64)   Super Sunday, February 19th:  5:35 – 5:40 AM  Blackout!”


High atop the catwalk paralleling the eastern wall of Giga-Plex, General Westmoreland Soames trotted, crouching, right foot almost touching the televisions that protruded slightly upwards and over the edge – each of which was blaring out the same demented interview of sociologist Mike Hunt by the anti-administration network’s newly-hired, former Presidential Press Secretary Ted Treybourn.  Twenty feet behind him, Tom Eppert pursued - Tenison’s seven-inch TV in his left hand, gun in his right.  Twice, he stopped, fired, then started after Westy again… he had plenty of ammunition in his pockets and a score to settle…

          “Hey man, this is crazy,” Soames finally said.  “We work together, we’re part of a team.  The Freecock team…”

          “Not me!” Tom shook his head, aiming.  “Not anymore!  I’m on fuckinsuspension…”

          I didn’t have anything to do with that.”

          “But you didn’t stop them.  You coulda stopped them,” Tom accused, “but you didn’t.  Just let ‘em throw the book at ol’ white Tom so next time, when I ain’t ‘round anymore, bein’ everybody’s scapegoat, you think that they’ll treat you any better?  You left me hangin’…”

          “That’s crazy.  You’re fuckin’ crazy, man…” Westy shouted back, exposing his head for a moment and then ducking as his terminated colleague fired off two more shots.

          “And you owe me a hundred bucks, and… and one way or other… I’m gonna collect…” Tom said, squeezing off another shot.

          Soames ducked behind a pillar and the bullet ricocheted off of it, down into the store.  “I ain’t responsible for what my no’count cousin does…”

          “Well I don’t see Raoul around, so you’re the one who’s gotta pay.  Just like the fuckers at FREECOCK made me pay ‘cause I just happened to be there, it’s on you, now…” and Tom fired again.  Hearing an empty click, he stopped to reload.

      “That’s crazy.  An’ I got a gun too, you know?” Westy challenged.

          Tom paused to consider this, and stepped back behind the partial cover of another metal column.  As he cogitated and fumbled with cartridges, the boyish Treybourn zeroed in on Mike Hunt, going for the jugular (the soundbite that would be remembered, immortalized in morning editions of the Times, the Post and USA Today)…

          “And so, Professor Hunt, is this the beginning of the end for America?” he swung for the fences…

          “Perhaps, in certain aspects of it,” the erudite and experienced Hunt hedged his bet.  “The world is running out of everything except hungry, unemployable people who, thanks to low-wage Third Worlders who toil in virtual slavery and, behind them, robots… robots who never get sick, never strike, never gripe about overtime… are no longer of use to anybody now that the pandemic has apparently run its course.  The leaders of the civilized Western nations… already a small minority of the whole considering Brexit, the neo-Nazis winning elections in the former Soviet bloc and the U.S. and the bankruptcy of the Southern European and several South American republics… seem unable to fend off the aggressive clamouring of the non-Western, non-Christian, non-Democratic majority who hate us with an insane passion that loves death more than life, and we fat, spoiled Americans, most of all…”

Tom stepped out from behind his pillar, arms outstretched… holding gun and television.  “Go ahead!  I’m a fat, spoiled American who doesn’t care anymore, don’t have a half a life worth living.  Stuck in Dumpster Town with a wife who hates me, useless kids… suspended from work, what is there to go on living for?  My President wclched on his wall and then he was stabbed in the back by some clever Wall Street Jew!  The gomer who died stabbed the Syrians, Afghans, the Ukrainians and the Taiwanese in the back, they all stabbed real Americans in the back and they’re trying to take away our Superbowl!”

“Evan Augsberg’s an asshole,” he snarled over his talking heads, “but everything is going down the toilet… the banks and credit companies run our lives, can’t buy gas, can’t buy milk, can’t buy eggs… we got all the jobs goin’ to China and, just you wait!  FREECOCK’ll probably go to China, too, now that they got the other Chinese as their new slaves and the Koreans, pretty soon.  Our dollars ain’t even worth destroying… we’ll have Chinese cops, Mexican firemen, a President born somewhere else, too… the way your man was, but won’t even have to hide it… once they repeal that part of the Constitution, whatever it is… Africa, Central America, Israel?  Nobody gives a fuck an’ they still don’t want us to know… what this shit’s really about…”

          Westy remained behind his column, looking from Tom down to the store, then back to Tom again.  It would be an easy shot, but… “Yeah, I can dig,” he said, “…but what’s killing me gonna do, ain’t even gonna help you find Raoul…”

“It’ll mean I can be somebody,” Tom affirmed, thumping his chest with the hand that still held the gun.  “Not much, but better than nothing, I’ll be somebody.  Be a man, and fuck you too, Me Too.  A man who doesn’t take shit from no goddam n…”

          “Hate to have to be the one to tell you, but that’s all life is, takin’ shit…” Westy interrupted, checking his ammunition.

