Cruel Paradise

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It was 2016, as we’ve been told, when America was still holding on to its status on top of the world by a thread. Still digging out from the recession, Americans were chiefly worried about out-of-touch Congressmen, a polarizing president, and the national debt looming over their heads. With so much to keep the rat racers occupied at home, it was easy to overlook the disconcerting signs beginning to crop up abroad.

It was 2016 when Americans still dreamed big dreams. Over kitchen tables they talked brightly of the future, vacations, and retirement plans. They fought over the state of their rose bushes and what color to re-paint the living room. They were happily stuck, each one of them, in their personal, well-furnished bubbles.

When news arrived from the South that Venezuela’s new presidente was a Socialist, no one really batted an eye. That Argentina and Peru followed suit soon after wasn’t terribly shocking. After all, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua had already taken up the hammer and sickle long ago.

This group of countries aligned under their shared beliefs with el presidente leading the charge. The next year reports drifted North of military juntas mobilizing to forcibly “recruit” more nations to their neo-Socialist regime. The more collective resources that they had, the more they could achieve together. At least that’s what their beloved presidente said. “¡Más para el estado, más para mi!” they cried. Their galvanizing leader was inspired by no less than Simon Bolívar and José de San Martín, the original liberators that organized divided nations and impoverished forces in to a revolution against all odds. The people had fallen in love with el presidente and his visions of a better South America; they would throw their lives on the altar of Socialism for him alone. His personal motto was chillingly extremist in nature – “Motherland, Socialism, or Death.”

This development was more than troubling. It caused a panic on Capitol Hill. Not since the USSR had the world seen such a thirsty uprising, a hunger to take more and be more. Unlike the Russians however, the Latino people had not possessed such a collective hunger for drastic change in modern history until this point. Of course there had been the usual minor contingency of citizens that were obsessed with it, but as a people in the past they had only flirted with Socialism as an ideal, not as a means of takeover. In a land whose history was filled with tyranny, never before had governments and people unified to define independence, success, and above all else, power. It was entirely unprecedented.

Though it was little more than a topic of discussion at corporate watering holes, the powers that be took notice. D.C. buzzed with whispers and theories. And as always, the worst-case scenario was crafted and spread by anxious lawmakers – “what if the Latin American Socialist movement is successful?”

The victory cry started first in the jungles of that sylvan continent, where hard-fought battles were won with blood, sweat, and tears. The activists with their posters bearing images of Ché Guevara, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro wept with joy as parades began in the streets. At last the cause that they’d been yearning to make a reality could take hold, and Los Estados Socialistas Unificados was born. Finally the world would have to recognize that the South American countries were a force to be reckoned with. In a crushing uprising they clamored on to their next goal, and joined with Cuba to bring the Caribbean Islands under the burgeoning banner of ESU.

The Western World was in shock. No one had actually put much weight in the seemingly improbable worst-case scenario. It was the subject of jokes and idle chatter, nothing more. This bewildering new development found Congress at a loss for words, or more importantly, any semblance of an idea of what to do next. Wide-eyed and blank-faced, they found themselves facing an enraged public. It was the last straw for the American people. Disenfranchised and handicapped, they felt that they were in the crosshairs of a Soviet-style secret missile attack without any defense.

As the newborn Socialista powerhouse marched (or rather sailed) toward the Caribbean, the newly elected American president proposed an amendment that would change the course of history unequivocally. She entreated the American people to disband the defunct Congressional system that had so betrayed them for years on end. She preached from her Oval Office pulpit how her warnings had gone unheeded; her attempts to unify the bloodsuckers to aid their constituencies had been waved off. The fat cats only want their salary, she cried. “Let me take the helm through these treacherous waters, and I will right our foundering ship,” she beseeched. Of course, some extremists called her the anti-Christ, and others called her a saint. But in the end, the terrified and unthinking public felt that Congress had long been failing them. Perhaps this was the answer. It was a triumph that only Caesar and Napolean Bonaparte had enjoyed before her – the people gave complete control of the country to Madam President, and she became in effect its Consul.

