Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sample Chapter: Twilight's Last Gleaming, Part One

[Here is another sample chapter from Part One of Twilight's Last Gleaming. It is preceded by 3. The Spread of Islam Elsewhere in the World and followed by 5. Mexico Grows in Prominence. I left the previous installment up for more than a month because I thought it very relevent to the Wall Street bailout and its implications. The chapter I have just posted below I think will be of interest due to the current proposed bailout of the American auto industry. Copyright 2008 by Charles Hoffman.]


The early decades of the 21st Century saw an increasing number of Muslim Americans elected or appointed to government positions on the Federal, state, and local levels. Many served with distinction. Even so, the growing power of Islam throughout the Eastern Hemisphere was viewed with mounting alarm in America, both by average citizens and officialdom. Unfortunately, the United States had failed to break its dependence on Middle Eastern oil, a holdover from the previous century.

By 1970, the American consumer had long since come to take the gasoline that fueled his car for granted as a cheap, readily available commodity. During the middle period of the 20th Century, from roughly 1945 to 1973, the average American enjoyed a prosperity not seen before or since. With cheap fuel in abundance, the automobile became, not just a means of transportation, but a key accessory to an affluent lifestyle. It was common for motorists to enjoy the convenience of “drive-in” restaurants, banks, and theaters. An efficient system of interstate highways made it possible for Americans to easily travel throughout their vast country in their personal vehicles.

This carefree era came to an abrupt halt in the 1970s, when the price of crude petroleum increased tenfold seemingly overnight. It was a momentous change that came about because of the volatile political climate of the Middle East.

Oil-rich Middle Eastern nations such as Iran and Saudi Arabia were members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). OPEC was founded in 1960 as a business organization aimed at regulating oil production and commerce, and included non-Arab nations elsewhere in the world, most notably Venezuela. In the 1970s, OPEC went from being a mere business enterprise to wielding real political clout. It was then that the Arab members founded an overlapping agency, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Victories by the Jewish state of Israel in the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973 left Arab countries in the region seething with resentment. Their wrath was directed at nations who had furnished Israel with aid and support, primarily the United States of America. In retaliation OAPEC launched the Oil Embargo of 1973. Petroleum production was curtailed and sales to the West were halted for five months.

The Arab Oil Embargo sent shockwaves through American society. Americans had become accustomed to services designed to maximize their convenience. Now they were forced to pull their cars into block-long lines as they awaited entry into service stations to refuel their vehicles. They were stunned, perplexed, and utterly bewildered. They were told by political leaders that they must “conserve” for the first time since the Second World War. During the post-war era, many Americans had relocated to sprawling suburbs located some distance from the workplace. Now the gasoline necessary for lengthy daily commutes proved to be a considerably more burdensome expense. This “energy crisis” also placed limits on electricity produced by fossil fuels and created shortages of heating oil needed for many homes during the bitter cold Northeastern winters. In the years immediately following, the nation’s economy suffered in no small measure, reaching its lowest point since the Great Depression. Runaway inflation ravaged budgets and savings. Unemployment was widespread. Though not as widely reported, underemployment was also a major social problem. Recent college graduates entering a shrinking job market found that their expensive degrees were worthless. As the “Roaring Twenties” had been followed by the Depression in the `30s, so the “Swinging Sixties” were followed in the `70s by the “Recession,” as it was euphemistically called.

America was still licking its wounds from the `73 Embargo when the Shah of Iran was toppled in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Once again the flow of Mid East oil to America was choked off. Once again, hapless motorists were forced to form long lines at gas stations. The economy plummeted further. Americans who had come of age during the booming 1950s and `60s were overwhelmed with despair. President Jimmy Carter, whom the electorate had looked to as a beacon of hope, was finally moved to admit that the nation was in the grip of a spiritual malaise.

One sensible adaptation to steeper gasoline prices was the introduction of more fuel-efficient vehicles. The American automobile industry was sluggish when it came to making this conversion. Consequently, the Japanese auto industry made remarkable inroads into the American marketplace during the 1970s and `80s. The Japanese manufacturers offered vehicles that boasted superior gas mileage. Many Japanese models also garnered a reputation for better overall quality. American manufacturers arrogantly chose to ignore market trends, yet wondered why affordable, fuel-efficient, well-built “foreign cars” were finding such favor with American consumers. Instead of improving their products, they promoted the slogan, “Buy American.” The implication was that purchasing foreign goods hurt the American economy. No mention was made of the fact that Japanese auto companies opened manufacturing plants in economically depressed areas of the United States such as Ohio and Tennessee, even as the manufacture of certain American models was outsourced to Mexico. This petulance culminated in a brief period of “Japan-bashing” in the early 1990s. The American business community promoted the notion that unfair Japanese competition was responsible for American economic woes. A popular quotation asserted that “the Japanese regard business as war.” Apparently the assumption was that business in America was conducted in the manner of a gentlemanly sport. In any event, such propaganda did little to curtail the popularity of Japanese automobiles. As one anonymous consumer quoted in Business World put it, “It’s a sad day for America when these car companies have to resort to a bogus appeal to patriotism to sell their over-priced, inferior junk.”

Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars were eventually offered by all manufacturers. However, the United States remained in thrall to Mid-East oil producers. The main reasons were twofold. On one hand, sizable petroleum reserves in Alaska and off the coast remained untapped due to ecological concerns. On the other, alternative energy sources never got off the ground due to the shortsightedness of business leaders in the private sector.

Offshore oil drilling met with frequent opposition due to the possibilities of harm to marine life, damage to the oceanic ecosystem, and the despoiling of coastal areas. Ecology activists likewise opposed the encroachment of oil-drilling into hitherto pristine areas of the Alaskan wilderness. The largest oilfield in North America lie beneath the north slope of Alaska. A portion of this region had been tapped by American oil companies. However much of this same enormous oil bed lie under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The ANWR had been set aside to remain an unspoiled habitat for threatened species of indigenous fauna such as caribou and polar bears. Advocates of oil drilling in the ANWR asserted that less than 8 percent of the Reserve would be affected by the drilling and that the petroleum thus produced would greatly alleviate US dependence on imported oil. Opponents countered by insisting that the ANWR would suffer irrevocable widespread damage from the development that would take place and the amount of oil yielded would, at best, provide marginal relief for the country’s energy demands. A bitterly controversial issue, the question of whether to drill or not to drill in the ANWR was passed on from administration to administration.

Some quarters called for a sensible compromise that would have made allowances for a certain amount of oil drilling, carefully implemented, as a stopgap measure to buy time while the energy and automotive industries redoubled their research and development efforts aimed at engineering alternative energy technologies. Skeptics were quick to insist that tapping the ANWR for oil would furnish business leaders with a convenient excuse not to undertake such a costly and demanding effort.

In support of their argument, these skeptics cited the sluggishness of the American automotive industry when it came to marketing smaller, more fuel efficient cars in the first place, as well as their gradual return to the marketing of large, even massive, vehicles once the energy crisis of the 1970s had abated. The 1980s and `90s saw a resurgence of relative prosperity to the American economy, at least in some segments. The long gas lines of the ‘70s receded into a distant faded memory. American auto companies favored the production of larger, costlier vehicles over fuel-efficient economy cars because the former were more profitable for the manufacturer. By the late `90s one out of every five vehicles sold in America was a light pickup truck or a sport utility vehicle. Both were bulky motor vehicles that consumed great quantities of fuel in the manner of the “gas guzzlers” of an earlier era. Sport utility vehicles (commonly abbreviated as SUVs) tended to be oversized and ostentatious, and were especially popular among the more affluent American motorists.

Such consumers received a shock in the summer of 2006 when the price of gasoline shot up to well over $3.00 per gallon. This development was greeted with alarm. Decades earlier, the manipulation of oil prices by OPEC was seen primarily as a matter of business, the political origins of the 1973 embargo notwithstanding. That is, it was perceived as natural that a region technologically backward but rich in raw materials would wish to exploit its key asset to best advantage. Americans may not have liked the way OPEC controlled Middle Eastern petroleum, but they thought they understood it. But following the series of terrorist incidents that culminated in the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon, this outlook had changed. Americans now viewed the most oil-rich region on the planet as being dominated by Islamic fundamentalists, fanatics bristling with hostility towards America and the West. This left US citizens with a disagreeable feeling of vulnerability. There were increasing demands that the United States “free itself” from “foreign oil.”

In the fall of 2006, gasoline prices dropped back down to what most Americans had come to regard as acceptable levels. Then in 2008, prices soared to over $4.00 per gallon. Business double talk about mysterious market forces went over the heads of average American consumers but helped to placate them nonetheless. The pattern of rising and falling gasoline prices was repeated many times during the following years and decades. The mentors who guided petroleum production in the Middle Eastern states were shrewd enough to keep America off balance. Fuel prices were raised when a need was perceived to exert pressure on the Western nations, then lowered when it was deemed prudent to lull the West back into complacency. In this manner, the oil-producing nations of the Middle East were able to string the West along well into the 21st Century.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sample Chapter: Twilight's Last Gleaming, Part One

[This month's entry is another excerpt from the book length version of Twilight's Last Gleaming. It is from Part One: O'er the Ramparts We Watched. It is preceded by Chapter 6: America Loses Control of its Borders and followed by Chapter 8: Reconquista. I've chose to include this because it also works as a stand-alone essay. New readers can scroll down to earlier blogs to read the short version of my future history, Twilight's Last Gleaming, a blog explaining the premise, and chapters of an adventure novel set in my fictional universe. Copyright 2008 by Charles Hoffman]


Even as the population of Hispanic Americans grew by leaps and bounds, birthrates among Anglo-Americans, primarily white Americans, plummeted. [NOTE: The term “Anglo,” as used in this account, refers to English-speaking Americans regardless of race.] Many Anglo men throughout the United States came to feel disenfranchised and, facing an uncertain future, were reluctant to start families. The problem stemmed from significant changes in the workplace that sent shockwaves rippling through middle and working class society.

Those shockwaves were first and most acutely felt by members of the so-called “baby boom” generation. The term “baby boom” referred to a surge in population following the Second World War. The baby boom spanned the period from 1946 to 1964. The elder generation that had survived the Great Depression and fought World War II returned to an America that soon became prosperous as never before. Upwardly mobile, they were eager to settle down and enjoy the benefits of a newly affluent lifestyle. Their offspring, the “boomers,” grew up during the era when American wealth, prestige, and power were at their zenith. It was a very forward-looking time. Americans living then sometimes referred to this period as the “space age.” This post-war period of prosperity came to an abrupt end with the onset of severe economic woes in the 1970s.