          “Don’t have to be that way.  We could be the wretched of the earth, striking back at the people who kick us around…”

          Tom ran out of talk and a great pause fell over the big box store as the batteries on the bellowing, still-rolling Ghede began running low, his maniacal laughter diminishing, allowing succor for muffled noises that might have been human beings laughing or crying on their floors, ladders or catwalks, or the groans of the wounded and dying in his wake.  Not wanting to expose his head, Westy looked down into Giga-Plex where, directly below, the Dominator lay, face-down, in a puddle of plasma with Big Sonny’s feet and fingers sticking out.  The invaders, far outnumbering the few remaining defenders, had advanced to Cyberia, Cameraland and the northern edge of the henge, where zombies periodically popped out behind the boxed and live sets to shoot at the single remaining Mall Security guard, crouched behind a 52-inch Korean plasmavision.  Most of the Screaming Eagles had flown.  Soames backed down the catwalk, sniffing the increasingly smoky air wafting in from under the door to the corridor, calculating the distance to that door, which would get him out into the Mall proper and effectuate his escape as Tom crept forward, his position compromised by Sam Dreibach’s broadcast of more news of Evan Augsberg’s incredible escape warbling from Mark Tenison’s looted, battery-juiced portable...

          Westy?  You there, there, Westy-boy?” Tom wheedled, as if a Proud or Boogaloo Boy coaxing Congresspersons from the closets they were hiding in, or talking to a small, domestic animal that had escaped its cage, perhaps one of the small, fluorescent rats still running around in circles, trying to avoid the roaming canines.  He squeezed several cartridges into his weapon, dropping several more that pinged against the metal catwalk, then plunged to big box floor.  “Want my money, Westy…”

          “And this just in…” Dreibach fairly shouted, “another flash mob, said to be wielding more improvised placards of Evan Augsberg and chanting his name, has stormed a television studio in Vancouver, bringing to six the number of foreign nations overtaken by anti-digital mania.  This in addition to the insurrections in forty-seven states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico… excepting only Alaska, New Hampshire and South Dakota.  In lieu of the National Guard… presently deployed on the Polish border… the Governor of Virginia has issued an overnight appeal to local police, fire and maintenance workers, fraternal organizations, high school athletes and citizen volunteers to mobilize at dawn, this morning…”

          Beneath the cat and mouse game playing out on the catwalk above, Captain Capps and Rifleman Stu edged around towards the easternmost register as a pair of zombies darted past the wall of televisions – the foremost… Boy Norris (Swee’Pea’s friend from Nakonset Park)… diving behind the bin of marked down hi-def analog/digital converters.  The wall itself seethed with maggot-like zombies, trying to pry models from their stanchions.  Stu rested his rifle on his knee and drilled one of the looters through the back of his head, exploding the television too…

          “Goddam it, Stu…” Capps exploded, recoiling as the ammunition from above bounced off the floor,  that was company property.”

          Stu glared at the boss contemptuously, pointing downwards at the pulverized CEO.  “What?  Sonny gonna jump up and hand me a bill for his merchandise?  You goin’ soft, Cap’n?”

          “How much ammo do you have left?” Lester asked.

          “Enough to do a little more damage before we go.  That’s the program, isn’t it?  Hang around until the big birds from Waco come, fly off to ournext assignment?  So what’s wrong with getting in a few licks for the home team?”

          An addled zombie… probably drunk, probably unarmed… had disinterred himself from cover behind a punctured, hissing refrigerator to engage the now-monosyllabic robot Henry in a through-the-looking-glass discourse.  Smirking at the boss, Stu took careful aim and exploded the debater’s skull in a shower of red.

          Capps shook his head in disgust.  Far above, Westy Soames tried to make himself small behind one of the store’s columns as Tom… gun in one hand, TV in the other… crept along the catwalk, calling out softly as if for a lost pet…

          “Here, darkie…darkie…darkie… here… Barack…”

          He edged up towards the last door to the corridor, charged through, firing wildly, then ducked back onto the catwalk above Giga-Plex.  Below, Boy Norris had taken advantage of the Screaming Eagles’ focus on the wall of televisions… and looters… to slink into Sputnik Station, where he began studying the various satellite models until Stu whirled, training his rifle on him.

          “Hey boy – see anything interesting?”

          Seeing as Stu had his rifle’s red dot circling his nose, counter-clockwise, Norris chose to ignore the insult.  “Rather have one of these than the cable.  Get the whole world with satellites… Africa, London, Iraq.  Get al-Jazeera.  See what my brother’s up to, he back in Iraq for what… fifth time?”

