their wealth came from, as he outlined his plan to celebrate the centennial on Capitol Hill.

     The men listened while they ate. They drank what seemed to Magnusson like real coffee. Then the waiters cleared the table and left the room and the talking began.

     The Langley Commander said, “We sent messages to the Anacostia people. Told them our intentions, and that we’re coming in peace. They agreed to a first meeting on the Hill and we can proceed from that. Or maybe we can’t. They’ll decide that later.” He poured a shot of bourbon into his coffee cup and dropped in an ice cube from the fridge bucket. “Two questions. How many troops can we have on standby? And are there any factions we don’t know about?”

     “There’s a lot of contested territory,” said a Georgetown man. “Enemy areas across Chesapeake Bay. Invaders encroaching on Baltimore. And some of them seem to be heading this way. The Anacostia people are somewhat hemmed in. The question is, do they join with us or the rebels?”

     “Good time to make them an offer.” said Magnusson.

     “Who do we make it to? And what would the offer be? Some kind of alliance and protection. And that gets us back to how many troops we can spare.”

     “How many troops can Anacostia spare? That’s what an alliance is all about.”

     The Georgetown man poured himself some bourbon. “They don’t have troops. Not the way we have.”

     “Maybe we can help them with that,” said Magnusson. “But that’s for later. What kind of backup do we have tomorrow?”

     “We have forward posts downtown. And we have secured the White House.”

     “Really?” said the Langley commander.

     “A caretaker crew is living there. They report that flood damage is all underground.”

*

           Next morning the convoy moved downtown. This time Commander Magnusson rode in the car with the mayors. Behind them came another car with the Langley commander and the mayor of Georgetown. Troops marched alongside in a single file.

     The buildings downtown appeared empty, and the windows were gaping holes. Magnusson spotted a few men inside, the Georgetown snipers he’d been told about. The streets were broken, with rubble piled up into barriers. It was a bumpy ride as the convoy moved slowly past detours.

     After a few miles they saw men on motorbikes, an escort from Anacostia. The convoy followed them past the old train station with gardens in front, and up the hill past more gardens.

     The Capitol dome loomed above a spread of farmland and trees. In the square a crowd of people waited as the motorbike escort circled to a stop.

     Commander Magnusson got out of his car and stood staring. The people looked like civilians, and he tried to spot a leader. Then two men and a woman stepped out of the crowd. They waited as Magnusson approached. Then the man in the middle extended his hand.

     “I’m John Jack,” he said.

     “I’m Charles Magnusson, commander of the Pentagon.”

     John Jack was a slim dark-skinned man. He didn’t look like a leader, but how could you tell? He looked more like a leader’s shrewd advisor.

     Magnusson asked, “Are you able to make a commitment for your people?”

     The other man and the woman took a step back, and John Jack said, “Depends what it is. Depends how soon you’re asking.”

     “It’s a July Fourth celebration. The thirteenth centennial of our nation’s birth. The people of Arlington would like to hold it here on Capitol Hill. We’re asking for your approval. And you’re all invited to attend it with us.”

     “A centennial,” John Jack grinned. “Looks like you missed a few. Why you want to do it now?”

     “We didn’t want to wait another hundred years. We thought this would be a good time.”

     John Jack pointed to the Capitol Building. “You may be right about that. Another hundred years that dome won’t be standing there.”

     They were in a ramshackle street market. The sweet smell of meat on the fire drifted in the warm air. John Jack led Magnusson and his party to a long table and they sat down. A woman brought a tray of grilled meat and vegetables, and another woman set down two pitchers of some kind of brew.

     While they ate, Magnusson ignored the hot sun itching his skin and talked about the centennial celebration. “We’d like to have it at the Capitol. So far about a hundred people have said they’d come. Mostly folks from northern Virginia. I haven’t been in contact with people from Maryland, but anyone who can come is invited. Are any trains running?”

     “About halfway to Baltimore,” said John Jack. “Then the tracks are broken. We don’t use it much.”

     “What kind of trains do you have?” asked Magnusson.

     “Old passenger cars. We strip them down, make them light as we can. Then we put in some kind of motor. We could use horses if we wanted to. Tell me more about the celebration.”