Of the baby boomers, those born after 1950 are of special interest. The early boomers were fortunate enough to enter the workforce at a time when the American economy was still expanding. Later boomers entering the workforce in the 1970s found themselves facing altogether bleaker prospects. Many were ill-prepared for the difficulties they were to face, having lived their formative years during an era of heightened expectations. It was as though they had grown up during a golden age, only to have the bottom fall out of everything just as they were on the verge of adulthood. Consequently, many became emotionally troubled. Sociologist Morgan Price, looking back in an essay written in 2054, designated the later boomers as “the Lovecraft generation.” This was a reference to the American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Lovecraft spent his childhood amid an environment of wealth and privilege, only to see his family’s fortunes collapse when he was a teenager. As an adult, Lovecraft endured humiliation and poverty. Before his death from malnutrition at age 46, Lovecraft produced some of the most vivid and disturbing horror fiction of the 20th Century. Dr. Price saw in this a parallel with the life experience and emotional angst of many of the later baby boomers.

The baby boomers were followed by what the contemporary media dubbed “Generation X.” The “X” alluded to the observation that this was the tenth generation to be born since the establishment of the American republic. Members of Generation X grew up acutely aware that things were changing, and not for the better. It was common for them to feel resentful of the fact that they were the first generation in American history not to live better than the generation that preceded it.

Many members of the Lovecraft generation and Generation X came to believe that the American Dream had played them false. “The American Dream” was a term first coined by James Truslow Adams in 1931. At the heart of the American Dream was the notion that, regardless of one’s humble beginnings, one could achieve material prosperity if one were sufficiently industrious. Unfortunately a vast number of those who had bought into the American Dream had a regrettable tendency to blame themselves for their lack of success or reversals of fortune, even in the clear presence of limiting external circumstances and adverse economic conditions. For many, a diminished sense of self-worth combined with financial hardship to engender myriad social ills. Alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, spouse and child abuse, and homicidal workplace rampages all became more widespread as the American Dream deteriorated. Several major changes in the economic life of the nation contributed to the Dream’s demise.

The first of these was the transition of America from a manufacturing economy to a “service economy.” Key manufacturing industries, including the automotive industry in Detroit and Pittsburgh’s steel industry, declined so severely that the Mid-western region of the United States came to be known as the “rust belt.” American business also largely abandoned the manufacture of appliances such as televisions, which came to be increasingly imported from abroad. With the decline of manufacturing came a widespread loss of well-paying positions that had previously enabled many working Americans to enter the middle class. Those formerly employed in manufacturing were forced to accept lower-paying positions in less prestigious service industries. Many such jobs paid a mere pittance, requiring individuals to work long hours to maintain multiple sources of income.

In addition to increased economic difficulty, the detrimental effect of this transformation on the psyche of the male American worker should not be overlooked. If the average working class male was not a warrior, explorer or pioneer like his ancestors, at least he was able to derive satisfaction from accomplishing enormous labors and producing tangible goods. Now he found himself relegated to menial and often inane tasks.

In the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, many working class men came to bitterly lament that their jobs had been sold overseas to the lowest bidder. This practice was known in business circles as “outsourcing.” Major American corporations closed down manufacturing facilities in the United States and established new operations in other countries to take advantage of cheap foreign labor. As one example, several American car companies relocated their assembly plants to Mexico. Ironically, some displaced American autoworkers found employment with Japanese and European car manufacturers who constructed new plants in the US.

Outsourcing also affected workers employed in service industries. In the early 21st Century, it became common practice for companies to outsource their customer service departments to India and other countries overseas. A consumer calling a company for assistance regarding one of its products could well find himself talking to a customer service representative on another continent. Such representatives required training in the English language and orientation classes in Western culture. Even so, American corporations found such measures more cost effective in the long run than hiring American workers.

A related problem, noted earlier, was the employment of undocumented illegal immigrants residing in the US as a means of skirting minimum wage regulations. In time, many frustrated American workers came to view this situation as an actual conspiracy by big business aimed at exploiting illegal aliens to create a new slave class.

Much like outsourcing, the practice of corporate “downsizing” also affected blue collar and white-collar workers alike. The necessity of laying off workers during economic downturns or reversals for the company had always been an unpleasant but unavoidable aspect of doing business. By the turn of the 21st Century, however, even solvent, successful companies routinely laid off workers in droves as an easy, expedient means of making themselves appear more profitable on paper. Since profits could be generated by either increasing revenue or cutting costs, many executives chose the latter as the path of lesser resistance. “Cutting costs” usually amounted to chopping workers from the payroll.

White-collar workers who found themselves downsized often felt stung by a sense of betrayal. The 1980s had seen an economic recovery from the malaise of the previous decade, and many young people at that time pursued the American Dream with renewed vigor. The most ardent of these were dubbed Young Urban Professionals, or “yuppies,” by the media. They comprised an enthusiastic dedicated workforce willing to go to great lengths to demonstrate loyalty to the company as a means of career advancement. The first major round of corporate downsizing commenced just a few years later, in the early `90s. Many former yuppies were forced to start over at the bottom of the ladder. Only a fraction of them managed to obtain new employment commensurate with their previous positions. Job-seekers with college or university degrees often found themselves no better off than those less educated. Underemployment became a commonplace, if largely ignored, social problem.

Still another factor in the changing workplace was the rise of the temporary employment industry. Temporary help agencies had been originally established decades earlier to furnish replacements for clerical employees who were absent due to illness or vacation. However, from the `80s onward, these “temp” agencies came to be used more widely as a flexible resource for business. Temporary employment grew from a few small staffing companies to a major service industry consisting of many such firms. Corporations found it easier to downsize their permanent staff, knowing they could hire and discard disposable “temps” as present needs dictated.
The March 29, 1993, issue of Time magazine published a feature article entitled “The Temping of America” that documented this emerging trend. The number of temp employees in the US eventually came to number in tens of millions. Many, if not most, such employees lacked benefits accorded full time permanent staff members such as health care and paid time off. Typically, a temp would work at a given assignment for a period of months, weeks, or days, and then contact his or her agency to see if another assignment was available. To ensure a steady flow of work, a temp would often register with more than one agency, sometimes with a dozen or more.

Many downsized or outsourced workers availed themselves of temp agencies. Others got by working two or more part-time jobs. Still others combined both strategies. Whatever the case, countless workers found themselves juggling multiple unsteady, unpredictable sources of income. This could make planning a budget extremely difficult.

A news report entitled “The Death of the Great American Job” referred to the manner in which the traditional livelihood consisting of a single full-time job had ceased to be a societal norm. The notion that one could work for a single company until retirement had, by the 21st Century, become a quaint relic of the past. The old corporate social contract that “if you take care of the company, the company will take care of you” had likewise been discarded. There was no longer any such thing as “job security.”

A dearth of opportunity and a lowered standard of living engendered an embittered, jaundiced workforce. That chief executives awarded themselves huge bonuses and lavish perks as their downsized employees suffered did not escape the notice of the average American worker. “They’re ruining lives and taking food out of babies’ mouths,” one such disgruntled worker complained to a financial reporter from the New York Globe. Another was even more frank; “The f---ing suits can’t be trusted.” Public cynicism was also engendered by government bailouts of large corporations on the brink of disaster, as well as bogus appeals to patriotism made by American industries threatened by foreign competition. A popular blogger calling himself Hermes astutely observed, “It’s always ‘free market this’ and ‘free market that’ until it’s their dick caught in the mousetrap.”

As early as the 1990s, some commentators observed that America was polarizing into a society of aristocrats and peasants. The last decade of the 20th Century saw the gap between affluent and struggling Americans widen considerably. As the new century dawned, the working class came to be increasingly referred to as the “working poor.”

This widening disparity had more to do with questionable leadership in the private sector than with any government policy. In the name of “efficiency,” upper management would load as much work onto as few individuals as possible. This unwisely assumed a best-case scenario that failed to allow for potential difficulties. In addition, leading corporate entities had seemingly abandoned any notion of civic responsibility. Where banks once helped consumers to save money, they now saddled them with credit card debt. Outrageous interest rates made it extremely difficult for consumers to pay off balances. The blogger Hermes remarked, “If this isn’t usury, then there’s no such thing.“ The number of consumers driven to bankruptcy skyrocketed. Approximately 300,000 Americans filed for bankruptcy in 1980. By 2000, that figure had soared to over 2 million per year. As a financial analyst quoted in the Globe article put it, “Give people credit and no money, and what would you expect to end up with?”

Economic developments such as downsizing, outsourcing, the “service economy,” et al, are particularly noteworthy from an historical perspective. Indeed, numerous latter day historians have been emphatic in citing them as key contributing factors to American society’s growing lack of cohesion. This lack of cohesion bore bitter repercussions during the many crises of the 21st Century. The first sign of trouble came with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The sense of “national unity” that followed the attack was extremely short-lived. When the time came to rally `round the flag, the American spirit was found wanting. The US military performed admirably in various campaigns, but a jaded civilian population did not feel themselves fully engaged in the struggle against looming external threats. As the blogger Hermes duly noted, “You can’t turn your whole society into a brothel and expect people to give a s--t about it.”

Financial insecurity is also considered the chief factor in the “baby bust” of the 21st Century. Birthrates among Anglo-Americans fell to below replacement levels in many parts of the nation by mid-century. Throughout the Southwest, Anglos quickly became a minority.

Even as birthrates dropped, suicide rates rose alarmingly. By the year 2000, suicide was the eighth leading cause of death among men. By 2050, it had become the sixth leading cause. Often men would take their own lives in dramatic ways to capture the attention of the media. It also became commonplace for a man to declare his intention to let his bloodline die out. “I don’t have the guts to kill myself,” one such man told Newswatch, “This is the next best thing.” Increasingly marginalized, such men retreated into apathy in regard to the society in which they lived. Frustrated, they fought back the only way they could –by dropping out and turning their backs on the world.