          Stu increased the pressure of his finger on the trigger by a millionth of a pound.  “What’s he gonna say when he finds out you’ve been shot dead in Maryland…”

          “Get real, man!  This place is toast,” Boy Norris shook his head, “finito!… there’s even fire comin’, down from that way,” he pointed towards the produce market favored by rich Marylanders whose burning kale and quinoa emitted toxic fumes that rose above the conflagration.  “Anything here that don’t get carried out goes up in flames.  You got doors open, you can get out any time you want to.  Over, man.  It’s over…”

          “Yeah, but I can make it over for you, too, an’ nobody will ever know…”

          High above, Tom Eppert crept along the edge of the catwalk, calling out: “Where are you, Soames, I… ah fuck…”

          Turning away from the door, both hands full, his foot had slipped on the catwalk and he fell sideways.  The gun plummeted to the floor eighty feet below and discharged – causing Stu, Capps and Boy Norris to dive for cover.  Tom grabbed for the rail and dangled over the side of the catwalk – Westy slipped out from behind the door to the corridor, seeing his co-worker with one hand on the rail and the other grasping the chattering television.

          “Jeez, you’re still some kinda fuckup, Tom.  Give me your hand…” Westy sighed.

          “Hell no!  You owe me money!  I’ll pull myself up on my own, and then you’ll pay…” Tom promised.

          But gravity… and too many pizzas, ribs and chicken fried steaks ingested over far too many years… surmounted Eppert’s will to save himself, so the General grasped the wrist holding onto the rail.  Below, Boy Norris stepped out from behind a boxed satellite dish, discovering the business end of Stu’s rifle was still eighteen inches from his nose.

          “Can’t do it.  Gimme your other hand…” Westy proposed.


          “Let the idiot box go.  Dammit!… it’s only a TV, a fuckin’ seven-incher!  Not even worth a hundred dollars!  A fuckin’ unmod Hi Def?  Five dollars!  Is it worth your life?”

          Tom glared from Westy to the pair of Eagles arguing with some kid far, far below, to dozens of revenant maggot-mirror-faces of Evan Augsberg on dozens of Giga-sets, directing his legions into Armegeddon from some bunker, somewhere, behind the image on the tiny screens…

          “…have repudiated God and country for the pottage of the Far East,” the prophet warned, “for a culture no longer deserving of survival…”

          Tom winced and let go of Tenison’s TV and let Westy pull him back up on the catwalk.  The seven-incher tumbled, end-over-end to the satellite corner of Giga-Plex where Rifleman Stu smiled insanely as he trained his rifle at the red dot on Norris’s face.  But the TV did the job first, striking Boy on the head and exploding his skull like a grenade.  “Holy shi...”, Stu recoiled, firing instinctively.  The bullet snapped the chain holding up the bank of satellite dishes and they plunged to the floor of Sputnik Station… a deadly rain… one of the largest and topmost sporting a razor-sharp, theft-deterring parabolic edge across its circumference, spearing Captain Capps through the heart, bisecting him into halves like a butcher’s cleaver through a tender roast…

          Cap’n?  Cap’n?” the Screaming Eagle sniper recoiled.  “Oh shit…

          And as if, having summoned the Beast, he dropped his weapon and one hand reached for his behind.

          Stu kicked the rifle aside and bolted for the open fire door behind the registers… several miles away, a mob of angry Commander–cum-Football Team–cum–Redskins fans mistaking a Potomac Power tower for a cellphone tower, were pulling it down with chains attached to their pickups.  The ensuing explosion fried a dozen of them, and precipitated a blackout stretching from Baltimore south, almost, to Richmond.

          To Giga-Plex, where the cackling of Dreibach and Jackson on the remaining hundred or so still unlooted televisions sputtered and died; the screams and gunshots, the insane, frustrated whispering of a bloody, upside-down Ghede lodged against the One World Mall gates (blocking ingress and egress to the just and unjust alike), the toneless medical readout of Moondreams as the smart bed attempted to offer helpful medical advice to the growing pile of corpses flung atop it and the plaintive, repetitive cries of Henry the robot, whose pleas for recognition trailed off as his battery ran down, eventually to die into…

          Silence  All silence.

          Finally, across the One World Mall, lay only silence, darkness… the snifflings and moanings of the not-quite-dead yet, the ramblings of lunatics and random gunshots, the gnawing and bristling and pitterpatter of rats and dogs and the wings of winged predators and a few earlybird pigeons as they fluttered in through the smashed windows and stinking smoke, down from the treetops and rooftops and extinct powertowers and lines while the beasts of prey long ignored in these suburbs of America’s capital sniffed and loped and a million, billion creeping, crawling, slithering things beneath their scales and paws and the flapping wings advanced from the fringe-friezes of the green and orange flaming cosmos beyond...

          And began to feed


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