     The brew was like a fruit cider. As Magnusson sipped away, more ideas came to mind. “We’d start with the Declaration of Independence. Have people read it aloud. Proclaim it to the nation. They did that a thousand years ago with fourteen living presidents. All of them dressed in the style of 1776…”

     The mayors listened and nodded their heads. The Commander hadn’t seen them this interested before. Maybe it was the sight of the nation’s Capitol looming above the — the wide steps leading up to the building and the great white dome against the blue sky.

     They climbed the step and as they neared the top Magnusson noticed the broken windows and ragged drapes. Next to the main entrance was a guard post, a rambling wood cabin behind the tall columns.

     John Jack went ahead and talked to a guard, and then they all stepped through the broken doorway. There was a moldy smell in the tick air. They walked through s dim corridor and came out in the rotunda.

     Now they were standing in a vast space with light coming through the windows high above. On the floor were chunks of fallen debris and dark stains. Along the circular wall were toppled statues like fallen heroes of the past.

     “We shouldn’t go any further,” said John Jack. “It’s too dangerous.”

     “I hate to see it looking like this,” said Magnusson. “I’ve seen pictures of how it used to be. People came from all over the country to be here.”

     “A few years ago some people from Philadelphia came to see the place.”

     “Who were they?”

     John Jack shrugged. “I didn’t meet them. They said they traveled down from Philadelphia. Had to go around Baltimore.”

     The Langley commander spoke up. “Did they say where they were going?”

     “Back to Philadelphia. They didn’t like what they see.”

     “Too bad they couldn’t stay to help clean it up,” said Magnusson. “If people could come here from around the country. Help restore the building and all working together…”

     John Jack said, “They all die together if the dome falls down.”

     “What about the rest of the building?”

     “We don’t know who all’s inside. A big building with plenty of places to hide.”

     “It used to be that way at the Pentagon,” said Magnusson. “Now we have people living in it, filling up the place. It’s like a city unto itself.”

     “Our city’s out there,” said John Jack. “The people in your building, who gets their food? What work do they do?”

     “Everyone has work to do. We have factories. Teachers. A church. The motor shop…” Magnusson remembered that it had lots of junk and piles of parts, but only a few vehicles that ran. “What if we helped you fix this building?”

     “Can you spare the men?”

     “We can if they’re needed.”

     “Not my decision,” said John Jack. “If time is short maybe you should do your celebration outside the building. On the other side where you can see the Mall.”

     He took them for a long walk around the Capitol. As they came to the other side of the building Magnusson looked out over the flooded National Mall.

     It was worse than he’d thought. A long lake stretched all the way to the Lincoln Memorial with an island in the middle where the Washington Monument stood leaning. And out in the water he saw rowboats where people sat fishing.

     “These buildings are useless,” John Jack was saying. “Too hard to tear them down. My grandfather, when he was a young man right after the last battle, he helped to clean up some of the buildings. They were full of filth and dead bodies. No place to bury them. We buried what we could in the spaces between the buildings, to let the earth sweeten them.”

     “What about the White House?” Magnusson asked.

     “What about it?”

     “What kind of shape is it in?”

     “Still standing. Flooded in the basement. That’s where they used to plan their wars. Now some people are there, maybe trying to fix it up.”

     “It’s worth fixing,” said Magnusson. “It’s part of our history,”

     John Jack smiled. “My grandfather, when he was a boy an old man told him that people fought a war over the White House. They were superstitious. They believed that whoever captured the building became ruler over a country that no longer existed. So here in this city gangs went around killing each other to put a man in the White House.”

     “It should be a place for everyone. That’s what it was in the beginning.”

     “That was a long time ago. Maybe you should go look. See if anyone is living there now.”

     They walked around the building and back to the market. The lane between the farm stands was filled with people. Some of Magnusson’s soldiers sat at a table eating and drinking with the local women. The other soldiers guarded their two cars, with children crowding around.

     John Jack’s two friends were back at his side, the people he’d never introduced. The woman looked at Commander Magnusson in his uniform and seemed silently amused. “I’ll talk to the others,” said John Jack. “We’ll put it to the people. Then we will let you know.”