The mid-21st Century saw the widespread social phenomenon of the “rogue male.” Rogue males were men relegated to extremely low-paying, low prestige jobs. Their mating prospects were not good. Emotionally hobbled by feelings of emasculation, they were given to bravado displays of self-destructive behavior. Public drunkenness and brawling were common methods of acting out. Participation in so-called “extreme” sports competitions and daredevil-type stunts left many broken and crippled.

In considering such developments as the rogue male and the alarming rise in suicide rates among men, it is important to remember that many members of the baby boom generation lived well into the 21st Century. Even though later generations grew up in a world where uncertain financial prospects were the norm, they heard tales of a lost golden age from the lips of the old-timers. Countless extant pictures and films depicted life in that era. “We used to be better than this” became a truism of the mid-21st Century.

As mentioned previously, disenfranchised Anglo-American males tended to punish themselves for circumstances over which they had little control. Hispanics were not so troubled; one could be poor and still be a good Mexican. But for many working class Americans of old native stock, terms like “loser,” “failure,” and “underachiever” were the source of considerable mental anguish. The American Dream was dead, but its ghost lingered to haunt the Anglo mind.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Guns of the Border Region: Chapter Two

[My August entry is the second chapter of Guns of the Border Region. Readers new to this blog will need to scroll down to a previous entry for the Prologue and Chapter One. Twilight's Last Gleaming offers a short history of the fictional universe in which this is set. Copyright 2008 by Charles Hoffman.]


The following morning found Shadow on the road once more, having been told to get out of Wheeling by sunrise. She was making her way north astride a large black and white pinto stallion, her duster tightly fastened against the morning chill.
After the fun with Laughing Boy, she had been hauled over to the Sheriff’s office to explain herself.

“Honest, Mike,” she told him, “I did not draw a weapon until he did.” She knew the Sheriff, Mike Lytton, well enough that she felt comfortable seating herself on the edge of his desk. She wore a Go-Go Lounge tank top in place of her missing bra. “At least I tried to keep him alive,” she added, “That was a risky move on my part. It would have been easier and safer for me to sheath the blade in his black little heart.”

“Everyone knows you play by the rules here, Tamar,” the Sheriff replied, “Plus there were scores of witnesses and this little toy.” He indicated the derringer the deputies had brought in. “Still, I think it best if you stay out of Wheeling for awhile.”

“Okay. What about Laughing Boy?” she asked, not really giving a shit but figuring it might make her look better.

“Well,” the Sheriff replied, “I know most folks down in the Confederacy don’t think much of Border Region hospitals, but there’s a good chance they can reattach his hand.” Then he added, “Either way he’s doing some serious time over this. His little `accident’ is not some `get out of jail free’ card.”

Shadow nodded soberly. Packing heat in town, much less using it, was Wheeling’s one big taboo. Let one person get away with flouting it, and the streets in the rougher sections would soon be strewn with bullet-riddled corpses. So there was no way the law here could let that shit slide.

“Well then, I guess I’ll be on my merry way,” she said, “You got my piece?”
The Sheriff went to a long row of lockers and returned with Shadow’s sidearm. Shadow slipped it from its nylon holster. Hefting its familiar weight in her hand, she couldn’t help but smile. It was her gun of choice, a Glock model 22. Though boasting a fifteen-round magazine, the Glock 22 was fairly compact. Chambered for .40 caliber ammunition, it provided considerably more stopping power than any 9 millimeter pistol, but with a still manageable recoil.

Shadow re-holstered the weapon and then attached the holster to her belt in its accustomed place. After pulling on her duster, she said, “Adios Sheriff,” and took her leave.


Now Shadow was headed up old State Route 2 on horseback. So far traffic was light; just a few people on horses or bicycles. The old-fashioned horse and buggy was not an unusual sight in these parts, but more modern horse-drawn and pedal-powered fiberglass conveyances were the norm. Motor vehicles were few and far between in the Border Region.

Probably just as well, Shadow mused, You couldn’t really go racing from town to town anyway, what with the roads and all. Most of the main thoroughfares of the Border Region were, in whole or part, impassable. The eastern half of the Old Union had come under extensive bombardment by the Islamic Federation of Europe during the War. The IFE’s strategy involved crippling America and forcing it into a defensive posture. To that end, the destruction of the Interstate Highway system and other major highways became a tactical priority. Making matters worse, sleeper cells had been activated to sow additional destruction; bridges blown, tunnels collapsed. The hand of sabotage had struck everywhere, disrupting the flow of water, electricity, and telecommunications. The integrity of civilization’s infrastructure had been erased, blotted out by the Third World War.

The War had been waged years before Shadow was even born, but she had heard harrowing tales about it since infancy. They didn’t quite bomb us back to the Stone Age, she reflected, just back to the turn of the 20th Century. Other afflicted parts of the Old Union had recovered after a fashion; not so the area now known as the Border Region.

After the War, America was required by treaty to hold special elections in states with large Muslim populations to determine if Islamic law would be adopted as the highest legal authority. The affected states were located in the Northeast and Midwest of the Old Union. This development did not go over well in non-Muslim regions of those states. The western counties of Pennsylvania erupted in rioting and rebellion which quickly spread to the southern counties of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. An attempt by the governor of Pennsylvania to call out the National Guard had resulted in mutiny. The president realized that any attempt to impose martial law might well result in disaster. However, he could and did cut off Federal aid to those regions in rebellion. Even after they seceded from their parent states by mutual agreement, areas like Westsylvania remained left to their own devices as they recovered from the ravages of war.

The name “Westsylvania” referred to the western counties of the old state of Pennsylvania that were located south of Meadville. Before the War, even since colonial times, the third of Pennsylvania located west of the Alleghenies had been a culturally distinct region from the eastern part of the state. The inhabitants there had more in common with the hardy West Virginians to the south. As the Old Union fell to pieces, the area that included Westsylvania and West Virginia, as well as the Ohio River Valley, came to be increasingly referred to as “the Border Region.”
When West Virginia failed to ratify the constitution of the New American Confederacy, it became firmly and officially part of the Border Region. It was the only former state of the Old Union to lie entirely within the Region. This made for some interesting political ramifications. In most of the Region, government authority resided at the local level. West Virginia, however, was still governed from the old state capital of Charleston. The governor’s actual authority did not extend beyond the state’s boundaries, but in practice he could wield influence throughout the Region. The only other figures that could be said to possess anywhere near that kind of clout were the mayors of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Therefore, the governor of West Virginia was the closest thing the Border Region had to a president.

West Virginia had come through the War with its infrastructure mostly intact, but it remained one of the poorer states of the Old Union; mostly rural and sparsely populated. In post-US America, however, it became a source of goods and resources used throughout the Border Region. The city of Wheeling evolved into a thriving crossroads, much as Samarkand had been along the old Silk Road. It was now a colorful marketplace by day and a raucous party town by night. A lot of money passed through Wheeling, a good bit of it trickling southward through the state. The governor and local officials were eager to keep that cash flow running. In the Border Region, the line between legitimate and illicit enterprise was often blurred. Wheeling had waxed prosperous catering to a new breed of traders. These consisted of entrepreneurs or outlaws, depending on one’s point of view. It was the job of men like Sheriff Mike Lytton to maintain a modicum of order, without driving away the free-spirited element that had made Wheeling a boomtown.

Quite a tightrope walk, Shadow thought. She certainly didn’t envy guys like Mike their job. But that wasn’t her problem. Right now, she needed a place to crash. A sleepless night, hard drinking, pigging out, dancing, stripping, and two bar fights were beginning to take their toll on even her iron constitution. Her plan was to get into Weirton before noon and get a room there. There was only one thing wrong. She suspected she was being followed.

Awhile back she had spotted a guy on a bicycle some distance behind her. She took advantage of curves in the road to check him out. He appeared to be deliberately hanging back, lagging behind when he could have overtaken her. Blessed with hawk-like vision, she placed him as one of the crowd in a couple of the Wheeling joints last night, including the Go-Go Lounge. So what was his story? Shadow had enemies; was this a minion of one of them? Probably not; he was an amateur or she never would have spotted him so easily. Maybe he was some boob who had caught her act and was stalking her now. In which case, he was pretty ballsy, because he would have seen what she’d done to Laughing Boy. Or maybe it was just a coincidence, and he wasn’t actually following her after all.

Finding out for sure would involve a change of plans. Steubenville, Ohio, lay a few miles southwest of Weirton, on the other side of the river. Shadow would take the ferry over and find lodging there instead of Weirton. If she spotted her newfound friend in Steubenville, then she’d know he was on her trail.

Crossing over on the ferry, Shadow reflected that if the guy was indeed following her, he’d better have his shit wired tight. Steubenville, like Weirton, was no place for a tenderfoot. They were a little pair of twin sin cities; mini-Sodom and mini-Gomorrah. A swell could go slumming in the wild parts of Wheeling and not come to harm if he didn’t get stupid. Not so the rough sections of Weirton and Steubenville. Those were for hardcore types only. Like her.

After she disembarked from the ferry, Shadow headed up old Route 7. She reigned in the pinto at a motel just past Mingo Junction on the outskirts of Steubenville. She corralled the pinto with a few other horses behind the motel, got a room and moved her gear in. She locked the door and threw the bolt. Then she stripped and showered.

Shadow tossed her belt under the bed before entering the bathroom, but took her gun and knife with her. She left both weapons on the toilet tank within easy reach before stepping into the shower. The place had plenty of hot water, thank god. She let the spraying water run over her; hot, cold, then hot again. As she lathered her body with one of those little bars of soap, she felt the aches and tension seep out of her.

After a relaxing shower, she toweled off. Exiting the bathroom, Shadow seated herself at a rickety wooden desk and began cleaning her weapons. First she dried them, wiping away any moisture from the steamy bathroom. After cleaning the gun, she honed the blade of the bowie with a whetstone. She placed the knife on the nightstand and the Glock underneath a pillow. Reclining naked on the bed, she stretched out catlike and was soon asleep.

Shadow slept soundly but lightly. The slightest noise made by anyone attempting to enter the room would instantly rouse her to full wakefulness. She also had the knack for awakening precisely when she wished to. Almost eight hours to the minute later, she woke up fully refreshed.

After dressing and checking out, Shadow got on the pinto and rode the last mile or so into Steubenville. It was only an hour after sunset, but already most of the honest working people were off the streets.

She stabled the pinto at an old bus station that had been converted for horses. After stowing her gear in a locker, she bought feed for the horse. Then she headed into town on foot. No need to worry about her ride; anyone attempting to molest the great stallion would end up mashed to pulp under its stamping hooves.

