Tales from the Black Flag: Man Versus Machine

By: Azazel

Balkanization – that’s the word of the day.  Since the death of Roberta Paulson and the following riots the army was called to “restore order” by the Washington fascists: although the initial uprising was quelled (at a cost of the lives of hundreds of National Guard troops and untold thousands of demonstrators – armed and unarmed alike), the damage was done – almost immediately afterwards various interests realized that Washington can no longer be trusted and took it upon themselves to declare independence from the state entity.

The causes vary widely and have no common denominator save for the fact that they share the U.S. empire for an enemy – in the Northeast there are the die-hard Libertarians and Anarcho-capitalists that have formed groups like the New Sons of Liberty and the Volunteerist Minutemen; in the Midwest a large number of Native American primitivists formed the First People’s Front; along the West Coast ultra-Marxists and Anarcho-syndicalists like the Popular Front for the Liberation of California and the United Workers Army have taken center stage; throughout various portions of the North American continent militias devoid of ideological leanings such as The Lawless and the Nihilist Guerrilla Insurgency have sprouted up.  All of these people have been declared enemies of the state by Executive Order: the United States is now officially at war with its own citizens.

The surge of new factions in the last few years created a brand new environment rich with opportunities to court new partners for the Black Flag – a number of chapters of the NGI and The Lawless were quick to make contact and form alliances with a number of our own cells (that action against the riot cops made us very popular with the segments of society considered “undesirable” to the ruling classes – ex-cons, gang bangers of various stripes, disenfranchised youth, “black hat” hackers, etc…), a few radical groups affiliated with the PFLC, FPF and UWA came along later (ideological differences aside, they need to run guns from somewhere to fight the state) and even one or two Libertarian militias signed on when it became clear to them that the republic they believed in was damaged beyond all hope of repair.  If this continues it won’t be much longer before the Black Flag builds the strongest coalition of guerrilla fighters on the North American continent: an alliance of disparate interests with one goal – destroying the U.S. empire once and for all.

To that end, our mission tonight is simple – Old Man Simmons and I have been assigned to negotiate conditions of mutual partnership with a few cells of other guerrillas operating in the area.  The setup: each unit sends a representative to The Arrowhead (a bar outside town) wearing a baseball cap of a given color for identification (black for the Black Flag, red for the United Workers Army, green for the First People’s Front and Blue for The Lawless – respectively) and orders a club soda from the barkeep (can’t talk business drunk, you know…) – once all are assembled, we follow the hosting faction’s representative (in this case, the rep for the UWA is holding talks at a location of his choosing) to the place of meeting and I drop Simmons off then proceed to perimeter security duty.

Like I said, this was simple – shortly after we walked in and ordered our soda we spotted the red and blue caps of the UWA and Lawless reps.  Once they ordered their sodas and sat down at the table the hardest part of the mission was spotting the FPF amongst a sea of green hats (there’s a lot of Packer fans here tonight – something we didn’t account for), but once they spotted our congregation at the back of the bar the ball got rolling and we all headed out.  After an uneventful thirty minute drive to a farmhouse, the UWA rep secured for the talks and dropping off Simmons at the front door. I thought that was the end of my night.

After drawing lots with the guards the other reps brought with them, I got assigned patrol along the west fence line of the property – about fifty yards away from the house.  Walking that fence line was uneventful, so I had nothing to report at every thirty minute assembly of the guards.  The crushing boredom was getting to me after about three hours of this and my mind began to wander shortly after the last assembly we had.  And then…

I find myself flying through the air – I have gone deaf and my back feels like it’s been hit with a baseball bat.  Soon, I’m face down in the dirt next to the fence I was walking just a few minutes earlier: I’m barely conscious of what’s going on around me – everything blurs as I feel the onset of a dream-like state in which I see glaring orange on smoke and dust surrounding me.   As I try to push myself off the ground a sharp pain shoots through me as though I’ve been stabbed in multiple places: I feel piercing in my lungs as I try to breathe, slicing of flesh in my back as I move my shoulders – my ribs have been broken in at least three places.

As I stagger to my feat part of my hearing is restored and I hear shouting in the distance along with the background noise of roaring, crackling flames – I turn to see the farmhouse demolished and one of the cars driven to this location driving down the path.  I take a deep breath, sprint after the vehicle (ignoring the agony that I’m in) and reach the road just in time to catch the driver’s attention.  Then I stumble over and all fades to black…

***

Upon awakening, I find myself being given first aid by Tater at a safe house – he informs me that the surviving guerrillas picked me up and turned me over to him for treatment.  “Survivors” I thought: “did Old Man Simmons make it out of the explosion alive?”
“Who got out?”  I immediately shouted once my mind returned to me – “tell me, where’s the old man?”  Tater paused for a moment:  opens his mouth and weakly stutters “he…   He didn’t make it.”