     The squad of men on motorbikes assembled, and Magnusson’s convoy followed them from the market place. They passed gardens and fields of crops. Two men went by wheeling a cart with the carcass of a pig on a roasting spit.

     The commander was pleased. He sat in the car’s front passenger seat and turned to the two mayors in back. “That John Jack fellow seemed agreeable. I don’t know if he runs things, but he must know what they want. He said we’ll get an answer soon.”

     “How many men will we need?” asked the Arlington mayor. “Knowing that they outnumber us.”

     “It will be a peaceful mission,” said Magnusson. “If it isn’t we won’t attempt it. And too many men might get people upset. The main thing is to keep our route open. We’ll need reserves on standby all along the way.”

     The motorbike escort turned around and the convoy proceeded slowly down a long avenue past blasted buildings with gaping windows. The Georgetown mayor’s car led the way to the White House and stopped at the gate. Two soldiers stepped out of a bunker and waved them inside.

     They drove up a curving lane past a fenced farm yard and stopped in front of the columns where more soldiers guarded the entrance. Georgetown had a caretaker crew, Magnusson recalled, but this looked more like a military operation. The portico roof was supported on three sides by columns, and they looked sturdy, but a row of heavy tree trunks leaned against the front wall — a shelter against falling debris.

     The Georgetown mayor led the way through a gap between the tree trunks into a large hall with a dusty marble floor. The walls had lost their plaster, with wood lath exposed.

     “Looks clean,” said Magnusson. “Are you planning to rebuild?”

     “Probably not. There’s water down below. Coming up the south lawn and into the basement. And there’s a basement below that. They even had a bowling alley down there.”

     The Langley commander said, “I understand they had a fortified operations center.”

     “It’s under the east wing. But not fortified enough to keep the water out.”

     The Georgetown mayor led them down a corridor, through empty rooms with stripped walls and smashed fireplaces. Magnusson tried to imagine these rooms as they were a few hundred years ago. The nation had preserved the White House for centuries, and then it all went to hell.”

     They stopped at a guard post and the Georgetown mayor greeted his soldiers.

     “We have the building secured,” he said to his guests. “All the rooms are secured. Not as many as in the Capitol, of course. I can see why those people don’t want to go in there.”

     “Do you think they’d welcome some help?” asked Magnusson.

     “Welcome’s not the word. They might accept it eventually.”

     It was getting dark, and they decided to spend the night at the White House. A room next to

the kitchen had been cleaned up and turned into a dining room, with an ancient painting on the wall. The men sat down at the end of a long table, and two soldiers came in, one wheeling a cart while the other lit the table lamps. The soldiers set down bottles of whiskey and cider and baskets of salty bread sticks, and went back to the kitchen.

     Commander Magnusson sipped his whiskey and wondered how many troops were encamped here, but he decided to ask about it later. It brought to mind stories he’d heard of a large plantation somewhere beyond the city, a farm that fed not only the owners but all the people who worked on the land.

     The soldiers brought in platters of ham and roasted vegetables, served on china plates with ancient decorations. “We found the plates in an old cupboard,” said the Georgetown mayor. “Not everything got looted. This building went through several battles and a succession of occupiers. After a while they stopped trying to preserve it. They took what they wanted and moved on.”

     “There’s no way to restore it?” Magnusson asked.

     “It’s sinking. Maybe parts of it…”

     The mayor of Alexandria said, “We had a building near the water, we put it on a barge. Not a very large building, but now we can float it where we want.”

     They talked of moving the White House to higher ground. It would be a shame to lose such a historic treasure, they said. Perhaps move a section at a time. Or take it apart and put it back together. But where would they rebuild it? On higher ground, of course. But it would have to be in a friendly area. And not just friendly now, but far into the future…

     Then a voice from the hallway said, “Hello in there.”

     The Georgetown mayor looked up and smiled. “Hello Mister President. Come on in.”

     A man in a dark suit walked in. “Who are these people? Have I met them before?”

     “I don’t think so, sir. They’re from across the river. Here to pay their respects.”

     The Georgetown mayor introduced the President to each of his guests. He was a tall man with dark hair going gray. He had piercing eyes and carried himself like a military man, although he now wore a deep blue suit. Beside him stood an officer in dress uniform.

     To Commander Magnusson the President said, “I’m glad the Pentagon’s in good hands.”