The horse had something to eat; now what about her? Since leaving Wheeling early that morning she had snacked on foodpaste while in the saddle. Hungry again, Shadow went straight to one of the greasy spoon diners she knew of. At Ike’s Café, she enjoyed a platter of pork chops smothered in chili and an ice cold bottle of 33. She ate heartily, consuming her fill but not enough to slow her down if there was action later.

When she finished she made her way to the town’s main drag. Most of the bars were off on side streets leading away from Market Street, but they were all contained within a fairly small area easily traversed on foot. Her plan was to hit as many as possible in order to spot her pursuer or allow herself to be spotted by him. If he didn’t turn up she would find another back room card game --something she had planned to do in Weirton-- then get a room and call it a night.

The streets were quiet. There were no boisterous crowds milling in the open, as in
Wheeling. Here all the action was inside. Even the main drag wasn’t that crowded. Old buildings of crumbling brick surrounded Shadow, for Steubenville was an old town. Two hundred years ago, this part of the Old Union had been that nation’s industrial heartland. But slowly the industry had died out, and the surrounding region came to be disparaged as the “Rust Belt.” Many cities and towns lost half their populations. The restless young drifted away in search of better prospects elsewhere. Others hung on grimly through depression and strife, anchored by deep roots. Their people had dwelt there since time immemorial, or so it seemed, and so they remained. After the War, the area went from being part of the Rust Belt to part of the Border Region. Many localities made a comeback. Then there were towns like Weirton and Steubenville, brooding in the hills and along the rivers, waiting out the centuries.

Shadow chose a side street at random and went down it. She walked with her duster open, allowing easy access to her weapons. Yellowish light pouring from a large window indicated a tavern up ahead. Shadow headed for it. As she neared the entrance, she heard none of the sounds of a lively crowd. Inside, there were just a few hard-bitten men drinking in sullen silence. Heads turned her way as she walked in. A woman abroad by herself was an unexpected sight. But no one bothered her. Shadow had the warrior’s mark. Anyone with an ounce of street sense could see that she could handle herself. She had one drink and left.

After the first place, Shadow hit several more. Some were more lively. She witnessed a few drinking contests and bar fights, gambling, guys picking up hookers; in general the sorts of things rogue males have always done to let off steam. She went to half a dozen joints before spotting her quarry. As she had throughout the evening, she slipped in quietly and seated herself at the bar. Her dark hair and duster concealed her in the dim tavern lighting as she used the mirror to look the place over. Lo and behold, there he was; the guy who had been following her that morning.

He hadn’t made her yet, so Shadow took the opportunity to study his reflected image. Shadow could see like a cat in the dark. Despite the tavern gloom, she was able to size him up fairly quickly.

The guy looked to be about 24 or 25, or a year or so younger than Shadow. He was well-groomed, with sandy hair, and his unlined face was rather handsome. His clothing was designed for travel, but the garments didn’t look cheap. Definitely from the Confederacy, he appeared to be a member of the professional class --a “suit” as opposed to one of the working “peons.” Right now he was seated by himself at a table, nursing a beer. He seemed jittery, like he didn’t know what he had gotten himself into.

Shadow swiveled about on the barstool to face him. His stunned look of recognition was priceless. An enigmatic smile playing on her lips, Shadow rose abruptly and exited the bar. She had reached the end of the block when she heard the patter of footsteps as the guy came out after her. Shadow then turned, entering an alley. She could hear his footsteps quicken as she concealed herself besides a dumpster. A moment later, he appeared at the entrance of the alleyway. Not seeing her, he hesitated a moment before heading in the direction she had presumably taken. He had just passed the dumpster when he froze at the sudden sound of a voice in the dark: “You’ll never get to Sea World that way.”

He turned and found himself looking down the barrel of Shadow’s Glock. The woman stepped into the ghostly lamplight that seeped into the alley from the street beyond. “Okay Joy-boy,” she said, “Why the hell have you been following me?”
“Yes, I have been following you,” he admitted, raising his hands, “I was hoping to hire you.”

Even through her annoyance, Shadow was a little impressed. He had come clean immediately, raised his hands so she could see them, and mentioned money --all of which made her trigger finger slightly less twitchy. He might not be a player, but he could keep his wits about him.

“Hire me for what?” she asked, not lowering her weapon.

“I’m a stranger to these parts,” he told her, “I don’t know my way around. To be honest, I could use a guide.”

Shadow cut him off. “We’ll talk about it somewhere else. Let’s get out of this alley.” She holstered her pistol. “Walk ahead of me and don’t try anything funny unless you want my knife in your guts.”

She took him to a well-lighted coffee shop that was open all night. They had coffee and pie; apple for him and pecan for her. Shadow listened as he told his story.
“My name is Christian Foster. I’m from Mount Olive, North Carolina, and I’m an accountant. I was engaged to be married, but my fiancée ran away from her parents’ home about a month ago. I’m pretty sure she headed into the Border Region.”

“Why?” Shadow asked.

“It’s where people go.”

“Sounds like she doesn’t want to get found.”

“I just want to talk to her.”

“The Border Region’s a pretty big place.”

“I’m reasonably sure she went north instead of west. Her ancestors were from Pennsylvania.”

“But still…” Shadow didn’t finish the thought, suddenly intrigued by a new notion, “I don’t suppose you have a picture of your runaway sweetheart.”

Christian fished around in one of the many pockets on the jacket he wore for traveling. He produced a photograph and passed it across the table.

Shadow studied the photo, scarcely able to conceal her distaste. The girl in the picture had a smiling, sickeningly sweet face. She wore no make-up, and her hair was combed straight back from her forehead and held in place with some sort of clip. Her modest blouse was buttoned up clear to her throat. Shadow thought she looked like some well-scrubbed eight-year-old the day they take the school pictures.

“Do you think she’s good looking?” Christian asked eagerly.

“How am I supposed to tell if she’s good looking?” Shadow replied tartly as she flipped the picture back to him. “So what’s Sweetie Pie’s name?”

“Angel Kometka.”

Christian. Angel. What was it with these dicks and their religion? Shadow frowned. A simpering little frail like the one in the picture could not have taken off into the wilds of the Border Region on her own. Obviously, she had run off with some guy. But looking into Christian’s boyish face, Shadow didn’t have the heart to tell him that. “So what do you want me to do?” she asked instead.

“I made my way up West Virginia on my own okay. But in Wheeling I started to feel like I was out of my depth. Then I saw you handle that guy in that topless bar.”

“It was a nudie bar, actually,” she corrected, “but go on.”

“Anyway, it occurred to me that here’s someone that knows the Region and can handle trouble. But then you had to go off with the cops. I slipped some money to people around the sheriff’s station and at the stable, and found out that you had left town headed north. So I followed you, but didn’t know how to approach you about something like this. I’m not all that great when it comes to talking to women.”

“So I gathered.”

“You were headed north, which was the way I wanted to go. I lost you when you crossed over on the ferry. The ferry guy told me that your probable destination was Steubenville. I got a room here, got some sleep, then went out looking for you. I hoped to spot you on the street or in a bar or something. You showed up at that last place. I was going to come over, but then you took off.”

“I just wanted to get you alone with a gun in my hand. A woman can’t be too careful around here.”

Christian looked abashed. “I’m sorry to be such a bother. So do you think you’ll be heading east, into Pennsylvania?”

“That’s Westsylvania,” she told him, “And yes.”

“And then what? North or east or south?”

“Nosy, aren’t we? Well it just so happens that I am headed up north, but I’m in no great hurry to get there.” Shadow wasn’t particularly wary about giving Christian so much information because she thought he was a puddin’.

“Well, that’s perfect. Would it be okay if I tagged along? Like I said, I can pay you.”

“Ah, those magic words. How much?”

“A thousand dollars a week.”

It didn’t take Shadow long to think it over. She suspected that he wasn’t telling her everything, but that was okay. He didn’t give off any sort of dangerous vibe. And if he did try any funny business, he’d be fuckin’-A sorry.

“Then I guess we’ll be traveling together,” she told him, “My name is Tamar Lane, but most people call me Shadow.”

“Tamar Lane? By any chance named after the conqueror, Tamerlane?”

“You’re quick, and a man who knows his history. Yes, but my dad actually got it from Poe. It’s a Border Region thing. Some parents like to give their kids names with weird associations. I have two little nieces named Lois and Margo.”

“Margo? Shouldn’t she be called Shadow?”

Shadow couldn’t help but crack a smile. “Knows the classics too,” she said, liking him but not trusting him or anyone else. Right now, though, she was more concerned with the three knuckle-draggers who had come in during their conversation.

They had seated themselves at a table on the other side of the coffee shop. Shadow had been keeping an eye on them. They were outlaw types, clad in leather vests or jackets. Possibly they were members of one of the old biker gangs like the Pagans that had taken to horseback, but Shadow didn’t notice any insignia. The least of them was bigger than she was, and tell-tale bulges in their clothes indicated that they were armed.

The trio had noticed Shadow as well. A troop of baboons in heat could have made it no more obvious. Salacious grins, coarse laughter, elbow pokes to each others’ ribs and other such juvenile antics all made the plan growing in their dim little brains all too plain. Shadow decided to see just how stupid they were.

“All done with your pie, Sweetie?” she asked Christian, “Then we should be off.”

After leaving the coffee shop, Shadow led Christian across the street and started down the sidewalk. That way a slight turn of her head could bring the coffee shop entrance within range of her peripheral vision. Sure enough, the Stooges came spilling out mere moments later. There hadn’t even been time for their orders to arrive. This left no doubt as to their intentions.

“Don’t look back,” Shadow told her companion, “But there are three guys following us. I said don’t look back!”

Christian instantly checked his hasty instinctive motion. “Wh-what do they want?” he stammered.

“Nuthin’ much. Just to rape me and kill you.”

“My God! What do we do?”

“Just put your arm around me like we’re a couple.” As Christian did so, Shadow informed him, “I’m going to lead them into an alley and get the drop on them. Worked on you.”