Upon hearing that my stomach turned to ice – the chill is so great it blocks out the pain of my injuries and forces a deep moan from within me.  The moan was followed by uncontrollable weeping, which gave way to rage almost immediately as I mindlessly lashed out at a tray of medical supplies sitting next to me in an effort to satiate it.  Afterwards the pain of my broken ribs again set upon me and I was too weak to do anything but recline on the bed again and continue sobbing.

A few hours passed and I again regained my composure – it was then that The Bear met with me for debriefing: he mentioned how this incident had affected relations with the other guerrillas, new protocols regarding security of arranged meetings and all sorts of fallout that we can expect from this incident – but the only part of the whole conversation that had any relevance to me was one single word.  “Drone.”  My mission to protect this meeting (not to mention a man I looked up to as a father) was thwarted by the one thing I never would have imagined nor had any means to defend against.

All I know is that when I heal up some one is going to pay dearly for what happened that night…

***

Some weeks have passed since I’ve recovered enough to move around – I’m no where near 100% but I can at least fulfill some basic functions, and thus I return to duty.  Right now, that entails escorting The Bear to some run-down apartment on the edge of town: the place smells like an open sewer due to industrial run-off in the nearby rivers and stream – choking what little life still remains here.

But it’s in places like these that people with certain skills and talents reside – people that don’t wish to be found by just anyone.  Today we’re to meet with just such a person: a hacker who goes by the moniker of “The Raven.”  I know nothing about this person, but I know the reputation: claim to fame was the sabotage of a major computer software company’s webpage, costing them nearly $100 million in revenue losses (guess this Raven didn’t care for their Orange [TM] products) – since then, Raven has been contacted by numerous dissident groups for assistance with intelligence gathering and electronic security hacking.

As we approach the building The Bear reaches into his pocket and pulls out a scrap of paper one of our contacts gave us.  “Whoever we’re looking for is in apartment 24B” he says to me.  “Keep your eyes peeled.”  As though I could close them – even with the vicodin in my system dulling my pain I’ve lost the ability to sleep: whenever I can no longer resist the urge to slumber all I can do is dream about the Old Man – the first time I sparred with him in training as his apprentice, the first time we attacked an enemy convoy, the time he shot a pair of enemy soldiers that caught me changing mags on my AK47.  Then the realization of his death sets in and I awake in a cold sweat.

After a short hike up the stairs, we come to 24B and I knock on the door.  No response, and my gut starts to run cold again as I reach for the Glock 22 in my coat – The Bear knocks one more time and the doorknob begins to twist.  As the door opens we are greeted by the sight of a young girl (couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19): her nails were painted black and her otherwise black hair had a pink stripe running down the center of the long asymmetrical part on the right side – she casts her metal-studded gaze upon us and gruffly demands to know what we’re here for.  The Bear, unfazed by the sight of what stands before us, flatly replies “We’re here to see The Raven.”

The annoyed expression on the girl’s face suddenly changes to one of anxiousness – she immediately ushers us inside and slams the door.

The inside of the apartment is a mish-mash of circuits, wires and strange machines I’ve never seen before – in one corner there’s a number of electronics that appear to have been salvaged for parts, in another (where a kitchen table would normally be) there’s a workbench with components piled on and in the bedroom (which I can just barely see from the entrance hallway) she has her main computer: a custom job from the looks of it – enhanced motherboard, aftermarket ventilation fans, a custom-made processor, the works!  And judging by the bag of cheese snacks and the lack of any kitchen appliances, I’d say that she doesn’t even step away from her work for meals.

The Bear got down to the business of describing the job to this eccentric goth chick while I watched the door with one hand on my Glock – I didn’t catch all of it (much of it was in hacker jargon and I’m no good with that), but in so many words he requested the Raven to acquire a list of drone operators working this area.  When he finished outlining the job the girl was dead silent: it wasn’t long before that silence erupted into hysteria – “are you crazy?” she would cry. “Do you know what kind of security measures these fucks employ?  There’s no way in hell I can do what you’re asking: that kind of information is restricted at the highest levels and…”  On and on she went about firewalls, tracking programs and such – that she just doesn’t have the means to defeat their security.

When she was done rambling I stepped forward and looked her square in the eye – “We lost good men to these bastards” I tell her in a manner just barely composed.  “Quite frankly, we don’t have the means to defeat their machines in any significant way – sure we shoot down a drone every so often, but that doesn’t put a dent in their operations.  We can’t get to the machines, so we need to get to the men behind the machines.”  At this point I can here the anger rising in my voice: “And I don’t give a damn about the cost or how long it takes, I want those fucking bastards dead!”