     “Thank you,” said Magnusson and wondered how long this man had been in office, and why he didn’t know until now.

     The President turned to the Georgetown mayor. “Is there anyone else to meet?”

     “Not today, sir.”

     “I believe that tomorrow it’s the lady envoy from Quebec.”

     “That’s right, sir.”

     “Very good,” said the President. He strode out of the room, followed by his attending officer.

     The Georgetown mayor and his guests sat silently around the table. Finally the Arlington mayor asked, “Who is he?”

     The Georgetown mayor sipped his whiskey. “He says he’s the President.”

     “Even if he is he must have a name. Where’s he from?”

     “He was here all by himself when we showed up, but he must have had companions. Hard to see how he could stay without friends. Of course he didn’t look so spruced up when we found him.”

     “Think he’s crazy?”

     “The question is, does he have any supporters? A crazy man with an army, you take him seriously.”

     “Do you?” asked the Langley commander.

     “I haven’t seen his army yet,” said the Georgetown mayor. “We feed him and take care of his needs. We listen to what he says, but he’s pretty cagey. So we keep the conversation going.”

     The Alexandria mayor asked, “Who’s that lady envoy from Quebec? I didn’t know there still is a Quebec.”

     “Probably not. Our friend is a local lady. She has a little business, and knows a lot of people. And knows a lot about those people.”

     Magnusson frowned. “This President, is he in with the Anacostia gang? I believe that John Jack fellow said something about him.”

    “I don’t think he’d last long with Anacostia,” said the Georgetown mayor. “They’d throw him out. Maybe that’s why he’s here.” He poured more whiskey all around. “There’s a lot we don’t know about Anacostia/ Is anyone in charge? How far does it extend? Halfway to Baltimore apparently.”

     The Langley commander said, “We get reports of Anacostia arming the refugees. Working communities are getting invaded. It’s because they’re isolated. The bandits surround them and they’re done for. That’s why we need to consolidate. Or else the bandits will pick them off one by one.”

     “This is the place to start,” said Magnusson. “It’s where America started and we can do it again.”

     “Any plan in mind?” asked the Georgetown mayor.

     “John Jack said they can’t control the Capitol. Maybe we can. We did it with the Pentagon back in 2970. Took us four years…fighting floor by floor…room by room. The siege is what did it. No food, no water. That’s how we can help Anacostia secure the building. The big question is can we deploy enough troops. We’ll need to supply them. Maybe Anacostia will help with provisions, but I don’t think it’s wise to depend on them.”

     The Georgetown mayor said, “I think we can help with that. We have a few river boats. A low-draft vessel could navigate the Mall right up to the Capitol steps. We could bring in provisions and more troops…”

     “Not too many all at once. The main thing is to establish a bridgehead. Call it a bridgehead of trust. We wouldn’t interfere with their activities. In fact we’d be their protector.”

     “Protection has to be paid for,” said the Langley commander.

     “We’ll make it worth the price,” said Commander Magnusson.

     The table top became a map. The Capitol was an upside-down bread basket at the end of the Mall. The Washington Monument was a candle. Off to the side a tobacco box became the White House.

     The Georgetown mayor said, “We’re building a dock where the South Lawn used to be. It’s better than trying to navigate the city streets. Our boats can bring supplies here and on to the Capitol.

     He placed an empty glass for the Smithsonian Castle where gunners could protect the Mall’s water traffic. Bottles and cups became downtown buildings as the map spread across the table.

     “Once a shoreline gets established we can bring supplies to downtown. We can start building a new city.

     “What goods can you bring?” asked Magnusson.

     “Enough for a decent life. We do business with people up river, and it’s been a good arrangement so far. Some very productive farms up there. They grow everything you could need.”

     “What do they get in return?”

     The Georgetown mayor gave him a quizzical look. “Protection of course. And help in getting people resettled. And some civic improvements from our university…I’d love to go on, but it’s been a busy day.”

     That night the men slept in a room across the hall. The others were snoring in their bunks, but Commander Magnusson couldn’t keep his thoughts from racing into the future. He envisioned an esplanade along the river…people out strolling…soldiers on parade…a band playing…himself as a boy marching along to the never-ending music.

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