Shadow led the trio down a dark street. The three men’s heavy footsteps clearly announced their presence to anyone within earshot. The normal reaction of a woman being followed by strange men would be to seek refuge in a crowded place. Instead she was headed into a more deserted area. This should have roused the trio’s suspicions. To Shadow, the fact that it didn’t was further indication that these three knuckle-draggers didn’t have four brain cells to share amongst them.
The trio hung back, curious to see where the man and woman were going. Shadow surprised them by ducking into an alley, leading Christian by the hand. One of the
Stooges actually let out a hoot, like he couldn’t believe their luck.

In the alley, Shadow flattened herself against a building in the first dark cranny she could find. She told Christian to keep going, “Run! I’ll catch up in a minute.” Christian took off, dashing fleetly down the alley.

Momentarily, the three pursuers came rounding the corner. They spotted Christian in his light clothes running away and assumed that Shadow, clad in black, was lost in the gloom ahead of him. They quickened their pace to overtake him. As they rushed past Shadow’s position, she called out to them.

“Hey Assholes!”

The three halted abruptly, almost stumbling into one another. They turned. Shadow had them covered with her Glock. It would have been far safer for her to have just bushwhacked them, but shooting guys in the back always made her feel icky. If they were smart, they would raise their hands and keep them high in the air as she made them face the wall while she disarmed them. Shadow hoped they were stupid.

They were. Asshole number one went for his own gun as soon as he saw her. Good, Shadow thought as she shot him in the face. He clutched at his ruined features as he pitched backwards, dead before he hit the ground. Shadow was already pumping bullets into the chest of a second asshole fumbling for his weapons. He toppled into some garbage cans, knocking them over with a loud crash. The third one almost had his gun leveled at Shadow when he felt her hot lead tearing through his body. The impact of the slugs spun him about as he reeled and fell headlong to pavement.


Up ahead in the darkness, Christian stopped running when he heard the shots. He slumped back against a wall, gulping air. The echo of the gunshots reverberated down the narrow alleyway. Somewhere, a couple of dogs started howling. As the gunshot echoes died away, Christian felt an icy jolt of fear at the sound of approaching footsteps. Then, with relief, he realized that it was just one pair of footsteps.

Squinting into the inky blackness, Christian was able to make out the silhouette of a tall figure as it drew near. Another second and Shadow stood before him. Unexpectedly, he found himself struck by her loveliness as she stepped into the patch of soft moonlight that revealed her. Her strange pale beauty was like nothing he had ever seen. The wan moonlight bathed her in its glow. For a brief moment she seemed like some ethereal being, unearthly if not exactly angelic.

“Praise the Lord!” Christian gasped. Then the scent of gunpowder that clung to her jostled him from his reverie. “What happened back there?”

“Played `em a deadly song on the Glockenspiel,” Shadow said coldly.

“Was it necessary?”

“Yeah,” she snapped, “They were fuckin’ armed to the teeth.” It was true. The first guy she’d shot had been pulling a Heckler and Koch machine pistol from a shoulder rig. He’d also had a Beretta 9 mm. clipped to his belt for backup. The last guy to go down had been leveling a SIG Sauer .40 at her. The Stooge in the middle was the only one who hadn’t had a chance to draw on her. Gazing coldly down on his corpse, Shadow discovered that he wore a pair of .45 automatics. All three piles of fresh worm food had been carrying a lot more firepower than she had

“Look,” she told Christian, “This is nothing to worry about, but we really shouldn’t hang around town. Where’s your bike?”

“It’s at the hotel.”

Shadow and Christian headed back to the town’s main drag, where a few pub-crawlers were still abroad. For appearances’ sake they played the cute couple. They made an odd pair, to be sure, but opposites do sometimes attract. No one gave them a second glance.

There they caught a pedi-cab. This was essentially a bicycle towing a backseat big enough for two people. A few of these were still about despite the lateness of the hour. The cab-drivers all went armed, and there was money to made picking up drunks.
At the hotel, Christian retrieved his bicycle and backpack. The old bus station where Shadow had stabled her pinto was not far from there. Before long they were headed north out of town. After a few miles they came to an intact bridge and crossed over the Ohio River back into West Virginia. Now Shadow could breathe a little easier.

Surely by this time the Steubenville cops had decided that it was safe to investigate the mess Shadow had left for them in the alley. Law enforcement officials in these parts were notoriously corrupt, not to mention lazy. They were perfectly willing to let the “undesirable” elements thin out their own ranks. This time they would find three heavily-armed thugs that had been out-gunned by a single foe, with the entry wounds in their fronts and the exit wounds in their backs. Nobody would be doing much hand-wringing over them. Right now they were probably being loaded onto the horse-drawn meat wagon. Next stop, the morgue. Final destination, potter’s field.

Shadow took comfort in the certainty that no Steubenville officers would come knocking on the doors of their Weirton counterparts any time soon. There was little love lost between the two agencies. If some troublemaker cleared out of Steubenville headed for Weirton, it was Weirton’s problem.

Weirton authorities, like those in Steubenville, were content to let the various outlaw factions settle their own disputes, cracking down only if some innocent civilian got caught in the crossfire. If things got too out of hand, they could give a yell for help to the Wheeling authorities or the West Virginia State Police. The arrangement suited just about everyone. The hardcore badasses could drink, drug, fight and screw to their hearts’ content. With the very worst elements “contained” in Weirton, Wheeling was able to thrive as a boomtown. This made its mayor and the governor very happy.

There were others, however, who were not so pleased. The Weirton riffraff inevitably spilled over into neighboring Steubenville. In a dying community, there were many purveyors of food, drink, sex, drugs, and other basics willing to profit by catering to the outlaw trade. The fact that the Weirton hot zone had almost immediately spread to encompass Steubenville was the source of the animosity that Steubenville officials felt for Weirton and West Virginians in general.

Shadow and Christian got into Weirton late in the wee morning hours. A fog had rolled in. The streets were all but deserted. The town’s revelers had mostly concluded their various debaucheries and had bedded down to sleep it off. The fog enveloped the deserted streets like a shroud. Visibility was poor, but Shadow knew Weirton of old. She guided the pinto unerringly through the mist, Christian walking his bike alongside. They soon reached the center of town.

They checked into an old hotel called the Gilman. After corralling the horse in a courtyard to the rear of the building, Shadow returned to the street. She and Christian entered the lobby through the front door, trailed by a few clinging tendrils of fog. Shadow banged on the bell on the worn front desk to summon the night manager, who had been sleeping in a back room. The concierge escorted them up three flights of creaking stairs to a pair of adjoining rooms. Christian awkwardly bid Shadow goodnight, and they retired to their separate quarters.

Shadow was pleased to find that her room was reasonably clean and free from vermin. She began to undress for bed. She was clad only in her thong panties and Go-Go Lounge tank top when her finely-honed survival instincts alerted her to some faint noise that seemed out of place. She froze, her keen ears straining to catch and identify the barely audible sound. The concierge had said that the other rooms on this floor were all vacant. Yet the distinct sound of a human voice in a neighboring room was unmistakable. She realized with alarm that it was coming from the room Christian had taken.

That little shit! Who was he talking to? She recalled earlier warning signs: him stalking her, that lame story about the girl. Was she being set up after all? But how? They had seen no one else. No one could have followed…

Shadow wrestled her racing mind under control. She’d know soon enough, by god. She unholstered the Glock and glided towards the connecting door. She pressed her ear to it. It was his voice alright, but she couldn’t tell what he was saying.
Slowly, taking care not to make any noise, Shadow released the deadbolt on her side of the door. The door itself was pretty flimsy. One good shove would bust it right open. Shadow braced herself and butted hard with her shoulder.

The door turned out to be neither locked nor bolted on Christian’s side. Shadow was through it in an instant. She had expected more resistance, and her momentum carried her stumbling into the middle of Christian’s room.

Jolted by the crash of the door as it was flung open, an astonished Christian looked up to behold a half-naked Shadow, gun in hand, as she came reeling into his room. But Shadow was no less surprised by what she saw there.

Christian was by himself. He was kneeling by the bed in his dorky-looking underwear, hands clasped in front of him. Shadow was taken aback for a second, not knowing what to make of what she saw. Then it came to her: Oh yeah, right…he was saying his prayers.

“Uh, sorry,” she said, lowering the gun, “I thought you were talking to someone.”

“I was,” he said.

For a second Shadow looked as though she were poised to deliver some caustic remark, but she didn’t. Her expression softened. “Get some sleep, Church-boy,” she told him.

That said, Shadow turned abruptly on her heel and headed back towards the connecting door like she was striding down a runway. She indulged a sudden temptation to flaunt her ass as she walked. Pausing at the threshold, she looked back over her shoulder at Christian and was gratified to see him gawking at her. “Pleasant dreams,” she added with a sly smile before disappearing back into her room.

Shadow closed the door behind her. The hinges were a little loose from her shoving through it, but nothing was broken. She locked and bolted it.

She stretched out on her bed and sighed contentedly, thinking about Christian in the next room, certain he was thinking about her. She wasn’t normally such a dick-tease, but he’d really bugged her with that praying shit. If he spent the night tossing and turning, it served him right. For her part, she’d be glad just to get some sleep. After having to hightail it out of a different town two nights in a row, she was more than happy to spend what was left of the night here in this room.

By the time the first gray light of dawn began to dispel the darkness and the fog outside, Shadow was fast asleep.

Next: Indian Summer

Friday, July 4, 2008


It may sound trite, or bogus, but it came to me in a vision. Over the course of an eleven hour work day --never mind where-- bits and pieces of this future history started coming to me unbidden. By the end of the day, I had over ninety percent of the fictional events I recount in the short version of Twilight's Last Gleaming. I wrote the short version and sent copies to some friends, solely for their and my amusement. I thought that was the end of it. But in the months that followed, more and more details of this imagined future began to reveal themselves to me. Finally, I felt I had enough to undertake the writing of a novel-length chronicle. Over the next year, I did just that.

An imaginary future history depicting the world-wide ascendency of Islam, and the fracturing of America along ethnic and religious lines, cannot help but be controversial. That's okay. So long as my fictional future prompts people to think, "That's not what's going to happen, this is...", then it's done its job. I intend for my chronicle to be a provocative work of dystopian fiction, alarming regardless of one's position on the political spectrum, but it is not my purpose to give offense. I honestly believe that most people everywhere would prefer to live and let live, lead normal lives, and go about their business. The strife in the world stems from comparitively small groups of determined trouble-makers. Such is the sad story of humanity. The sole point I wish to emphasize is that we, as a nation and a civilization, cannot be as stupid, lazy, and complacent as we want and still expect to be around. If we are supplanted by a younger, more vigorous civilization, the fault will lie with us and not with them.