That year proved to be the most cataclysmic to date for the land of the free and the home of the brave. America unemployed Congress and the Socialistas took each Caribbean nation one by one, whose state defenses consisted of nothing more than rusty old cannons from their colonial days. The islands were added to ESU like charms strung on a necklace, and the power-hungry unified countries next set their sights on Central America.

In the US, Latino Americans had already become the subjects of great hostility, causing many to return to their native countries in the hopes of a bright new future with their people. Violence escalated to constant attacks and outbursts; graffiti and hate crimes could be seen almost daily. Meanwhile, the once stereotypically ridiculous business of building a bunker in one’s own yard became the next conquest for suburban homeowners. Cities began to build large facilities equipped with first aid supplies, food, and water, while extreme religious sects believed ever more fervently that the end of the world was surely nigh.

In the first days of 2021, when America’s president took control without a Congress to check her, a storm was brewing in the United States. A few disenfranchised senators, who’d long been publicly decrying Socialism and its brother Communism to far right-wing “think tanks” and churches, were concerned about the Socialists infiltrating the US in much the same way that the Communists had in the 1950s. They rallied together and founded a popular grassroots movement. Housewives took up their pens and keyboards, blogging and writing letters about the true American way, which ironically wasn’t just about ostracizing subversive beliefs, but ruthlessly hunting and eradicating them too. It was the War on Terror, round two: the homeland edition.

People began to single out individuals that they knew that were “different”, as in not a clearly defined Republican or Democrat. ‘Is a Libertarian a Socialist in some way?’ they wondered. Quickly anyone entertaining Socialist ideals of any kind was branded an infidel and out of a job, their reputation ruined forever.

Capitulating to the rising tide of hysteria and paranoia, Madam President announced a new law designed to protect and defend the country’s interests. Neighborhood Watch groups were to be created with expediency and tasked with “ensuring safety and communal well-being by reporting suspicions of activities undermining our nation’s ideals.” While woefully broad and non-descript, most Americans could appreciate one thing at least – the plan would involve no tax increases. Better still, the money saved in dismissing Congress would be applied to bulking up state and city law enforcement infrastructures. Extremists found something else to love in the very generalized legislation. Not much restriction was placed on reporting infidels or the manner in which they needed to confirm their reasonable suspicions. Let the witch-hunts begin.

What followed in the next five years was the sad degradation of everyday life in to clandestine investigations, extreme scrutiny, and a complete lack of any privacy whatsoever. Many Americans stopped using the Internet completely for fear of any query, statement, or random string of words being misinterpreted as subversive. Everyone knew at least one person who’d been called in to the police station for questioning and, regardless of the outcome, found themselves without a job or hope of employment anywhere, their families reduced to poverty and humiliation. Soon there were whisperings of people who never came back from the interrogations.

The overall effectiveness of the police-run review boards was difficult to dispute because in the end they did find several Socialists that publicly admitted to sending intel to ESU. Though conspiracy theorists, rendered silent for fear of backlash, wondered whether they weren’t staged.

It was found necessary to begin a blacklist of people and organizations suspected to hold “un-American” beliefs. Reporters that could no longer hold their tongues regarding how much the administration had come to embody the rampant McCarthyism of the 1950s promptly landed on the list for questioning.

With self-important Neighborhood Watch groups patrolling the streets and petitions for certain books, music, and movies to be removed from circulation, America had become a dark and scary place. Citizens were forced to adapt, heavily guarding their privacy and burying their secrets deeper. Meanwhile the so-called Pink Tide had somewhat slowed in its march across Latin America. Even its charismatic leader struggled to unify the forces and keep them focused on their great task.

It was in this strange land and chaotic time so opposite from that of our forefathers that Hadrian Bellamy was raised, and unfortunately by the time that his daughter Larkin was born in 2036, the myopic political climate had only worsened.

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