The Bear grabs my arm as I raise my fist and at that moment the barely-dulled pain from my injuries distract me from my boiling rage – “what he means to say,” The Bear interjects, “is that money is no object here.  Forgive my associate’s outburst – he lost some one close to him thanks to the drones.”  He reaches into his coat pocket and produces a wad of cash: “five thousand dollars – a down payment for your services” he continues in a business-like manner.  “Now, tell me if there’s *any* way at all that you can get me those names.”

The Raven looks at him quizzically for a moment, then reaches out and takes the cash in one motion – “this is a start, but I can’t do this alone” she replies.  “I don’t know how long this will take, but I know a few people who know people that have the kind of skills and equipment you need: if I can get them on board with this and if you got the cash we can crack their security protocols, get you the names and leave without a trace of ever being there.”

With that we take our leave – The Bear gives me a thorough reprimand in the car for my behavior (which I accept with dignity), and then the conversation moves on to how enlisting The Raven’s skills will impact the operating budget: however we both know that this is worth it – it doesn’t matter how many guns you buy if your enemy can hit you from a thousand miles away.  We need to make this fight a bit more up close and personal and this is our one shot at doing that…

***

It’s been six months since we first met The Raven – we went through a fortune into recruiting those hackers but it paid off.  The Bear passed the names of the drone operators acquired down to our contacts in the other guerrilla outfits for them to deal with at their leisure: all but one – the bastard who flew that drone the night I lost my mentor.  After some heated debate I won the coveted honor of being this fucker’s executioner.

Six months.  Six long months I spent rehabilitating my broken body and retraining my skills in close-quarters with a blade – for tonight I’m about to do what this fucker didn’t have the balls to do that night he took the Old Man from me: this coward denied the closest thing I’ve ever had to a father so much as a warrior’s in battle, so I will show him what it means to struggle for his life at arms length from his opponent – before it’s over he’ll know there are still men out there that do their killing face-to-face rather than from a television screen.

I’ve been tracking him all week, looking for the best possible window in which to hit him – there’s no way I can touch him when he’s at the air base he works and lives on: there’s no way I can even follow him inside thanks to the guard towers spaced out every hundred yards or so – and he has little reason to ever leave the base.  Of course there is one thing he can’t easily get on base, and that’s just how I’ll get to him.

He seldom leaves base for anything more than an excursion at the mall or taking his wife out to dinner (which are too public for me to make my move), but there’s one place he goes at night – every night after work he comes to The Arrowhead to have a few beers and flirt with the barflies (trouble at home I guess, not that I really care).  When he finds a girl that’s looking for a little action, he goes out behind the dumpster at the back of the bar, waits for the girl to follow him and gets down to business: tonight his luck with the ladies will turn into a meeting with my KA-BAR – a gift from the Old Man I received upon completion of my training under him; in some cultures a warrior’s soul is said to reside in his weapon, I doubt if that’s literally true but in a symbolic way at least my mentor will have his vengeance from beyond the veil of death tonight.

As I look out my car window I see the fuck as he heads along towards the back of the bar – I get out and head towards the entrance.  When the lady comes out the door I tell her to beat it before she gets hurt (she doesn’t argue and leaves in a hurry) and follow the bastard into the shadows: I can hear him giggling like a schoolboy about to lose his virginity, I can smell the alcohol on his breath as he heaves with excitement – unaware that I’m now hunting, stalking now and I’m now reaching out and I’m…

Killing nothing….  For months, I’ve relished the thought of finally putting a blade through this fucker – but now that I’ve plunged by blade into his chest and deflated his left lung, I’m suddenly incapable of feeling anything at all for this waste of skin: as I look into the eyes of a man who can’t even scream for help, I can’t do so much as muster the wherewithal to hate him – this cockroach is beneath my very contempt!    As he drops to his knees from the sudden shock of the blow and clutches his side in pain, I can’t see anything more than a little coward that hides behind a high-tech toy; a pathetic thing that doesn’t deserve to call himself a warrior.  I quickly cut his throat and let him bleed out with the rest of the garbage out there, then returned to camp for debriefing.

Over the following weeks I hear stories about other drone operators being eliminated – some due to run-of-the-mill shootings or stabbings, but others done in manners most brutal (even saw some video footage of an operator The Lawless captured and burned alive).  Some people might say these measures are extreme, but they serve a purpose beyond simple revenge: each death is a message and now these pieces of human shit will know fear because of them – that the machines they hide behind can no longer protect them.  If nothing else, this will make our enemies think twice before sending roaches to perform a warrior’s task…