So if it helps, just think of this as The Road Warrior without Mad Max. It's fiction, after all. As time goes on, I hope to add additional tales using Twilight as a background. I've always wanted to create my own fictional universe, ala Baum's Oz, Burroughs' Barsoom and Pellucidar, Howard's Hyborian Age, Tolkein's Middle Earth, Roddenberry's Federation, Lucas' Galactic Republic. Well, now I have. I intend for my fictional timeline and post-US America to serve as a backdrop big enough for any type of story --action-adventure, techno-thriller, war, drama, Dickensian social commentary, suspense, mystery, and possibly even comedy and romance.

The first chapter of the first novel set in what I might as well call "the Twilightverse" appears on this blog. It's a pulp fiction action saga called Guns of the Border Region. More chapters will follow as I create them. I have also included sample chapters from the opening, middle, and concluding sections of the full, book-length version of Twilight's Last Gleaming.

TWILIGHT'S LAST GLEAMING: A History of the Future (short version)

[The following is the short version of my book-length fictional future history, Twilight's Last Gleaming . I made a few changes as I expanded it into a novel length work, and so have made revisions in this short version to bring it in line with the full-length chronicle. Copyright© 2006, 2008 by Charles Hoffman]

As America prepared to celebrate its 300th birthday in 2076, the greatest external threat facing the United States was the Islamic Federation of Europe. The Islamic Federation of Europe had existed as a formal political entity for only a few decades, but its roots went back much further. At the dawn of the 21st Century, sizable Muslim minorities already existed in such European nations as France, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. As the indigenous populations dwindled, the Muslim population expanded, both through considerably higher birth rates and additional unchecked immigration. Muslims also made remarkable inroads into Spain --formerly ruled by the Moors-- and Sweden, socially experimental as always and open to social engineering schemes.

Able to vote and hold office in their adopted countries, European Muslims began to sway elections and determine government policy. Achieving greater and greater prominence in all areas of public life, Islam also succeeded in winning many converts among the younger generations of indigenous Europeans. By 2060, the only countries in Western Europe to remain outside the Islamic Federation were the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, and parts of Scandinavia. The Islamic Federation of Europe had grown vine-like upon the framework of the old European Union, inheriting an efficient bureaucracy already in place and gradually consolidating power within a stronger central authority than had previously existed. More ominously as far as the western hemisphere was concerned, the IFE also inherited the formidable arsenals of both the former NATO powers and the Warsaw Pact nations.

In the meantime, Islam was roaring its power in its ancient homeland as well. Representative democratic government, which had been successfully transplanted to regions formerly ruled by shoguns, Kaisers and czars, failed to take root in the sands of the Middle East. It had gained a tenuous foothold in places like Afghanistan and Iraq due solely to considerable exertions and patience on the part of the US and its allies, but within a few decades these nations reverted to Islamic theocracy. At first the frameworks of representative government were kept in place, so as to lull the West into complacency and forestall further intervention. However, religious control of those regions returned in swift increments. Elected officials all-too-soon became figureheads placed in power to rubber-stamp the decrees of religious authorities.

The Islamic nations of the Middle East formed a powerful coalition with Iran at its center. Interfaith squabbles between Sunni and Shiite factions in the Mid East gradually ceased to be a significant problem due to the cool guidance of the religious and secular authorities of the Islamic Federation of Europe, who soberly arbitrated disputes and fostered cooperation throughout the region. Mid-East oil now flowed freely to Europe, fueling a robust European economy and enriching the nations of the IFE.

In the second half of the 21st Century, Islam dominated the Eastern Hemisphere. At this time all of Africa, with the exception of South Africa, was Muslim. The continent as a whole, however, remained impoverished and of marginal importance. Islam also made remarkable inroads in areas of the Far East where it had not hitherto flourished, in India, and also in North America. In the northeastern United States, African-Americans converted to Islam in great numbers, as did many whites.

In the US, both officialdom and average citizens viewed the growing power of Islam throughout the Eastern Hemisphere with alarm. Unfortunately, the United States had failed to break its dependence on Mid East oil. Sizeable petroleum reserves in Alaska and off the coast remained untapped due to ecological concerns. Alternative energy sources never got off the ground due to the shortsightedness of business leaders in the private sector. The price of crude oil continued to skyrocket, touching off a series of recessions, panics, and depressions that plagued America throughout the first half of the 21st Century. Widespread unemployment and poverty tore at the social fabric. Yet while the man in the street wept in helpless fury, government found that its hands were tied. Europe and the Mid East held all the aces, and impotent saber rattling was never even considered.

One political measure the US did undertake in reaction to Islamic hegemony was to strengthen ties with Catholic Latin America. This entailed pursuing amicable relations with the growing powerhouse that was Mexico.

Mexico had grown prosperous in part by adapting an alternative energy plan pioneered by Brazil. Brazil’s primary alternative fuel was ethanol, made from sugar cane. By 2005, seventy-five percent of Brazilian cars were running on flex-fuel, accepting gasoline, ethanol, or a blend of both. Early attempts by Mexico to manufacture ethanol from corn resulted in food shortages. However, Mexico achieved greater success with ethanol derived from sugar imported from Cuba. The economies of both nations benefited as a result. Unprecedented prosperity enabled Mexico to beef up militarily. Mexico’s chief supplier of arms was China, who had since the early 21st Century been expanding its military assistance to Latin America. In this, China was only filling a vacuum left by the United States, the former arms supplier to the region. The US insisted that client nations conform to restrictions in regard to human rights, ecological, and other concerns as a condition for military assistance. China made no such demands.

In addition to growing power and prosperity, Mexico also gained in international prestige. Italy, isolated from Muslim Europe, was desperate for support from Catholic Latin America. In due course, the first Mexican pope was elected.

In regards to relations with Mexico, US policy was also heavily influenced by an ever-increasing Hispanic population within its own borders. Since the 1970s and earlier, illegal aliens from Mexico had been swarming unchecked across the border in increasingly massive droves. Security at the border was scandalously lax. Border Patrol agents found themselves spread thin and hamstrung by government officials who steadfastly ignored the problem until it was too late.

By the year 2000, the population of these “illegal immigrants” had swelled to between ten and twenty million, according to various estimates. The majority of those who crossed the border illegally were ordinary people who were just seeking a better life. Even so, they placed a tremendous burden on education and social services designed for US citizens.

In California taxes soared, driving businesses and longtime residents to relocate northward and eastward. By 2025, the entertainment industry formerly centered in Hollywood and environs had been completely transplanted to Vancouver. The economy of Southern California was dealt a crippling blow from which it never fully recovered.

The other Southwestern border states also experienced difficulties due to the strain placed on government services. Still the flood of illegal aliens continued unabated. A series of amnesty programs, under various guises, served to entice more and more Mexicans to illegally enter the United States. As Mexican and other Latin American immigrants gained legal status, they came to wield increasingly greater political clout.

The Hispanic population of the United States was largely Mexican, though not exclusively so. An expanding segment of the population of southern Florida was Cuban. Many of their number arrived as refugees from the oppressive regime of Fidel Castro. The Castro regime had at the outset been abetted by the now-vanished Soviet Union. With the death of Fidel Castro, Cuba turned away from communism. Long-established sanctions against Cuba were lifted as a more progressive government was established there. Even so, few of the Cubans who had been residing in Florida for so long returned to their native soil.

Birth rates were also an important factor in the Hispanic population boom. The children of illegal aliens born on American soil were automatically deemed US citizens. The Catholic Church frowned on any sort of birth control, let alone abortion. Hispanic children benefited from the support of large extended families. Meanwhile, birthrates among Anglo-Americans plummeted. Disenfranchised and facing an uncertain future, many men in “rustbelt” areas and elsewhere were reluctant to start families. During the so-called “baby bust,” birthrates among Anglos fell to below replacement levels. Anglos in the Southwest became a minority.

A huge percentage of the illegal immigrants failed to assimilate and were, in fact, discouraged from doing so by political leaders that arose in the Mexican-American community. Mexican culture was lauded over American culture. The MEChA movement was active on all University of California campuses and at many other colleges and universities throughout the Southwest --indeed, throughout the United States. The ultimate goal of MEChA was the restoration to Mexico of all territory that had been part of it prior to 1846. The Mexican War of 1846-48 was seen as a blatant land-grab by the US. Activists ignored, or dismissed as irrelevant, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed on February 2, 1848, in which Mexico had been compensated $15 million for its vast, sparsely settled hinterlands. Also ignored was the fact that Mexico had never truly held sway over Arizona and West Texas; in the 1840s these were still the domain of the fierce Apache and Comanche.

In any event, a separate culture took shape in the western United States during the early decades of the 21st Century. It was a Hispanic culture that revered both the Spanish culture of Old Mexico and, paradoxically, the Aztec and Mayan civilizations that it supplanted. The Hispanic culture of the West was as different from the Anglo-American culture of the East as the antebellum South had been from that of the industrial North prior to the Civil War of 1861-65. Hispanics came to be regularly elected governor of western states. Representatives and senators from the West were also increasingly Hispanic as time went on. When they went to Washington, many of these staunchly advocated Mexican national interests as well as those of Hispanic Americans. The last Anglo governor of California left office in the late 2020s. In 2046, the MEChA flag was raised at the state house in Sacramento, and at several other western state capitals as well. It was an ironic --and to some ominous-- development that was duly noted at the time.

In the portions of the United States where Anglo-Americans still predominated, there was an upsurge in religious fervor among Christians. This was true among Protestants and Catholics alike. Denominational differences were set aside in the name of Christian solidarity, although fundamentalists in both camps began to eclipse more moderate factions. Commentators deemed the phenomenon an inevitable historic reaction to the worldwide rise of Islam. The philosophy, history, traditions, and art of Christianity was embraced and celebrated. The downside of this trend, however, was a growing fundamentalist stranglehold on various topics of discourse, with a consequent chilling effect on dissenting points of view. Both fine and popular art assumed a uniform blandness. Certain avenues of scientific inquiry and research were abandoned, causing America to lag behind in the sciences. Yet despite these drawbacks, the renewed prominence of
Christianity in public life often gained the support of even those with no strong religious beliefs. Many such persons viewed it as a matter of pragmatism, a robust Christianity was seen as a necessary counterbalance to Islam. “It takes a faith to fight a faith” was a frequently heard maxim.

However, Islam was alive and well in America. Nowhere did this make for more bitter controversy than in the African-American community. Black Americans in the southern states remained the staunchest of Christians, while inner city blacks in the Northeast and Midwest were increasingly drawn to Islam. White American Muslims also became more common in these areas, joining with the Black Muslims and those of actual Mid-Eastern origin or descent. Muslims from other parts of the nation relocated en masse to the Northeast and Midwest, further swelling the Islamic populations there. They were able to swing elections and influence public policy. One result was a weakening of the nation’s defensive and intelligence capabilities.

Inevitably, the more radical Islamic factions also made their presence felt. Suicide bombings occurred with mounting frequency in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. These were followed by anthrax outbreaks in several cities, as well as a nerve gas attack in the New York subway that killed over 700 people. Other atrocities ensued. The end result of this activity was a “white flight” from these urban centers so massive that it was referred to at the time as a “rout.” Businesses and the middle class fled like rats from a doomed ship. The municipal tax bases were eroded, setting the stage for urban decay on a scale never before seen in America.

In the meantime, the Southwest was making a modest comeback, after a fashion. Traffic had been flowing freely back and forth across the Mexican border for some time. The southwestern US and northern Mexico were evolving together into a semi-autonomous region --at least as far as the US was concerned. In 2060, a Congress in large part Hispanic overrode a presidential veto to declare the border officially open, citing “commerce” as a rationale. Previously, Spanish had been declared an official language of the United States.

And so it came to pass that the American Tercentennial of 2076 was celebrated, where celebrated at all, in a lackluster half-hearted fashion. Some wag wryly noted that this in itself was something of a tradition. The Centennial celebration of 1876 had been marred by bitter memories of the Civil War that ended little more than a decade earlier, and the Bicentennial of 1976 had been observed amid the malaise that followed the disastrous Vietnam War and a major political scandal. Even so, the United States of America was, at least in theory, still “one nation indivisible” in 2076. However, the cracks and fissures in the nation were now all too plain to see. One good jolt was all that was needed to shatter the Union into fragments like a piece of cheap crockery.


That jolt was not long in coming. Just a few years later in 2079, Iran celebrated the 100th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution. It was a milestone that heralded dire events. Before the year was over, the worst fears of western intelligence agencies were realized when Iran and its allies launched an all-out attack on their mutually despised foe, Israel.

The state of Israel had been a thorn in the side of the Islamic Middle East for over a century. Iran especially longed to wipe it from the map. Iran was held in check at first by the deterrent effect of America’s military might, and later by the Islamic Federation of Europe. The IFE counseled patience and restraint, bidding Iran to bide its time even as it helped Iran prepare for the day of reckoning. The Islamic world consolidated its power, watching and waiting as America was corroded by internal strife.

Iran’s first attack wave came in the form of carefully coordinated air strikes and non-nuclear missile strikes that took out Israel’s defenses. The tiny nation was pounded by further air strikes that paved the way for a later invasion by ground forces.

American military response was swift. Aircraft carriers rushed to Israel’s rescue. They could not arrive in time to intercept that crippling first wave, but subsequent Iranian air attacks met with fierce resistance. In an effort to take the fight to the enemy, the latest generations of stealth bombers and cruise missiles struck deep within Iran and its allies.

Then, in a lightning move that bespoke much prior anticipation and planning, the Islamic Federation of Europe issued a formal declaration of war against the United States of America. This declaration was so worded that any and all allied of the US were included in this drawing of the battle lines. The battle was quickly joined. Nations around the globe were drawn into the fight as the regional conflict escalated with appalling rapidity into World War III.

Within hours of the IFE war declaration, the eastern seaboard of the United States found itself under aerial bombardment. European forces were able to swiftly reach American soil by striking from Greenland. Even before the creation of the Islamic Federation, Europe had begun to establish military installations in Greenland. The IFE subsequently busied itself for decades completing this task. Throughout that period, many warned that Greenland was becoming a huge dagger aimed at the heart of North America. However, this issue was never adequately addressed.

In the wake of the first attack, the US Air Force scrambled to neutralize Greenland. The Labrador Sea northeast of Newfoundland became the scene of fierce aerial combat as the air forces of the United States and Canada sought to hold the Europeans in check. The second European attack wave targeted Canadian as well as American defensive installations. Greenland also allowed the European Navy to dominate the North Atlantic. Here epic sea battles were waged on a scale not seen since Jutland.

Both on the sea and in the sky, the Europeans were better prepared and more effective. America was essentially fighting blind due to the destruction of its intelligence satellites at the outset of the war. In general, America lagged woefully behind Europe technologically. On one hand, defense budgets had been gutted in favor of social programs and failed social engineering schemes. On the other, distrust of scientists by powerful religious leaders had been influential in retarding technical advances.

The British Navy was quick to come to America’s aid in the North Atlantic. No sooner had it set sail than an invasion force from France swept across the English Channel. Britain was now fighting for survival as never before, not even during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War. Not since 1066 had an invading army overrun British soil, but one did so now. Ferocious bloody combat took place in London and other urban centers and throughout the countryside.

It did not take long for the conflict to spread to a Pacific theater, making it a true world war. Australia declared solidarity with its English-speaking brethren and at once found itself at war with Indonesia. At this point India became a factor. India joined with Pakistan in backing Indonesia. Boasting a formidable arsenal and an enormous population, India stood poised to deliver the coup de grace to Australia and New Zealand. It was forestalled from doing so only by the timely intervention of an even greater giant, China. China vowed severe consequences should India pursue its present course. India backed down, and soon afterwards hostilities in the Pacific gradually began to subside.

In the main theater of operations, the United States was being forced into an increasingly defensive posture. Enemy attacks remained unrelenting, even as America was being crippled from within. Sleeper cells were activated and went into action, striking at military installations and their support facilities, as well as civilian population centers. Most significantly, key areas of infrastructure were targeted for destruction. Highways, bridges, railways, power plants, reservoirs and food supplies were demolished or rendered useless.

Within weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, America was fighting wholly on the defensive. The US Government had retreated to the vast, underground Liberty’s Fortress complex in Virginia. In the meantime, Israel was left to fend for itself. Though it resisted valiantly, it was no match for the combined might of Iran, Iraq, Syria and their allies. After weeks of punishing air strikes, ground forces moved into the beleaguered nation. The invaders dealt death and absorbed casualties with the grim fatalism of their creed. At length, every Israeli man, woman and child found alive was put to the sword. Then all temples and monuments, indeed any structures of any type, were demolished. The conquerors of Israel razed it to the ground and salted the earth.

Subsequently, an IFE invasion fleet was launched to menace America’s east coast. A portion of the fleet was detached to launch an assault on New York City. The battle plan for this attack was designed to maximize civilian casualties. New York was the epicenter of the American Jewish population. At the behest of powerful clerics, the forces of the Islamic Eastern Hemisphere intended to purge Jews from the New World as they had from the Old.

Yet while the eastern United States was ravaged by attacks from within and without, the western states remained virtually untouched. The USA and the IFE traded blows from opposite sides of the Atlantic, but the western US remained protected by the vast Pacific and the absence of a formidable Islamic presence in the Far East.
Even so, there was a reluctance to leave the back door unguarded. Valuable troops and materiel sorely needed to defend the besieged eastern seaboard were left in place out west. This caused anguished and indignant voices to be raised among Easterners. The Hispanic Americans of the West had thus far not been threatened, while Anglos in the East were being decimated. [NOTE: The term “Anglo” as used in this account refers to English-speaking Americans regardless of race.] Never was the cultural divide between East and West more glaringly apparent. Over 80 percent of all Americans spoke some Spanish, but the majority of Hispanics spoke only Spanish. Nevertheless, fluent English was an essential prerequisite for service in the US armed forces. Clear communication was always of paramount importance in any sort of military organization or operation. The technical nature of much 21st Century warfare only served to emphasize this. A century earlier Hispanic Americans had been a backbone of the US military, but now they served in scant proportion to their numbers in the general population. Anglos bore the brunt of the fighting, and their bitter memory of the disparity bore repercussions in the post-war period.

As the American situation grew more desperate, fears arose that the war would spiral out of control and result in some sort of thermonuclear exchange. Fortunately, nuclear weapons were never utilized in World War III. The time of greatest danger from atomic weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) such as chemical and biological agents was actually the early 21st Century. Atomic and hydrogen bombs, though the object of considerable angst, were never deployed during the long Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. A nuclear strike by one superpower would bring retaliation in kind, inevitably escalating to global Armageddon. This stalemate was commonly referred to as “Mutually Assured Destruction” (or “MAD”), and actually had a chilling deterrent effect that decreased the likelihood of the USA and USSR sliding into a shooting war.

After the internal collapse of the Soviet empire, the chief threat from WMDs was in their potential use by terrorists. Various rogue agencies espousing Islam aimed to break the will of their ideological foes, rather than seize territory or capital as in traditional warfare. Terrorists operated outside the auspices of any nation, although nation-states could and did support these networks covertly. An invisible menace without borders, terrorist networks were immune from similar retaliation. Thus it was now possible for an American city to go up in an atomic fireball without it sucking the rest of the world into a nuclear conflagration.

Ironically, this danger decreased as radical Islamic factions came to power in more and more nations. Now that these formerly outlaw elements were “on the map” with clearly defined borders and political centers, they could be targeted for a counterstrike. Therefore, when World War III broke out, nuclear weapons were not deployed. As in the previous century, no one wanted to open that can of worms.

Nevertheless, the mere fact that everyone dreaded the specter of nuclear warfare didn’t remove it from the realm of possibility. As America found itself reeling, nuclear options began to be considered. As these murmurs reached the ears of its enemies, a ceasefire and armistice were conveniently proffered by Europe. IFE representatives sensibly pointed out that the original root cause of the war was now moot. Israel was no more, and the Jewish voice in America had been muted. Few were left to champion the cause of Israel. The Islamic powers could afford to be magnanimous. They stood to gain considerable concessions from a chastened America. Even if these concessions fell short of Islam’s ultimate ambitions, the compromise was an acceptable one. There would be other wars and Islam was patient. The guns fell silent and peace talks began.


The Third World War had been short, swift and vicious, like the whirlwind of fangs and claws that ensues when two wildcats fight. The talks that followed dragged on longer than the duration of the war itself. Still, the dust finally settled and a new world order was in place.

The United Kingdom was forced to accept the yoke of Islam. Britons were faced with the choice of conversion or becoming second-class citizens of their own country. Most accepted the latter indignity as an alternative to complete capitulation. Britain became a minor satellite of the Islamic Federation of Europe.

China, on the other hand, emerged from the war with its stature enhanced. It took full advantage of the opportunity to reclaim Taiwan. The United States, having been brought to its knees, was in no position to interfere, and no one else was terribly concerned about the matter. Before long, China also assisted North Korea in its conquest of the South. Ironically, however, it was the capitalist culture of South Korea that was subsequently nurtured by China. China had long viewed the rise of the Islamic world with wariness and growing displeasure. A thriving Pacific Rim was seen as an essential bulwark against the further spread of Islam. Therefore China came to encourage capitalistic enterprise in Korea, Taiwan and Japan, which became a vassal of China.

America emerged from World War III torn and bloodied. Much of the Northeast lay in smoking ruins. The infrastructure was fragmented. Many regions were without water and power. Foodstuffs rotted in warehouses because they could not be transported to starving areas. Much of the nation’s navy had been sunk, and its arsenal had been depleted. Postwar America was weakened and vulnerable.

The armistice that America was obliged to accept included the provision that the citizens of states with heavily Muslim populations be “allowed to” vote to establish an autonomous region in which Islamic law was the highest legal authority, superseding the Supreme Court and even the United States Constitution. Such elections were held in a dozen states in the Med Atlantic and Great Lakes regions. The measure passed in all but a few of these states.

This development did not go unopposed. Trouble first flared up in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Angry citizens there were loath to accept a condition imposed by a popular vote tipped by populous Muslim strongholds like Philadelphia and other cities in the eastern part of the state. The southwestern counties flamed in riot and open rebellion. Rebel leaders issued a manifesto declaring that states opting for Islamic religious rule had for all intents and purposes seceded from the Union; if secession were the order of the day, then they would secede from Pennsylvania. All the counties south of Meadville and west of the Alleghenies soon separated from the rest of Pennsylvania by mutual agreement. The secession movement spread like wildfire as other affected states followed suit. The southern rural regions of states like Ohio and Illinois broke away from the more urbanized areas of the North.

What would become the Islamic States of America included all of New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, as well as vast parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. In the meantime, the hardy Southwestern Pennsylvanians joined with the equally stalwart West Virginians in the formation of a semi-autonomous buffer zone insulating the Christian South from the Islamic North. In time this would include all of the Ohio River Valley and environs, and become known as the Border Region.

These momentous developments sent shockwaves through the West as well. The citizens of the Southwestern states overwhelmingly favored leaving the Union and joining Mexico. They made this known both through their elected representatives and by taking to the streets in protest. Mexico itself added its voice to theirs, politely insisting that citizens of those states be allowed to “determine their own destiny.”

Back east, editorial cartoons of a weeping Abraham Lincoln failed to move many. The West had come through the war relatively unscathed, to the resentment of many in the East. America’s loss of the war was blamed on the nation’s lack of cohesion. Critics were quick to point to Southwesterners’ longstanding embrace of Mexican, rather than American culture. If these states left the Union, they would take their representatives in Congress with them; their influence on American policy would vanish.

Within a year the entire states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico left the United States to join Mexico. Of the Southwestern states, only Texas split in two as Pennsylvania had. The Big Bend area of West Texas that included El Paso joined Mexico, as did all the regions south of Austin. The rest of the state remained in the Union. Before leaving San Antonio, Anglos there dynamited the Alamo to prevent it from falling into Mexican hands.

Both the secession of the Southwest and the establishment of the Islamic States came to be seen as a blessing in disguise by certain commentators. The Northeastern states lay in ruins and the cost of rebuilding would be staggering. If they left the Union, however, they were no longer America’s problem. Let the Europeans help the Northeast to rebuild, some reasoned; after all, they were the ones who wrecked it in the first place.

These commentators regarded the “downsizing of America” in a positive light. It was thought that America could get back on its feet faster if certain problem areas were no longer parts of it. “Smaller is better” and “leaner and meaner” became popular mottos. Others simply snorted “Good riddance” in regards to the departing states.

Unfortunately, secession did not end there. Within five years the northern New England states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, cut off from the rest of the Union by the Islamic States, were clamoring to leave the Union and join Canada. A weary Federal government caved to their demands. In due course Oregon and Washington, along with the northern panhandle of Idaho and the upper peninsula of Michigan, were joined to Canada. However, Canadian gains of US territory were offset by the loss of Quebec. Secession fever had spread to Canada, and Quebec finally realized its long-sought goal of independence. Quebec had long been the world center of French language and culture, now all but extinct in France.

Canada and Mexico were not the only nations to gain from the break-up of the American Union. Apart from the Southwest, the largest concentration of Spanish-speaking Americans was to be found in southern Florida. These were of mostly Cuban descent. In 2093, all of Florida south of the Panhandle left the US to form a union with Cuba.

Throughout the final decade of the 21st Century, what was left of the United States continued to struggle to haul itself out of the abyss into which it had been plunged. In doing so, the nation redefined itself along the way. Almost half of its former territory had been lost. What remained consisted of the Southeastern states, with the notable exception of Florida, and the still sparsely populated central states such as Montana, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. The political, economic and cultural life of the recovering nation centered in what had been the Old South of two hundred and fifty years earlier.

It became common to refer to the South, and by extension the downsized nation as a whole, as “the New American Confederacy.” The term was spoken with a tone of irony at first. It was frequently observed that this new “Confederacy” had not seceded from the Union --rather, the Union had seceded from it! And unlike the old Confederate States of America, the new Confederacy was not built on the rotten foundation of racism and slavery. Rather, the new nation that was being erected on the ash heap of the old was the work of both black and white --brothers and sisters all, united in Christ.

One thing the New Confederacy did have in common with its predecessor was a lessening of the power held by the central authority of the Federal government, with greater autonomy being retained by individual states and regions. As a result of this trend, certain states became, for all intents and purposes, miniature nations. In Utah, the population was overwhelmingly Mormon and elected to return to their old ways. Polygamy was reinstated with nary an objection from the Federal government. Since such once-unthinkable concessions had been granted to American Muslims, not much of a case could be made for denying the same considerations to the Mormons, who were at least Christians. Alaska also began to function more and more independently of the central government. In the meantime, a whole separate culture was taking form in the Ohio River Valley’s Border Region. Places like Utah, Alaska, and the Border Region were neither wholly in nor wholly out of the Union, or rather the Confederacy, as it increasingly came to be called.

As the map of North America was redrawn, the populations of various areas were uprooted and transplanted to different locations. Asian Americans on the West Coast had been drifting northward for decades. Those of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino and other Asian descent formed enclaves in the northernmost regions of California, now part of Mexico; in Oregon and Washington, now part of Canada; in British Columbia and in the southern panhandle of Alaska. Christians in Michigan migrated to the Upper Peninsula, which seceded from the state and the nation to join Canada. The Amish of Eastern Pennsylvania joined those in the sundered western part of the state to occupy the northeastern fringe of the Border Region. In time the Amish came to adopt a more militant stance, becoming the watchmen along the border with the Islamic States of America.

Hawaii loosened its ties to the rest of the country, now without a west coast, as it became a thriving crossroads of the commerce conducted by the nations of the Pacific Rim. In time Hawaii became a protectorate of Japan. More notable, however, were the formal declarations of nationhood on the part of the Islamic States of America and the New American Confederacy.

For twenty years the Muslims in the former northeastern US labored to create an Islamic nation in the Western Hemisphere. For a time they were governed from the various state capitals by local religious leaders who worked with their counterparts in the other states in an informal committee. The actual rebuilding of the war-ravaged areas was accomplished, as predicted, with foreign aid courtesy of the Islamic Federation of Europe. In the meantime, leaders worked to construct a more permanent government and draft a constitution. This constitution was ratified in the fall of 2100. A fully independent Islamic States of America now took its place among the nations of the world. A yearlong celebration concluded on September 11, 2101, when a monument commemorating the martyrs of a century earlier was unveiled in New York at the former site of the World Trade Center.

To the south, in what only the elderly still insisted on calling the United States, there was a growing movement calling for a new constitutional convention. The old fifty-star flag still flew on flagpoles across the land, but to many it seemed a mockery --a symbol of ignominious defeat. A whole generation had now been born and grown up in a fragmented Union. Those a little older, who had been children when war came, remembered the fifty-state Union only dimly. So it came to pass that the constitutional convention was held, that the nation might officially become what it had long been in fact.

In 2105, the New American Confederacy was formally adopted as the name of the reborn nation. Optimists referred to the period of the constitutional convention itself as the “Era of Rebirth.” The terms “reborn” and “born again” were used frequently, since America had been “born again” in Christ. The New Constitution mandated that citizens at least pay token service to some form of Christian faith. This was in some measure a matter of practicality; the few remaining Muslims in the Confederacy were obliged to relocate to the Islamic States. Persons of other faiths, free thinkers and nonconformists found new homes in Alaska and the Border Region. Alaska did not ratify the New Constitution, opting instead to become an independent republic.

The Confederacy flag retained thirteen red and white stripes to acknowledge an esteemed past, but in the blue field all the stars were gone. Instead, the blue field was divided into four quarters by a white cross. This was not the only break with the past. Throughout the tumultuous post-war decades, the Federal government had been conducted from Liberty’s Fortress. An elaborate complex called Liberty’s City was constructed adjacent to it. Liberty’s City was now designated the new nation’s capital.

In Washington DC, the monuments and artifacts of the Old Union were preserved and honored. Yet latter day tourists visiting the former capital often felt as if they had come instead to Cairo, a place of museums housing relics of a long-vanished empire. They felt stained by the dust of antiquity, and came less and less to visit. Washington became a necropolis.

The whole world had changed. It was entering an age of warring faiths. Islam had already established a formidable beachhead in the Western Hemisphere. Islam may have even encompassed the whole globe in time, but here the vision grows hazy. It made little difference to the passing generation of Americans. With the adoption of the New Constitution, with the unfurling of the new flag, the last feathers had fallen from the molting American eagle. The United States of America, as it had been known to history, had ceased to exist.